Column: Obama gets voters excited, confused

Is America finally ready for a black president? That’s a question many people are asking these days, asObama2
Senator Barack Obama makes a run for the White House. Obama, 46, born in Hawaii to a Kenyan father and white American mother, is a popular figure and rising star in the Democratic Party, but faces several hurdles as he seeks to become the first president in U.S. history to understand what Jesse Jackson is saying.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle will be his name, which some Americans are already confusing with another well-known name, as a CNN reporter discovered while interviewing people on the streets of New York.

Reporter: "What do you think of Barack Obama?"

Middle-aged man: "I think we should be trying harder to capture him. What are we doing in Iraq when Obama is still out there, still a threat to America?"

Reporter: "No, I mean Barack Obama from Chicago. What do you think of him?"

Middle-aged man: "You mean he’s in Chicago now? How did he get into the country? Don’t tell me he came through Mexico! We really need to tighten our borders."

When it was revealed that Obama’s middle name is Hussein, many more people were  confused, as the CNN reporter found out on the streets of Atlanta.

Reporter: "What do you think of Barack Hussein Obama?"

Thirty-something man: "He got what was coming to him, that’s all I can say. He committed crimes against humanity and got what he deserved. I don’t feel sorry for him at all."

Reporter: "No, I mean Barack Hussein Obama from Chicago."

Thirty-something man: "You mean he was from Chicago? How the heck did he get to be president of Iraq? Come to think of it, I did notice a slight Chicago accent. Too bad he didn’t live for a few more weeks. He could have watched the Bears in the Super Bowl."

Barack Obama may seem like a fairly easy name to remember, but even some of his  supporters are having trouble with it, as the CNN reporter discovered on the streets of Chicago.

Reporter: "May I ask whom you plan to vote for in 2008?"

Twenty-year-old man: "I really like that guy, what’s his name, Obrack Barama."

Reporter: "What about you, Sir? Who gets your vote in 2008?"

Nineteen-year-old man: "Your Mama."

Reporter: "Pardon me?"

Nineteen-year-old man: "Broke Your Mama. That’s who I’m voting for. Broke Your Mama."

Reporter: "Oh, I see. And what about you, Miss?"

Twenty-one-year-old woman: "Me? I’m voting for … uh … Baroque Alabama."

Obama may overcome the confusion and concerns over his name, but it’ll be harder to overcome racism. I’d like to think that the majority of Americans — and certainly the vast majority of the younger generation — don’t have a racist bone in their bodies or are at least taking medication for it. But it often takes just a small number of votes to sway an election. The 2004 presidential election was so close, John Kerry would have beaten George Bush if he had merely convinced everyone named ‘John’ to vote for him. The 2000 election was even closer. Al Gore would have beaten Bush if he had merely convinced Larry King’s ex-wives to vote for him.

If Obama gets the Democratic Party’s nomination, busloads of white supremacists may show up at the polls.

Reporter: "May I ask whom you’re voting for?"

Supremacist: "What kind of (bleep) question is that? The white guy, of course."

Reporter: "So you agree with him about Iraq?"

Supremacist: "Of course I do. Our country doesn’t need Iraq Boboma — or whatever his name is."

Photo by Peter Howe

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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