Socialist Worker

The reaction to Obama's election in Britain

Weyman Bennett, Joint national general secretary of Unite Against Fascism spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity

Issue No. 2127

Weyman Bennett

Weyman Bennett

‘The common reaction of black people in Britain to Obama’s election is that it’s a big poke in the eye to racists. There’s a euphoric feeling among many people.

After the election a nursery nurse at my local school greeted me with a black power salute. Groups of people were congregating outside tube stations talking about what the election meant.

A group of black post workers I know said that people were coming into work cheering after the election.

It has raised people’s confidence – the post workers are using the phrase “yes we can” when they negotiate with their managers.

It’s important that people feel that they can change things and that’s what Obama’s election has meant for lots of people.

It has also led to people questioning things more. The debate inside the black community has for so long been an internal one about gun and knife crime. Now people are looking outwards.

People feel that racism was challenged as part of the election campaign. One of the most interesting discussions I had was speaking to my family in the US.

They talked about how integrated the campaign for Obama had been and that it had brought black and white people together.

But it’s not true that people are simply enamoured with Obama. One guy said to me, “He’s not a Martin Luther King – he might end up being a puppet.”

The election has raised so many questions. I spoke at an Operation Black Vote event this week.

I asked the question, “Can you imagine someone being a mixed-race person with a Muslim name being elected in this country?” A lot of people laughed.

Some talk about a “post-race society” and say racism isn’t an issue any more. Some people have said that black people should stop talking about racism now.

But lots of ordinary black people are asking – if Lewis Hamilton can win the Formula One championship and Obama can get elected, why do we still face barriers?’

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