Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

A different kind of black

By Toni Hassan - posted Thursday, 6 November 2008

I, like so many around the world, am pinching myself as Barack Obama is elected the 44th US President.

Obama's realised ambition has sent a ripple of hope through neighbourhoods of “colour” and neighbourhoods where racism still threatens to dwarf self determination and aspiration.

My birthplace, South Africa, made sure I was conscious of my colour and everybody else's. People of mixed blood, "coloured", as my mob were referred, were distinct for all the wrong reasons.


Apartheid was like living at a foreign airport, having to go routinely through the ritual of customs. That ritual is characterised by the assumption of one's criminality, of one's shame or guilt. You approach the desk with all your papers intact but with a sense of being called to prove yourself. You learn to be polite, clear and efficient, because you recognise that the other mob have incredible, unilateral power.

Even though South Africa has now been led for more than a decade by black politicians, many South Africans of mixed heritage can't shake themselves free from the internally held propaganda that they are better off being governed by a white fellah. White fellahs are more competent, more market-driven, more objective.

Ringing in my ears are the comments of a coloured relative during a visit to Durban: "They are taking over" he said, referring to black Africans moving in from outlying areas of the city, taking jobs in the trades once reserved for his more exclusive coloured community. "They are a safety hazard. I tell them 'up' and they say 'down'. They're dangerous and stupid."

He told me how he has a gun and it sits between his legs when he drives his battered BMW about town. Trust is a commodity in short supply.

Trust has been critical to Obama's success but he must recognise that the road ahead will not be easy.

Barack Hussein Obama was not surprised that his name became an irresistible target of mocking websites from overzealous Republicans wanting to falsely link him to the world's most wanted terrorist.


As a person of mixed heritage - with a name that occasionally raises eyebrows in Australia - I understand his expectation. But I reckon the most fascinating element of Obama’s campaign was what he did with his “colour”; how he played it and what the African American community made of him as a Democrat presidential hopeful. That story, his story, may tell us something about what means in contemporary USA to be “black”.

What has made Obama's political trajectory all the more remarkable is NOT that he is black but that colour or race does not define him.

He is the Oprah Winfrey of US politics. Oprah, who has famously endorsed Obama and years before admitted she voted Republican, does not put her colour before her gender. She talks mainly to white women and their pain. Obama's constituency is in large part the same as Oprah's - middle class America. Oprah and Obama are comfortable about their past and do not let colour determine their place in the world.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

4 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Toni has worked for ABC Radio and TV in Australia, Reuters in South Africa, the Asahi Shimbun in Japan, National Public Radio and the BBC. She is a freelance writer based in Canberra and was a media advisor to a federal MP.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Toni Hassan

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Toni Hassan
Article Tools
Comment 4 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy