The personality of Barack Obama: a case for the Black community in Quebec?
Written by Doudou Sow   
Friday, 10 March 2023 20:45



[This article was written shortly after Barack Obama's election. It is translated into English by the editress-in-Chief Patricia Turnier. This is one of the most read articles by Internet users of our Canadian trilingual webmag].

On the evening of Barack Obama's election as the 44th President of the United States of America, friends called me to congratulate me on the brilliant victory of this Harvard graduate who focused his campaign on the theme of change. More than a symbol, this victory became the beginning of a new era of awareness among young Blacks around the world: since a Black man was elected to lead a global superpower, in a predominantly White country with a non-glorious slavery past, everything is now possible for the Black community everywhere on the planet.

Victimization and a defeatist attitude suddenly give way to hope and a change of positive mentality. A significant anecdote: earlier during the day of the American elections, I ensured the workflow of the research room of the Carrefour jeunesse-emploi Bourassa-Sauvé in the borough of Montreal-North, which had made the headlines during the summer of 2008. I was fascinated by how interested Jeunesse en Action (Youth in Action) participants were doing research online about Barack Obama’s biographies and other historical Black figures like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.

This program (Jeunesse en action), which is intended for people aged 18 to 24 experiencing difficulties integrating the job market on a short and medium term basis, aims, among other things, to break their isolation. Sarah Choukron, employment counselor of the program, told me this: "These young people who have mostly dropped out of school were captivated by their research. They did not even want to take a break during the afternoon. This evening there, none missed the broadcast of the American elections."

I said to myself at that precise moment something had just been created and Obama's exemplary career should be included in school curricula. As such, his personality would be used as a lever that would motivate young Black people in difficulty in order to develop their self-esteem, their confidence in the future, their perseverance, a sense of leadership, a positive attitude and an interest for studies. What sociological analysis can we make of the influence of the remarkable personality of Barack Obama on the Blacks who have made Quebec their land of welcome?

Parental responsibility:

Parents must assume their role of authority by retaining children longer in the school system. Otherwise, the danger that unfortunately awaits them remains delinquency, gangsterism, drug trafficking, etc. More than ever, the family must constitute the cement that consolidates a vision for the future based on socio-professional success as a pledge of the integration of a person into society.

A law graduate from the prestigious Harvard University (in 1991), Barack Obama, who became the first African-American to lead the Harvard Law Review, understood very well the importance of educating young people who embody the future of an entire nation. Thursday, August 28th 2008, in front of approximately 84,000 people who attended the Democratic convention in the huge football stadium in Denver (Colorado), he delivered a speech that gave a new tone to his campaign, 45 years to the day after the famous "I had a dream" speech by slain pastor Martin Luther King. On the subject of education, Barack Obama said: "I will invest in early childhood education. I will recruit an army of teachers, pay them more and support them better. And in return, I will ask for higher standards and more responsibilities".

This responsibility, in a broad sense, urges parents to be more vigilant when it comes to their children's education (parental control concerning the access to certain television programs, the importance of parents helping children with their homework, etc.). Barack Obama was lucky to have a maternal grandmother who financed his studies. Madelyn Dunham, who died of cancer, had raised him in Honolulu after the death of his mother and the departure of his Kenyan father from the marital home. “She was the one who gave up buying a car or a dress to allow me to have a better life. Everything she had, she gave it to me,” he said. Today, his grandmother has allowed his grandson to write a page of history. Thanks to his oratory skills and the hope he arouses, President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration speech was watched by 38 million American television viewers according to the Nielsen Media Research.

Fight against social injustice:

During the 2004 Democratic nomination convention in Boston, where John Kerry, unsuccessful candidate against George W. Bush, had given him the star speech, Obama was already positioning himself as a post-racial candidate: "There is no a Black America and a White America, a Latin American and an Asian America; there is the United States of America."

In his speech, "a more perfect union", delivered on Tuesday March 18th 2008 in the mythical city of Philadelphia, the former community organizer stated for the first time since the beginning of the campaign the racial question in the United States. He said this: "We must continue, together, to move forward. For some, "the Blacks," this will imply no longer considering themselves to essentially be victims but to take responsibility; for others "the Whites," to recognize the daily realities of life caused by discrimination. For all, this will mean uniting against injustice."

By inviting the American people to the path of positive reconstruction, this 47-year-old man demonstrated that it is not because one is Black that he or she is condemned to live in misery, and that one must be persuaded in advance that all doors to success are closed. Thanks to his perseverance and unifying character, Barack Obama, a man of consensus, was able to win the hearts of an overwhelming majority of Americans (Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Arabs, Asians, etc.). Michelle Obama's husband was able to prove that the racial factor could be relegated to the background in all spheres of social life. The message of hope that he was able to convey during a period of economic recession reassured the American middle class, and we dare to believe that this will help the stock market emerge from this difficult economic situation in the months to come.

The American people first elected a competent Black president who inspires confidence, who advocates dialogue, harmony between people and multilateralism in international relations. Quebec, for its part, a pluralistic, intercultural society open to the world, will have to fight more against the precariousness and social exclusion of young Blacks. An inclusive approach, which thus sends a very clear message: give more visibility to rewarding models so that those who have fallen into gangsterism can no longer continue to recruit in the islands of misery.

I am convinced that this society that we all love and to which we are proud to belong will not leave any of its sons fall by the wayside. It would be desirable for certain recommendations of the Bouchard/Taylor commission's report to contribute to the broadening of this path towards real citizen integration.
Yes we can!!!


Doudou Sow is a sociologist by training. He specializes in work and organization. When the above article was written, the author was an employment counselor for the Mentorat Québec-Pluriel project at the Carrefour jeunesse-emploi Bourassa-Sauvé (Canada). This article was published in Europe in December 2008. Doudou Sow can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .