Dear President Obama, it’s time to return that Nobel Peace Prize

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Photo by Noel Holston

Barack Obama was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in October, 2009. The time for him to give it back is overdue.

I realize this was a popular sentiment among Obama’s detractors, political opponents and haters in the months following the announcement of the award.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said they’d chosen our young President “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

The committee said it “attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”

They said Obama “has as President created a new climate in international politics.”

Obama’s detractors said, “What?

They said, “He’s been in office all of eight months.”

They said, and here I paraphrase, “He ain’t done squat.”

Obama acknowledged the premature exaltation early in his Nobel acceptance speech, and he expressed humility.

“I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage,” he said. “Compared to some of the giants of history who’ve received this prize — Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela — my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women — some known, some obscure to all but those they help — to be far more deserving of this honor than I.”

But I’m not suggesting that the former President pack up his prize and mail it back to Oslo because I agree with those for whom he never do anything right or because I believe he stood small at the end of his two terms.

I like Obama. I respect him. I miss him. I just don’t believe the Nobel Committee fully understood its decision to award him the peace prize the first place. I’m not sure he grasped it, either.

From the beginning, I have believed that the Nobel Committee was actually honoring us, the American people. Obama was the designated recipient, our stand-in.

I believe the members of the Nobel Committee viewed our voting into office our first non-white President as a moral watershed, a resounding break with a past that included more than two centuries of slavery and then another 100 years of discrimination and domestic terrorism for which “Jim Crow” is shorthand. That we, as a people, had turned a corner, turned a page. That we had finally come to terms with an ugly contradiction of our noblest ideals and were on the road to a brighter day.


As we are now sadly aware, electing Barack Obama, for all the hope he inspired in Americans of all races, ethnicities and creeds, also revealed that millions of white Americans, far more than we guessed, were frightened, threatened and angered by a“browning” of America manifested by immigrants flocking to our southern border from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and other troubled countries and personified by a man in the Oval Office who, but for his fame, could likely pass unnoticed on streets in non-white countries as far flung as Bangladesh, Yemen and Nicaragua. Never mind that Obama knew basketball, beer and gospel hymns. He was The Other.

The resentments and hatreds his Presidency inflamed gave rise to a demagogue more than happy to race-bait and fear-monger to an increasingly visible, increasingly vocal constituency who want a physical wall to keep Latin Americans from seeking asylum in the U.S.A. and aim chants of “Send her back!” at a member of the House of Representatives, a naturalized citizen from Somalia, because she has dared to criticize his governance and Israel’s.

We’ve gone from the audacity of hope to the hostility of fear.

So, on behalf of your fellow American citizens, both native born and naturalized, please return the peace prize, Mr. Obama. We weren’t ready.

Written by

Mississippi native, award-winning veteran of The Orlando Sentinel, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Newsday, stand-up storyteller, lives in Athens, Ga.

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