Monday, 20 January 2014

It’s Martin Luther King day in the United States, a nation which even a man with a dream like his, could hardly have imagined would have a black President within half a century of that great speech.

Not of course that it really does. Funny how we all accept that someone who’s half black is black, whereas the fact that he’s half white doesn’t make him white.

In any case, in the Presidency of Obama, it seems appropriate to mark Martin Luther King with a few thoughts about the first ever black head of state, in that part of the Western world that used to be considered the preserve of whites.

That head of state was not Obama, though like him he was part black. Which made him, like Obama, entirely black, of course. Black ancestry, it seems, is just far more powerful than white, so the slightest trace of the former wipes out any effect that could have been exerted by the latter.

The earliest white state with a black ruler was the newly created Italian dukedom of Florence, rich financially from centuries of banking, culturally from being the cradle of the Renaissance. And the black leader, back then in the sixteenth century? The first Duke, Alessandro de Medici, nicknamed ‘Il Moro’, the Moor.

He was, it seems, the son of a Medici Pope, Clement VII.

The son of a Pope? I hear you gasp. Yes, yes, those were lax times. Catholic priests were sometimes less than irreproachable in their sexual behaviour, hard though that may be to believe these days.

I say ‘it seems’ he was the son of that Pope, because he was passed off as the child of a different Medici so he could be treated as legitimate. These days, people tend to treat that story as no more than a smokescreen.

And his mother? A mixed race serving woman in the household.

In other words, a great Florentine family was indulging, nearly three centuries earlier, in the same practices as Thomas Jefferson applied in Virginia, when he fathered several children by his slave Sally Hemings. They were light enough in complexion to pass for white, but naturally, like Alessandro and Obama, they were black all the same.

Alessandro de Medici, the Moor
Remember, a bit black is black
Things didn’t work out too well for Alessandro. Seems he suffered from Bill Clinton syndrome and couldn’t turn down the opportunity for a sexual adventure if one presented. His cousin, Lorenzino (popularly known as Lorenzaccio, and the ‘accio’ ending in Italian never means anything good), invited him over to enjoy the favours of his sister (Lorenzaccio’s, not Alessandros). And then bumped him off. 

Sad. At least Obama seems well above all that kind of stuff. Shame Clinton wasn’t. What a presidency his might have been, without all that impeachment mess.

Still, these are gloomy thoughts Americans shouldn’t be contemplating on a public holiday. Have a great MLK day, cousins across the pond. Have a dream in his tribute. And a ball.

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