Something that annoys me: the notion that Americans are uniquely racist
October 13, 2008 6 Comments
Everywhere in the world, it seems the American election is news.
While staying at a ramshackle, $5 a night inn on the eastern shore of the small Carribean Island of Trinidad this past July, I met a couple of perfectly nice government workers of Indian descent who wanted right away to talk about it. When they asked whether we liked Obama, I of course said yes.
They smiled at each other knowingly, then one said: Americans don’t know how corrupt African presidents are, which is why they’re willing to vote for one. They knew, they said, because they had African presidents for decades.
I could appreciate their criticisms of their government but not the racist strain of it.
And yet, it is Americans who are pilloried as racists for possibly-maybe-not wanting to elect Obama because of his race, which has not actually been borne out.
We all have seen the stories that election polls might be over-reporting Obama support because voters would like to appear less racist to pollsters than they are in the voting booth. A friend of mine told me yesterday she read an article that suggested the opposite: that people who are afraid to vocally support a black man would do so in private. Either way, it is counter-productive speculation on the part of the media.
For any country to elect a minority is a feat but that it should happen in America is not surprising, given that, in general, this country has been more willing to deal with its racial demons over the past forty-years than our European brethren. Granted, we have a ways to go, but everybody does. Many people have a much longer ways.
Could anyone imagine any European country having a non-white person as president or prime-minister. A person of North African descent in France? A person of Turk descent in Germany? A person of Indian descent in Britain? (Check out the Kirwan Institute blog for more on this). As much as I love Paris, the city’s streets and subways–unlike in New York–were astoundingly racially uniform when I was there, unless maybe you go to the poorest Arrondissements in the northeast.
A New York Times article from June tells a similar story:
Having always thought it was more racially enlightened than strife-torn America, France finds itself facing the prospect that it has actually fallen behind on that score. Incidents like the ones over the weekend bring to mind the rioting that exploded across France three years ago. Since it abolished slavery 160 years ago, the country has officially declared itself to be colorblind — but seeing Mr. Obama, a new generation of French blacks is arguing that it’s high time here for precisely the sort of frank discussions that in America have preceded the nomination of a major black candidate.
If anything, Obama can serve as motivation for Europe.