Having spent the last three months in 21 countries, I can unreservedly testify that America had lost the respect of the world. George Bush had become a symbol of hate and greed, and these qualities were extended to the whole nation and its citizens. What everyone else thinks of us may not matter, but it still pleases me to see the international impact of the election of Barack Obama.
In the last several months I have met many people, from Iceland to Istanbul who said that America – a country founded on slavery – could not and would not elect a black man as President. Bear in mind, they all wanted us to, they just saw America as a nation far too divided to come together in that regard. It’s no exaggeration to say that everyone born in this country has grown up in the shadow of racism. Terrible injustice is part of our country’s founding, and although no one alive today had a direct hand in slavery and most of our ancestors didn’t either, it is a burden we all carry.
In New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, he talks about an idea called “institutional racism”. Essentially, the argument is that we’re all subconsciously racist – even civil rights activists, minorities, and the mixed-race author himself. This tendency comes to a great degree from implicit information we receive from the time we’re born – i.e. countless movies and TV shows where a young black man is a criminal. Essentially the argument is that these feelings can exist despite our conscious ideals or emotions (and if you’re intrigued to test yourself, you can take the implicit association test online at www.implicit.harvard.edu. I just went out there to make sure the link was still valid, and found that they added an additional election-based test as well.)
I took it again and got the same results as last time: For whatever reasons it turns out that I am not unconsciously or subconsciously prejudice (I tested as ‘Your data suggests no automatic preference for White people or Black people’ – I dislike everyone equally. KIDDING!). On the election test, I rated as “Your data suggests a strong automatic preference for Barack Obama over John McCain.”
I’ll be frank and say this surprises me, only in that I once lived in a really bad Crip (gang) neighborhood and had some deeply terrifying experiences. In my head I’ve never experienced a prejudice directed at any race, but I kind of worried some of what happened got into me and may have made me so. Anyway, I am glad to see that along with my own lack of pre-judgement, perhaps our national institutional racism is a little bit less? Or if not, last night’s election results will push the scales in that direction. Despite all the political propaganda, extreme allegations, general fear mongering, and Mr. Obama’s extremely unfortunate middle name, he was elected. I, for one, am proud of America.
And the world is, too. I ran across an AP article (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081105/ap_on_re_as/us_elections_world_view) with feedback that made me proud of us:
“People across Africa stayed up all night or woke before dawn to watch U.S. history being made, while the president of Kenya — where Obama’s father was born — declared a public holiday.
Many expressed amazement and satisfaction that the United States could overcome centuries of racial strife and elect an African-American as president.
Poland‘s Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski spoke of “a new America with a new credit of trust in the world.”
Venezuela and Bolivia, which booted out the U.S. ambassadors after accusing the Bush administration of meddling in their internal politics, said they were ready to reestablish diplomatic relations, and on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, people expressed a mixture of joy, disbelief, and hope for the future
“What an inspiration. He is the first truly global U.S. president the world has ever had,” said Pracha Kanjananont, a 29-year-old Thai sitting at a Starbuck’s in Bangkok. “He had an Asian childhood, African parentage and has a Middle Eastern name. He is a truly global president.”
“This is the fall of the Berlin Wall times ten,” Rama Yade, France‘s black junior minister for human rights, told French radio. “America is rebecoming a New World. On this morning, we all want to be American so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes.”
These comments really brought home the reality of what a tiny planet this is in so many ways, and what everyone who doesn’t live here believes: What befalls America befalls the world – financially, politically, and personally. Even if he wasn’t your first choice, I hope that you can take solace in the tremendous step forward this is for our nation. We have an almost clean slate, and yet another opportunity to get it right for the good of the world, and I deeply hope that we do. And if not, let’s elect a black woman next time and REALLY get things straightened out.
Oprah, you out there? ;)