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Obama win raises expectations of minorities worldwide

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Trying to piggyback on his success, six candidates in last month's Brazilian local elections changed their legal names to 'Barack Obama.' They all lost. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Trying to piggyback on his success, six candidates in last month's Brazilian local elections changed their legal names to 'Barack Obama.' They all lost. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Trying to piggyback on his success, six candidates in last month's Brazilian local elections changed their legal names to 'Barack Obama.' They all lost. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Barack Obama's election as the first black U.S. president was feted worldwide as the ultimate breakthrough for minorities, the poor and the dispossessed, buttressing faith in American democracy and upward mobility.





The moment may be fleeting as the new administration defends U.S. interests during hard economic times. But for the moment, Obama has been handed an unparalleled reservoir of goodwill, from Brazil's first elected black senator to a French city councilwoman of Algerian descent.



''Obama's election breaks all the taboos,'' said Paulo Paim, 58, of Brazil, a country where blacks and mixed-race people make up almost half the population. ''It's an example to the entire planet that another reality is possible.''



Around the world, the Democratic senator from Illinois was hailed as much for who he is -- the Hawaii-born son of a Kenyan villager and woman from Kansas, reared partly in Indonesia -- as for the policies he will offer as the 44th U.S. president.



Trying to piggyback on his success, six candidates in last month's Brazilian local elections changed their legal names to ''Barack Obama.'' They all lost.



In neighboring Colombia, William Bush, a 40-year-old black former diplomat who shares ancestral roots with George W. Bush, the outgoing U.S. president, said he detected a new ''sense of optimism'' for nonwhites across South America.





Barriers





''In the United States, conditions now exist for any minority to overcome barriers, whereas in Latin America we're only beginning to recognize those barriers exist,'' Bush said.



When Obama takes office on Jan. 20, he will have other hurdles to surmount. President Bush departs with perceptions of the U.S. at all-time lows among allies in Europe and even lower in the Muslim world.



The favorability ratings for Bush's America topped 50 percent in only nine of 23 countries surveyed by the Pew Global Attitudes Project in March and April. The U.S. score was 31 percent in Germany, 12 percent in Turkey and 22 percent in Argentina.

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''What Obama might mean for the world is restoring this confidence,'' said Giuliano Amato, 70, a former Italian prime minister. ''A prerequisite for a better world is a U.S. which is accepted as part of a wide partnership and not only a partnership of a few willing.''





Berlin



Obama in July capped a seven-country tour of the Middle East and Europe with a paean to global cooperation for stamping out terrorism, disease and poverty. He told a throng of 200,000 in Berlin, site of the Cold War oratory of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, that ''the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together.''



The 47-year-old president-elect's platform includes pledges to end the Iraq war, fight climate change and nuclear proliferation, and work toward a more equitable financial system -- all in a spirit of ''multilateralism'' that, he says, went astray during the Bush years.



''A new face offers Europe a new chance to remarry America, that's the good news,'' said Wolfgang Ischinger, 62, a former German ambassador to the U.S. ''The bad news is that this outburst of Obama-mania does create expectations which no president can possibly fulfill. Sooner or later there will be some disappointment on the way.''





Condemnation





Europe's biggest Obama backers are in France, a country with a two-century tradition of love-hate relations with the U.S., from French aid in the American revolution to French condemnation of the Iraq war. The French supported Obama over his Republican rival, Senator John McCain of Arizona, by 84 percent to 33 percent in the Pew survey.



Nora Berra, 45, a doctor and city councilwoman of Algerian descent who works to lift the status of immigrants in Lyon, eastern France, looks to Obama to promote ideals that she says France fails to uphold for minorities.



''Finally we've got someone recognized for his qualities, his dynamism, the enthusiasm he generates, for the change he incarnates -- independent of his color, independent of his origins,'' Berra said of Obama. ''We want to see a France in which people are rewarded for their merits. We want to be seen as French. Period.''



A Nov. 1 Ifop poll for Le Journal du Dimanche showed that 42 percent of the French would vote against a candidate of North African origin for president.





Soothe





In south London, Dube Egwuatu, a 36-year-old Nigerian-born self-employed data analyst, is counting on U.S. electoral symbolism to soothe racial strains. Wearing an Obama T-shirt on Oct. 7, Egwuatu was shot three times with an air pistol by an unknown assailant shouting racial epithets.



''People don't feel Obama's color, they don't feel that he's black, they don't feel that he has a white mother,'' the recovering Egwuatu said in a telephone interview, a pellet still lodged in his jaw. ''People don't feel that. People just feel the warmness of his heart. He's not the president of America as far as I'm concerned. He's the president of the entire world.''



The T-shirt, Egwuatu said, will always be a prized possession. (Bloomberg)


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