Monday, November 10, 2008

International Perceptions About Obama

Here are some are some perceptions about President-Elect Barack Obama which have appeared mostly in the international press and reprinted mostly by The New York Times. I have purposely not attributed these quotes or the country of origin so that you can focus on what is being said, rather than who said it or where it was said. In many cases these are statements of government officials, academics and social scientists and they emanate from nearly every continent.

A Unique Country
"There is a country out there where tens of millions of white Christians, voting freely, elect as their leader a black man of modest origin, the son of a Muslim. There is a place on Earth – call it America – where such a thing happens."

A Shifted Course
"But wonder is almost overwhelmed by relief. Mr. Obama’s election offers most non-Americans a sense that the imperial power capable of doing such good and such harm – a country that, they complain, preached justice but tortured its captives, launched a disastrous war in Iraq, turned its back on the environment and greedily dragged the world into economic chaos – saw the errors of its ways over the past eight years and shifted course."

A Part of Us
"People feel he is a part of them because he has this multiracial, multiethnic and multinational dimension. People find some thread of their own hopes and ideals in Mr. Obama. He represents, for people in so many different communities and cultures, a personal connection. There is an immigrant component and a minority component."

America Again a Beacon of Hope
"His ability to inhabit so many categories mirrors the African experience. For America to choose as its citizen in chief such a skillful straddler of global identities could not help but transform the nation’s image, making it once again the screen upon which the hopes and ambitions of the world are projected."

Empathy with the Poor Nations
Mr. Obama’s background, particularly his upbringing in Indonesia, made him suited to understanding the problems facing the world’s poorer nations.

Overcoming our Racist Past: A Symbol for Others?
"There is another paradox about the world’s view of the election of Mr. Obama: many who are quick to condemn the United States for its racist past and now congratulate it for a milestone fail to acknowledge the same problem in their own societies."

Changing our Image in Russia
"Definitely, this will improve America’s image in Russia. There was this perception before of widespread racism in America, deeply rooted racism."

An Obstacle in Nigeria but not in the U.S.
"If Obama had been a Nigerian, his race, color and age would have been an intractable problem."

Everything is Possible
"He has so many things not preferable in a president. He is a black, and his middle name is Hussein, and all that stuff. But this is a country where everything is possible."

Focus on Quality
"This is a historic moment not only for the United States, but so we can all get away from perceptions about religion and race and instead consider the quality of the person."

Obama on Iraq
"While the election of a black man as the president of the United States was considered admirable, Mr. Obama’s promise to start withdrawing troops from Iraq was a cause for great concern."

Change – For Real?
"But most of the teenagers at the post-election discussion said they would need convincing before they were willing to believe that ‘change’ was more than a slick slogan."

I would only add that while Obama stands as a role-model for all Americans — minorities as well as whites — hopefully, his election will also change perceptions of blacks within their own communities. For example, I have heard that some young black men who are hard-working students and make excellent grades are ridiculed by their black friends as being “too white". Now we have a black president who stands among the elite in terms of his academic pedigree.

Further, Obama was criticized by some blacks during the primary days as not being “black enough” because he was not descended from slaves. Hopefully, his election now is a symbol for all blacks everywhere. The polls have shown that there was no “Bradley effect” (a vote in the voting booth is different than a poll declaration) among voting whites, and that Obama got 43% of the white vote.

Obama connected with a large number of the voting public both verbally and silently by projecting calm, humility and leadership. His victory – as has been acknowledged – is a transformational one, both actually and perceptually, throughout the world. May his achievements in the next four years stand as tall as the perception about Obama stands today.

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