My father-in-law, a Marxist trade unionist and former Trotskyite candidate for the French Parliament, called me up last night at 2 a.m. to congratulate me on Obama being elected. He told me how proud he was for America. Since he doesn’t speak fluent English, and I don’t speak fluent French, I’m not quite sure why he was proud.
I don’t think it’s because he thinks Obama is a Marxist. (I doubt he knows that Obama gave money to Marxist activists like the Maoist Michael Klonsky while sitting on the board of the Annenberg Challenge along with former Weather Underground terrorist William Ayers, a self-described “communist,” thus using charity money intended for education for ideological causes instead).
Instead, I think it’s because America elected a black man to high office. Europeans have such a strong misconception that America is more racist than Europe that they are dumbfounded that America would elect a black person.
Ironically, racism and antisemitism are much more pervasive in Europe than in the U.S. My brother-in-law, who is partly of Sephardic Jewish ancestry, and who physically resembles Osama Bin Laden, is routinely stopped by the French police for “driving while Arab.” And my wife has repeatedly been exposed to antisemitic remarks by French co-workers who are unaware that she is of Jewish ancestry.
Europeans don’t seem to recall that Americans of all ideological stripes have long elected minorities to political office.
Back when California was still Republican-leaning, it elected an Asian senator (S.I. Hayakawa) and a black Lieutenant Governor (Mike Curb). Louisiana, which voted for McCain by a 20 percentage-point margin, currently has a governor of Indian descent, Bobby Jindal.
The first black Senator since Reconstruction was a Republican (Ed Brooke), and the first black governor was Doug Wilder in (then) conservative Virginia. (On economic issues, like taxes, Doug Wilder was and is largely indistinguishable from a Republican; indeed, he opposed the tax hike pushed through by his successor Mark Warner, which one of Virginia’s two Republican Senators supported; and Wilder infuriated big-spending state liberal legislators like the late Joseph V. Gartlan, who retaliated by blocking scores of his final appointments out of spite).
Europeans’ misconception that we are more racist than they are probably has a lot to do with sensationalist TV programming. European television focuses on the most unsavory and weird elements of American life, like racism, along with showcasing the most extreme examples of wealth and poverty in the U.S., while ignoring the boring and conventional middle-class. Perhaps as the result of sensationalistic media coverage, 53 percent of English people believe that polygamy is legal in the U.S., according to a BBC poll. When my French-born wife came to America, she thought, based on Hollywood depictions, that it was legal to walk around topless here.