Andrei Markovits at the Huffington Post has rightly remarked that European enthusiasm for Barack Obama is a welcome, but somewhat hypocritical phenomenon. On one level, Obama signals to Europe that America is rejecting Bush’s uniquely American cowboy/hot dogs/Texas identity (aka barbarism). On another level, some Europeans feel a cultural kinship with Obama because he is a sophisticated and enlightened individual, just like every European who graces the earth.
My BFF Jess lives in France and teaches middle-school aged kids. Apparently they all support Obama. I asked if the students actually knew anything about him. Not really, they don’t–but she explained that he is obviously the cool candidate, because he is black and doesn’t appear to represent the ‘establishment’ at any step of the way. It’s not cool to love America, but Barack Obama is cool given his status as the most un-American American they’ve ever seen.
Markovits claims European Obamamania has some ‘blind-spots’ and is unable to face the fact that Obama’s story could never have happened in any part of Europe. For all the ethnic minorities in France, Germany, England, etc, people who are not white have yet to gain any kind of electable reputation.
But I think this ‘blind-spot,’ that is, the fact that ethnic minorities and non-whites in European countries are subject to institutionalized discrimination and casual racism, is the very reason Europeans love Obama so much. Their enthusiasm is a pathological combination of guilt and denial about the state of race and discrimination in their own countries. All day long those Europeans can think Americans are the barbarians, and have a condescending pride in us for electing the right man as the Democratic nominee. But Obama is a safe distance away from their impoverished suburbs, and it is ultimately an empty gesture, a genuflection at the alter of politically correct open-mindedness, to support him.
This is an unscientific thing to say for sure, but in my experience, French people are far more racist than Americans. And many French racists think it is fine to be racist. There has been no civil rights movement in France, no revolutionizing period in which the country was forced to re-examine and expand its national identity and ideas of citizenship. There is disquiet in the suburbs, which should prompt some soul-searching for white Frenchies, but as far as I know this hasn’t happened yet. France won’t have an Obama until they stop lamenting the fact that they’re not getting another Napoleon. The time of unmixed pedigrees and “pure” culture is dead, and France will die too if they don’t figure it out.