Thursday, July 24, 2008

What Black and Browns in Paris Think of Obama

During our Walking The Spirit tour through Black Paris in June for the Richard Wright Centennial, folks were asking me for insight into the pleasing but somewhat mystifying 'Obama Effect' in France. His face jumped out at us from every newsstand, from monthly mags to special editions. And though I didn't have time during my trip to actually stop and read the articles, I was more than thrilled to find a consumer magazine on my flight home with a cover headline: The Obama Phenomenon - France Votes for Him.

So I thought I'd share some of it with you.

The source was 'Elle', whose target audience is hip young ladies, so I figured we'd get it, yes, straight from the hip.

Here are some of the comments gathered by journalist Lena Mauger.

  • Obama fans are divided into two camps: a) the new Parisian class known as 'bobo' bohemian bourgeois - Obama fits right into their left-wing/environmentalist/admirer of revolutionaries stance - he is, quite simply, cool. On the less fortunate side of town, Obama fires up a heated passion in the immigrant-majority suburb teaming with mixed-race youngsters distressed by discrimination.
  • One high school student exclaims, 'if he wins, it will be the liberation of all Blacks in the world'.
  • For some, he represents nothing less than the reincarnation of the American Dream. He serves as an example to a France still sketchy on its own immigration.

Obama's avoidance of divisive politics highlights the hurtful actions of their own President, immigrant-born himself, who, they believe, shows contempt for immigrants.

  • Obamamania reaches all generations. The older generation who were brought into France as laborers, when jobs were plentiful, now lament their lost fantasy of a kinder workplace for their well-educated kids being turned down for jobs because of the un-French name on their resume.
  • For the hip-hop generation, whatever their country of origin, they're sick of answering the question: 'do you feel more French or Moroccan, Malian, etc.' They're coming up with their own responses inspired by Obama's ease with his multi-ethnic background. One slammeuse Delphine 2 says that Obama 'de-complexes them because he assumes his African and white origins'.
  • Obama is also a symbol of political accessibility practically non-existent in France, where the only members of the present government of African or Arabic origins were appointed - not elected - by a right wing President.

Mohamed Hamidi, economics professor, and Karim Zeribi, ex-president of Parliament of the Suburbs, were part of a French delegation to Philadelphia recently. They were astonished to find themselves at an Obama meeting, in a room full of blacks, whites, men and women. "You'd be crazy to be an Obama in France,' they said. 'They would say, oh he's the candidate for the Arabs, that one's the candidate for the Muslims, etc. Obama is a hope for those of us who walk with our head down. They had Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and Mohammed Ali but in France we haven't yet had the person who will denounce inequalities and who will last.'

I would love to be caught up in the crowd, cheering Obama as he passes through Paris. I think it would be the very first time since moving there in 1990 that I'd witness most Blacks in the city - African, Caribbean, American - actually sway in one united movement, eager to embrace and align with the same cause. And to acknowledge our common origins, and dialogue in real time about our present and linked future. But also, it's been decades since being American (of any stripe) was considered admirable overseas.

No comments: