Throughout the European press, I constantly hear Europeans asking whether Americans would actually vote for an African American as president. This weekend when asked the same question by a close Spanish friend, I played devil’s advocate, pushed all the buttons and cited recent examples of Spanish racism (the Spanish national basketball team, the colloquial use of the diminutive when referring to foreigners, and even their irrational hatred and distrust of Lewis Hamilton’s win yesterday in Formula One), though I do not consider Spain to be an overtly racist country.
Nevertheless, in a recent study by the Pew Research Center’s 2008 Global Attitudes Project, Spaniards came off as amongst the most racist (in terms of being both anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic) in Europe. In Spain, unfavorable views towards Jews was up from 21% (2005) to 46% this year; and 52% had negative views of Muslims. At the same time, though, Europeans, especially Spaniards, overwhelmingly prefer Barack Obama.
So there is an irony to Europeans’ fascination with the racial aspect of the American presidential election and whether the “racist” Americans may actually vote for a black president. As I recently commented in a blog post on the subject, Obama has become by far the mainstream candidate with endorsements from all of the mainstream newspapers and with astonishingly record high donations from private citizens, mainly white. More importantly, the African American candidate and his family now look, act, and talk more like the average American than do his white counterparts.
So when you look closely at the facts, what is interesting from the European perspective isn’t whether Americans will vote for an African American but why there is almost no political representation by minority groups at all in European political life.