Many black Europeans say victory for Barack Obama in the U.S. election might set an example that could help remedy their under-representation in European politics.
But they emphasize that the U.S. Democrat inspires a massive following in Europe through his ideas and charisma, not just because of his color.
“He is the first black to achieve what he is achieving but that would not be sufficient to follow him,” said Patrick Lozes, head of France’s Representative Council of Black Associations. “Nobody would have supported him just because he is black.”
“I hope Obama wins because of his performance, not because he’s black,” agreed Innocent Ekhorutumwek, a 26-year-old Nigerian street vendor in Rome.
Not only Democrat sympathizers but conservatives too have welcomed the boost Obama has given to black people, underlining the historic symbolism of a black man contesting the leadership of the world’s most powerful nation.
“His father is African and this link is special to me,” said Oumar Diallo, a sociologist of Guinean ancestry in Berlin.
But an Obama win would highlight how far Europe lags behind America in the representation of black people. Only a handful of people of African origin sit on Europe’s national assemblies.
You need to keep in mind that there are almost 5 million black people among France’s 63 million inhabitants,” [Lozes] said. Most of France’s non-white population is from Arab north Africa or sub-Saharan Africa.
Lozes said Obama in the White House would encourage European leaders to take “affirmative action” about black people’s access to the top echelons of public life, and would boost black people’s views of their own possibilities.
“Minorities will see it is possible, self-inhibition will decrease and people who were not trying anything because of discrimination will feel they can succeed,” Lozes told Reuters.