George is a good friend from college who has lived in several different South American and European countries the last several years. Raised in Ohio, George watched from afar the election the whole world was waiting for and battled European skepticism that America would finally do the right thing while also deflecting nasty email rumors circulated by high school friends still caught up in distrust of "the skinny black kid with a funny name." Today, George can rest a little easier.--DP
The View from Over Here
I work for the UN and have been living in Italy for nearly six years, and this is the first moment that I haven't felt on the spot for being an American, in all that time.
The day after the election I wore my Barack T-shirt under my blazer to work. People I didn't even know stopped me to tell me how relieved they were, and how they felt that the United States had once again showed itself to be a place of bold ideas, of change and renewal, of reaching for something better, of being a place where content matters more than anything else
All day long people stopped by my office to talk about what had happened and offer congratulations that we as a people did what we did. An Iraqi colleague. An Egyptian, French, English, Tunisian, you name it.
I was buoyed up by a feeling of pride in my country, something I haven't felt in a while, and spoke at an office party we had to celebrate the rollout of our new website about the election. It was so easy. I just wanted to say, "You see, don't write us off yet. We've made some horrible decisions in recent years, but we can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and try a different path. We can play ball, we see you as equals, we're no better --we just unfortunately have lots of big guns. But you're about to see a switch from our worst to something closer to our best."
Continue reading after the jump...
Whatever the politics or policies that Obama espouses, what people here are focused on is what it means for America to have elected a black man with the middle name of Hussein following the dark years of Bush et. al's "war on terror," not to mention following our entire history on race. And they really fucking admire it.
Yes we are still annoying Americans in all those ways that Americans can be annoying. Yet our optimism, which is part of what makes us annoying to them, is also one of our greatest qualities. Our optimism, our belief in the power of people and of the individual, is one of our best traits, culturally. I am so relieved, and proud.
Today I took a photo of my daughter watching Obama's victory speech. And I wept because she never had to kick a white friend out of her yard for calling some black kid from around the block a nigger. That racist was my better friend, but I was raised differently, so I showed him the door. But my daughter, my son? They don't understand why his color or name would even matter.
I've explained a bit of it to them, but not too much. Let them read about it in old history books. It's a new day.
I don't think he's the messiah. I don't know that there will be a sea change. I have hope for some important shifts. But even without all of that, it's a new day. Some very important healing took place. I think we have taken a major step towards no longer being a cripple based on our history of race relations.
That's good enough, and I think there's a lot more good to come as well, on top of that. Speriamo bene.
PS. Something in the Atlantic a while ago spoke pretty intelligently about the soft power that the impacts I've described here brings to the US.
PSS. And Colin Powell, who pissed me off with his pre-war pitch to the UN, made some moving and intelligent comments on the meaning of the election.