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With Obama's help, France, too, can shatter the glass ceiling for blacks

The 'Obama effect' should now be harnessed to call for equal opportunity for French minorities.

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"Thank you America!" At 5 a.m. in France, on the night of the US presidential elections, thousands of French took to the streets, crying with joy at the news of Barack Obama's victory.

The French have not been this excited about the US since Jackie Kennedy's visit to Paris in 1961. For the elite, President-elect Obama embodies a new chapter in transatlantic relations. But for the French African and Arab minorities, the new American president is even more than that: He represents the equality of opportunity they do not have in French politics.

France is indeed home to one of Europe's largest black communities and the biggest Muslim minority. One in 10 of its inhabitants is of Arab or African origin. However, the traditional French model of integration is a political failure, and France's political elite remains overwhelmingly white. If nothing changes, a French Obama won't happen anytime soon.

The victory of Obama is holding a mirror to France. And the country is by no means an example. In the United States, there are approximately 10,000 black elected officials. In France, there has not been a black mayor elected since 1989, when a mayor of Togolese origin was elected in a small village in Brittany. And until six months ago, there was not a single mayor of non-European immigrant origins in office. Of the 577 members of the National Assembly (the French Congress), none is from the country's first- or second-generation immigrant population, and only one black congresswoman has been elected in metropolitan France.


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