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With Obama's victory, Europe's minorities sense new possibilities

A new discourse is emerging in France and Europe that urges a focus on ability – rather than on race or skin.

Francois Mori

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The election of Barack Obama may have revolutionized the world's view of America. But for Africans and Arabs in Europe, he is much more – a liberator figure whose success and social mobility will help them one day crack open the closed doors of European politics.

In Paris's black neighborhoods, in the barber shops, the African boutiques, the crowded bus stops, the groceries, President-elect Obama's election is felt deeply and personally – creating a sense that it is time to push for more.

"Obama has restored belief in the American dream," says Pap Ndiaye, who is with the School for the Advanced Study of the Social Sciences in Paris. "But his election also has a direct social effect in France, because the black youth think it is possible there [in the US] but not here.

"Obama puts the political system in France on the hot seat," he adds. "Structures that are closed are being looked at, and it is time for that."

Few Europeans believe it possible anytime soon for a minority to be elected to high office in their countries. The Obama example highlights a sharp contrast between the ideals and the reality of what a young African or Arab in Europe can hope for as a participant in politics.

Obama's rise created a new discourse focused on ability here – rather than on race or skin as a rationale for change.


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