What British commentators on the U.S. election campaign lack in knowledge and perspective they make up for in sheer nerve.
This is particularly true when it comes to the question of race and America. See for example this by historian Tristram Hunt or this and this. Supposedly the candidacy of Barack Obama offers us benighted Yanks an opportunity for redemption: a chance to rise above our appalling history, heal our wounds, and perhaps show that for once that the lot of the black man in a racist America is beginning to change.
That’s pretty rich coming from a country which is decades away from offering blacks and other minorities the kind of opportunities available in the U.S.
It is indeed significant that we Americans have an extremely popular black candidate for president. But we have long had black Supreme Court justices, beginning with Thurgood Marshall in 1967. We have had black CEOs of major corporations, like American Express’s Kenneth Chenault. We have had Black university heads and star academics like Henry Louis Gates. We have long celebrated great American novelists who happen to be black, like Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin.
It is true that Britain’s media works anxiously to put black faces on stage and screen, that there are prominent black British athletes and entertainers and a handful of members of Parliament. But we have had many black Cabinet members (not to mention Cabinet members from other racial minorities) from both political parties. We have had dozens of black generals and admirals — the first one, the U.S. Air Force’s Gen. B.O. Davis Jr. being appointed in 1954.
Two black Americans — one of them the son of Jamaican immigrants – have occupied both of the most senior Cabinet posts, those concerned with national security and foreign policy. Even now, under a conservative Republican administration, it is a black woman who represents the United States in the council chambers of the world.
How close is the British army to having a non-white brigadier general, let alone a non-white chief of defense staff? How many decades is it likely to be before Britain has a black foreign secretary or Lord Chief Justice? At this point Britain cannot even boast a non-white police chief or mayor of a medium sized city. The records of countries like France and Germany are even worse. America’s record on race deserves less condescension and a lot more respect from Britons and Europeans.
– Jonathan Foreman is managing editor of StandpointOnline.