Blacks, or African Americans as they are called, form less than 13 per cent of the United States’ population. And yet the American president is a black man. Barack Obama defeated the white Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, and then the white war hero John McCain for the presidency. Obama (whose first name Barack is the root word for mubarak), won not because of his fellow blacks, but because of whites.
Mormons, a religious minority that some Christians think are heretics, are less than two per cent of the United States’ population. And yet Republicans have chosen Mormon Mitt Romney to represent them in this year’s general election against Obama. Romney beat a Protestant (Ron Paul), a Catholic (Rick Santorum) and a Protestant-turned-Catholic (Newt Gingrich) to win the nomination. His toughest challenge did not come from a Protestant, who are by far the largest religious group in America. In fact other than Obama and John Kennedy (who was Catholic), every single US president has been a white Protestant. Romney’s strongest opponent was Catholic Richard Santorum. Catholics are less than 24 per cent of the United States’ population. Santorum ran on his faith, and his very moral Catholicism, but remarkably, a majority of Catholics preferred Romney over Santorum. The only example I can think of in all the above where a community voted for its own because of his race or faith was when blacks stood as a bloc behind Obama, but it is difficult to blame them for this.
During Kennedy’s era, when Obama was a baby, the United States was in the middle of a civil rights movement aimed at trying to integrate a country divided by law and by culture. American cities had separate schools, restaurants and public places for blacks. Whites had reserved seats even on buses and marriage between the two races was not allowed. Blacks under Martin Luther King agitated with courage against this discrimination, but so did many whites, without whom the laws would not have changed easily. White judges in the bigoted South enforced the Supreme Court’s decision striking down segregation, with great courage.
What is happening in America now is quite remarkable. It has not happened in Europe, and it will be a very long time before it happens here in our part of the world.
Obama and Romney represent an American population that is in alignment with its great Constitution, the most important document in the world; one that represents the best values of the human race. The American Constitution took force in 1787. In 221 years, it has had only 27 amendments. Some of these amendments are the most significant additions to law in history, including the right to freedom of religion, the right to a speedy trial and the right against self-incrimination.
India’s Constitution was adopted in 1950. It already has 97 amendments. Pakistan didn’t just need to amend its Constitution, it had to replace the whole thing many times, and still Pakistanis are restless.
Twelve American presidents were slave-owners, including Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the other far-seeing American document: the Declaration of Independence. Abraham Lincoln, the man from Obama’s state Illinois, freed the slaves in 1865. This act, Lincoln said, also freed the white man — of his prejudice, his hatred and his racism. But America had a while to go before that happened.
Mayawati, India’s own great leader of the downtrodden, is an Untouchable who was elected chief minister of India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh. But it is true that she ruled a coalition of Dalits and Brahmins. Mayawati’s votaries were and are those of her community; Brahmins are allied with her in UP, only as a means to secure power. Few Indians voted for her because of her policies. This is what makes the choice of Obama and Romney special.
White Europe adores Obama. But Europeans take the vicarious satisfaction of applauding a black man’s success in another white man’s country.
Americans may not be liked in many nations of the world (India is not among them), but few nations are as unprejudiced as they are.
Americans have lifted the son of slaves to the most powerful position on earth. Do you think this is possible in India or Pakistan? Can you imagine your servant’s son as your prime minister?
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2012.
More in OpinionShould the Heavens fall?