Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Obama Factor

There is a perceived change in the attitudes of people here in Thailand since the election of Barack Obama as the next U.S. president. American expatriates are more upbeat and jovial, and students—even non-Americans--seem genuinely excited by the possibilities. Unless one speaks directly with Thais, it’s difficult to assess any new differences in their feelings, as they are always positive and smile at westerners anyway, particularly Americans. I am cautiously optimistic and find myself hopeful that America’s image may be improved, as it is now scraping ground in the global community at large.

Reports on the internet claim that the authors who are Americans living abroad no longer hide their citizenship in order to avoid confrontations about American foreign policy. Strangers smile at them and one journalist in Vienna reported being kissed by a stranger on the bus a day after the election once she knew he was American. Americans who do not travel out of the country are not usually aware of just how badly our country’s reputation has been tarnished by the Bush administration. It is little wonder that so many reports of optimism abound around the world.

For me as an American, it is much more personal. Having grown up during the civil rights movement, it is astonishingly wonderful that a family of color will occupy the White House. It is gratifying to know that many of the barriers that prevented African-Americans from voting as recently as just over 40 years ago have fallen far enough to usher into the Oval Office the son of an African father and white mother from the American plains. I have never understood the illogical racial prejudice that has divided our nation, often violently. Perhaps now true healing and soul-searching may occur, led by a man who is neither white nor black, and yet both. It is the perfect stage upon which to move forward. Let’s hope we do.

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