Obama victory would be a dream come true for French blacks

When French historian Pap Ndiaye was asked recently what Barack Obama's election as US president would mean to him personally, his voice grew soft: "I will be very moved. The most powerful man in the world will be a black man. This is incredible," dpa reported.

But Ndiaye - the author most recently of The Black Condition: An Essay on a French Minority - was quick to add that he also expected Obama's election to bring about certain changes in French society.

"It will, first of all, illuminate the failures of French society in regard to its minorities and the injustices that exist because of the colour of a person's skin," he said. "It will serve as a lesson in democracy for our politicians."

In fact, in the run-up to Tuesday's election, with polls favouring a likely Obama victory, a few French media have begun tentatively to examine the state of minorities in France.

The daily Le Monde recently ran an article on the flagrant absence of black elected officials in France. It was titled Politics: A World of Whites.

According to the story, of the 555 deputies representing mainland France in the National Assembly only one is black; and outside of those elected from French overseas territories, which have largely black populations, there are no blacks in the parliament's upper house, the 300-seat Senate.

In addition, according to the French civil-rights organization CRAN, of the 520,000 municipal councillors elected in 2008, only 2,000 are either black or of North African origin.

This represents one-third of 1 per cent of the total - in a country where, according to most estimates, minorities make up 11 to 17 per cent of the population.

"We need elected blacks here, and we don't have any," Ndiaye said, adding that Obama's election could help change this situation.

"Our political leaders will be obliged to respond to the question of why there are no young people coming from minorities who are active in politics," he said. "It will put pressure on them to find and encourage them."

In addition, as US president, Obama will be an inevitable presence in French media. This will, on the one hand, "accustom this society to seeing someone in this position who is not white," he said.

On the other hand, it will inevitably fill young French blacks with hope. "It will show them that political power does not belong to a specific group."

"Obama's very presence in the presidential race has shown that it's possible," said Marie-Jeanne Thomas, founder and editor-in-chief of Brune, a magazine for women of African descent. "Obama is making us dream."

As a result, the election has become so important to French blacks that a number of them have traveled to the United States to experience it first-hand, she said.

"It is an event as important to them as was the fall of the Berlin Wall to many Europeans," Thomas said. "Obama has entered history. His fate is no longer his; it belongs to the world."

Thomas said that an Obama victory could rouse French minorities out of their passivity regarding the injustices they confront in French society.

"It will make blacks here more combative," she said. "After this experience, the young people will want to surpass themselves. They will see that it is possible in a society that is largely white."

"Obama's adventure is what makes America magical," Junior Minister for Human Rights Rama Yade told the daily Le Parisien. "This is why I dreamed about America during my entire childhood."

Yade is the first-ever French black minister, named by President Nicolas Sarkozy when he took office in 2007. "Just think that when I was a child, the only black person I saw on television here was Michel Leeb, who imitated blacks to make people laugh," she said.

According to Thomas, Obama's candidacy will have an indelible effect on French society. "After Obama, things will never be the same - even if we never have a black president."

However, Ndiaye has even higher hopes. "I would like to see a presidential candidate in France named Mamadou Keita whose grandmother lives in Mali," he said.

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