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Yes You Can, When Can We?

[Originally published on]
African Americans are not the only blacks pegging their hopes to the Obama dream.
There has been much talk and much written about the significance of Barack Obama’s candidacy to African Americans. But Obama’s acceptance of the Democratic Party nomination is an unprecedented moment for blacks Europeans, too. As we watch, we do so with the hope for similar strides in our communities, in our countries.
To see this African-American man, with his African-American wife and beautiful African-American children advance toward the White House is as inspiring to us as it is to you.
As a black woman born and bred in England, I had processed the historic nature of this year’s Democratic National Convention. But I was not quite prepared for the sense of pride and optimism that I felt as I watched Michelle Obama—tall, elegant, poised, sophisticated and powerful—deliver her speech before the 20,000-strong crowd in Denver.
Watching her compellingly and convincingly set out her case for why she—as a sister, wife, mom and daughter—would make a great first lady and why her husband would make a great president. The enormity of a black woman delivering those words shook me.
It clearly impacted other Europeans, too. “She didn’t come off too strong, and yet she was strong,” wrote the owner of the Black Women in Europe blog, from the convention. “Some say Michelle’s speech was just okay. I think it was great.”
Conventional wisdom has it that England is more tolerant and less segregated than America. Britain prides itself on its diversity and considers itself a melting pot of different races. But the truth is that classism is still strongly at work, social mobility is virtually stagnant, and very few black people in England achieve the positions of power that matter most in society.
Blacks simply have not been in England long enough, in any significant numbers, to ascend to the highest echelons of British life, some would argue. Blacks make up only around 2 percent of the population in the U.K. I, like many in my generation, am the daughter of African immigrants, the first generation born in the U.K. There is no parallel for blacks in most European countries to the Civil Rights Movement and the deep well of African-American history that allowed Michelle Obama to get up on that stage at the convention and declare that “a girl from the South Side of Chicago can go to college and law school, and the son of a single mother from Hawaii can go all the way to the White House.”
The thought of a black prime minister any time soon is little more than a whimsical notion.
So the symbolism of the Obama family’s American journey is deeply relevant to us. For role models, educated black European women, like myself, have looked to Oprah and Condoleezza. And now we have Michelle. British men will undoubtedly look to Barack as a guidepost for their potential.

For us, this is not just about politics, this is about life. This is about the fact that in cities like London, Paris, Berlin and Rome, black people are watching the Obamas’ every move with anticipation, and silently thanking them. In Europe, we still have a way to go, but if Barack and Michelle Obama can get this far—if Americans, with all their troubled history, can get this far—so can we.


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