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A-historic

Michael Ryan Wiseman, 19 November 2008

To begin this month’s issue without a few words on the US election would be impossible. Every four years, when the
most powerful country in the world goes to the ballot box, the rest of the world takes notice. Although much ink has
been shed on the end of a unipolar world- including in this very space- the United States is still the world’s economic,
military, cultural, academic, etc, leader. It remains, at the very least, the first among equals. The attention lavished upon
this election from across the globe proves just that.

The fact that the world’s economy, environment and security are all on the ropes only served to heighten its importance,
not least because these issues seem to be inextricably intertwined and certainly require concerted action. The self-
styled Greatest Democracy on Earth was at work at a time when the world faced its greatest challenges, how could
we possibly turn away? This is why even tiny New Hampshire had, albeit briefly, the whole world hanging from its every
word. Indeed, given the size of the wave that the United States makes in the world and that every human on the planet
is splashed thereof, we should probably all have a vote. This time, according to staggeringly lopsided global polls, it
seems the world’s choice happened to win.

The reaction to Barack Obama’s election victory, and the subsequent analysis, has focused on one word in particular;
all agreed that it was ‘historic.’ However, the reasons given for this moniker demonstrate just how far there is to go
before the United States, and the rest of the world with it, can claim to judge people solely on the content of their
characters.

Why was it so historic? Because he is the first African-American President, of course. He was born in America, he
was neither raised in Africa, nor by his African father. Presumably if McCain had won, he would have been hailed as
the 44th European-American President. But McCain is referred to as White… and American for that matter- without
an ethnic qualifier or a hyphen.

It is historic, then, because Obama is the first Black President. If he is the first Black President because his father was
Black, wouldn’t he also be the 44th White President because his mother was White? This is getting silly. It is all the
more so because although his politics don’t make an issue of race, most commentators make one out of his.

We could refer to Barack Obama and those who eventually succeed him in that office, regardless of their race, or their
gender, or however else they may happen to deviate- or not- from the first forty-three, as the President of the United
States of America.

And while we’re at it, maybe we could forget the question of how best to refer to somebody’s race, nationality, religion,
gender, etc, in its entirety. We could just say that someone is a person. Now that would be historic.


Michael Ryan Wiseman