Like most Americans I have been awestruck by Barack Obama's capture of the White House. I have also been pondering the significance of this historic event. Of course the first African-American as President is historic, especially in light of America's history of slavery. The outpouring of congratulations and celebration from around the world has been equally astonishing. Why are so many people inspired by Americans' choice of President-elect Obama? This is the question that perplexes me.
My grandfather came to the US in 1947, accompanied by my father who was 17. Invited by the US government, my grandfather, a soil physicist, came to the midwest to Kansas State University. My father began to study engineering at UC Berkley but soon ran out of money and continued his studies at Kansas State while sharing accomodations with my grandfather. He recounted an incident where my grandfather and he were told to sit at the back of the bus in the colored section. India had just got its independence from British rule and 300 million Indians were now free of colonial rule. To now suffer discrimination on the basis of skin color (my grandfather was a professor and the bus driver was likely at best high school educated) was unacceptable to him and he eventually got off the bus rather than comply.
During the 450 year colonial period western European countries, namely Britain, Spain, Netherlands and France in order of scope, colonized and greatly enriched themselves, mostly at the expense of native people. They ruled with a sense of Darwinian superiority of the white races and its dominant religion: Christianity. The ascendancy of European countries was driven by technological innovation, including the understanding and codifying of free market economics. Whether it was Adam Smith or Karl Marx, these ideas came from the West.
Though the second world war accelerated the demise of colonialism, my contention is the colonial era has truly come to its conclusion with the election of Obama. It has taken America, a post colonial power, to bring about its end, with the free election of the first non-white leader of the West. This is what is resonating around the world, especially in many emerging countries who were colonised: India, Brazil, and African countries.