Don’t want to turn this blog into a Barack Obama clearinghouse, but I just read Fareed Zakaria’s column in the latest Newsweek and, even apart from the Obama context, I think his comments are relevant to the themes we grapple with here. Zakaria writes about his recent change of heart regarding the notion that one’s racial identity and minority status in this country could qualify them to understand foreign policy and international relations in a way that a person of the majority culture cannot. Here’s a taste:
I’ve never thought of my identity as any kind of qualification. I’ve never written an article that contains the phrase “As an Indian-American …” or “As a person of color …”
But when I think about what is truly distinctive about the way I look at the world, about the advantage that I may have over others in understanding foreign affairs, it is that I know what it means not to be an American. I know intimately the attraction, the repulsion, the hopes, the disappointments that the other 95 percent of humanity feels when thinking about this country. I know it because for a good part of my life, I wasn’t an American. I was the outsider, growing up 8,000 miles away from the centers of power, being shaped by forces over which my country had no control.
When I hear confident claims about liberty and democracy in the Third World, I always think about rural India, where I spent a great deal of time when I was young, and wonder what those peasants struggling to survive would make of the abstractions of the American Enterprise Institute. When I read commentators fulminating about women wearing the burqa—which I don’t much like either—I think about one of my aunts, who has always worn one, and of the many complex reasons she keeps it on, none of which involves approval of misogyny or support for suicide bombers. When I talk to people in a foreign country, no matter how strange, they are always, at some level, familiar to me.
Do you agree or disagree with Zakaria? Also, while we’re still loosely on the subject of Obama, I thought this was an interesting report about how the “race card” recently surfaced at a John Edwards campaign event in Iowa (with a special guest appearance by O.J. Simpson).