November 1, 2008


As I finally got to the bottom of my emails, I found a stack of NY Times op-eds forwarded by my mother. She continues to send fed-ex envelopes full of article clippings, highlighted and covered with notes, but recently discovered the NY Times online service. Yikes, what will this team bring!

The article that adds to our cross-cultural understanding is by Nicholas D. Kristof, entitled, "Rebranding the US with Obama" "". He suggests that, "Barack Obama’s political success could change global perceptions of the United States, redefining the American “brand” to be less about Guantánamo and more about equality." "

Perceptions" is the word that caught my eye.

In his endorsement, Mr. Powell stated that an Obama election “will also not only electrify our country, I think it’ll electrify the world.” You can already see that. A 22-nation survey by the BBC found that voters abroad preferred Mr. Obama to Mr. McCain in every single country — by four to one over all. Nearly half of those in the BBC poll said that the election of Mr. Obama, an African-American, would “fundamentally change” their perceptions of the United States."

There it is again, "perceptions". In Europe, these new perceptions have been already translated into "Obama-mania".

"Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes, which conducted the BBC poll, said that at a recent international conference he attended in Malaysia, many Muslims voiced astonishment at Mr. Obama’s rise because it was so much at odds with their assumptions about the United States. Remember that the one thing countless millions of people around the world “know” about the United States is that it is controlled by a cabal of white bankers and Jews who use police with fire hoses to repress blacks. To them, Mr. Obama’s rise triggers severe cognitive dissonance.

“It’s an anomaly, so contrary to their expectation that it makes them receptive to a new paradigm for the U.S.,” Mr. Kull said.

Now we find, "assumptions," and "expectations," "new paradigms," "what people know about another country," and "cognitive dissonance".

Maybe this election will force all of us to look again at our perceptions, assumptions, expectations, and especially what we think we KNOW about another country. A little cognitive dissonance may not be a bad thing after all -- gets us thinking in new ways.

Who knows, we may have a Chinese-Italian, Romanian-Italian or Albanian-Italian as prime minister some day. Hmmm, first we may need to find a few as doctors, lawyers, government officials or even teachers. Actually right now I would be happily surprised to find a few at my son's old liceo classico - venerable and oddly elite public school in the center of Rome.

There is a long way to go -- hopefully the Obama-mania will create a bit of cognitive dissonance when set side-by-side with the rise of xenophobia and its disturbing question, "what to do with those immigrants" that has been sneaking into the public sphere with increasing regularity.

a domani,


Beatriz Macias said...

Thought provoking post. Such a positive outcome would be well received by many in the world, and we could only hope it would be as well by the other half of the country back home.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful post, and for YOUR thank goodness UNENDING EFFORTS to help us see and percieve in ever-refreshingly new ways.

Elizabeth Abbot said...

THank you "anonymous". You made my day and I am walking tall. It is not an effort at all, but finally an unleased passion!

Gil said...

Thanks for posting. I just hope that this will happen. It has to get better once Obama takes over.