Excepts from Race to Judgment by Zoher Abdoolcarim, in Time, Oct. 20, 2008.
Asia’s vast ethnic diversity means we are forced to confront many real differences – cultural, political, economic – that exist among us. Sometimes those differences erupt in violence. At least half of the world’s armed conflicts are in Asia, nearly all ethnic-based. But the bigger reason Asians do not focus on commonality is because their societies do not encourage it.
In many countries, ethnic divisions are institutionalized, with strict laws governing what one race can and cannot do. In Malaysia, an affirmative-action program gives preference to Malays over the country’s sizable Chinese and Indian populations in everything from university places to government contracts.
The world has already gained from the Obama candidacy. In one sense, and one sense alone, his skin color does matter. In Asia (with the exception, perhaps, of India), it is virtually unthinkable that an individual from a minority could rise to become a serious national leader. Whatever we may think of the U.S., of its hardly stellar handling of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, of its lack of oversight, restraint and thrift over the financial meltdown, the fact that a Barack Obama can overcome the disadvantages associated with being black and have a shot at the highest office in the land speaks volumes about the possibility of hope in America.