Some British Skeptical Of Black PM

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The black community in Britain watched President Barack Obama's inauguration and many individuals say they felt empowered by what they saw. But what are the chances that Britain would see a black prime minister any time soon?


And now for a reaction to the inauguration far from Coalgate, Oklahoma. A lot of people in European countries with large ethnic groups are wondering what it means for them. Many believe a black head of state is a long way off. NPR's Rob Gifford spent Inauguration Day with some black Londoners.

ROB GIFFORD: To say that the Fiesta Bar in Brixton, South London, exploded with joy as Barack Obama was sworn in as president would be something of an understatement.

(Soundbite of swearing-in ceremony)

Chief Justice JOHN ROBERTS (Supreme Court): So help you God?

President BARACK OBAMA: So help me God.

Chief Justice ROBERTS: Congratulations, Mr. President.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

GIFFORD: Every time the new President Obama mentioned equality or potential or freedom, the whole bar of about 200 black customers went completely wild. There were some familiar phrases from people like 70-year-old Neil Gordon(ph) who came to London from Jamaica in the early 1960s.

Mr. NEIL GORDON: Oh, wonderful. It's something that we never thought we'd see, and it's wonderful. That's why we're all here today.

GIFFORD: Though Britain was largely responsible for the slave trade, the country does not bear the deep scars of slavery that have so marred American history. But it does have a legacy of racial problems dating from the first large-scale immigration from the Caribbean in the years following World War II. Now, though, for DJ Peter Hall(ph), anything is possible.

Mr. PETER HALL (Disc Jockey): He makes you feel like you can achieve what you want to achieve. I shall tell my kids that. The days when we used to say, well, you'll never see someone in power of our color are gone.

GIFFORD: Black-white relations have also changed somewhat with the rise of Islamist terrorism within Britain. Many commentators feel the crucial dialogue here is no longer one about race, but about religion. But 61-year-old Tony Bowen(ph) believes he won't see a black prime minister in his lifetime. He says, though on the surface there is plenty of integration in Britain, racism is still there lurking.

Mr. TONY BOWEN: In America, there are lots of people. You have mayors and all kinds of people that are very high up and are very important and doing very good jobs. In this country, it is considered if a black person succeeds, it's considered that they get there because it's their color, not because they have the ability. And white people only see them there as a token. And they don't actually accept them. So it's a very, very hard thing to overcome.

GIFFORD: Across the bar, three women in their 40s, Lavern McKenzie(ph), Julie Louie(ph), and Barbara Lawrence(ph) say they're not sure if a black prime minister is possible in Britain within 20 years. Maybe, they say. But for now, they're not really looking at Barack.

Unidentified Woman #1: Behind every great man is what?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman #2: A powerful woman.

GIFFORD: Michelle?

Unidentified Woman #1: Yeah.

Unidentified Woman #2: Michelle's a great woman.

Unidentified Woman #1: We love Michelle.

Unidentified Woman #3: We love Michelle

Unidentified Woman #1: She made that man. She helped make that man.

GIFFORD: It wasn't just the black community in Britain saying these things. Almost everyone here has been captivated by the Obamas' journey to the White House. But as in so many places around the world, it's the minority communities that are drawing the most inspiration from seeing the first black president of the United States. Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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