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Is Obama the world's first minority Chief Executive?
November 5, 2008 5:24 AM   Subscribe

(I think) I read somewhere recently that if Obama won, he'd be the first elected chief executive (President, PM, etc.) from a racial minority. Is that true?

I don't recall if the comment had to do with all nations, or Western nations, or what. Just curious if anyone knows of a case where someone from a racial minority won the chief executive spot in their country's election. (And for the purposes of this question, let's consider Obama to be a black man.)

And no, these guys don't count.
posted by brandman to Law & Government (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's not true, though I guess one could apply different standards to the question to receive different answers. I can think of Alberto Fujimori, who was elected to the head office of Peru, but was of Japanese descent. White leaders in Jamaica. And loads of others.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:33 AM on November 5, 2008


This question was hashed out in this thread last night. A bunch of examples were given, including white leaders in South Africa (though of dubious democratic legitimacy), Jewish PM's in England, and a bunch of others.

People kept giving the example of Morales in Bolivia, but he's actually from the racial majority -- the previous mestizo leaders in Bolivia were from the racial minority. Most other countries in Latin America have been or are lead by politicians from racial minorities -- usually white, but you'd include Fujimori in Peru, too.

Depending on how you define "minority," an argument can be made for including Sarkozy (Hungarian and Jewish ancestry) and Canadians from Quebec. And by "racial," are you including what gets called "tribal" or "ethnic group," or religious affiliation? Because then you could include everyone from Saddam Hussein to Moi in Kenya.

So no, this is not a first, no matter how you bend it. That doesn't diminish the significance of Obama's election, but as much as we all love US exceptionalism, this is not a perfect example of it.
posted by Forktine at 5:37 AM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Got it Dee, thanks!
posted by brandman at 5:38 AM on November 5, 2008


Whites are about 10% of the population of South Africa, but there were white leaders of that country under apartheid.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 5:39 AM on November 5, 2008


As Dee says, it depends how you define the minority e.g. British PM Benjamin Disraeli was an ethnic Jew, although he was baptised into the CofE as a teenager.
posted by Jakey at 5:39 AM on November 5, 2008


And Gordon Brown is Scottish (and not the first Scottish PM), a racial minority in the UK. There has also been a Welsh Prime Minister (Lloyd George).
posted by TheRaven at 5:51 AM on November 5, 2008


The Scotts are a separate race now? That's odd, I could of swore they were mainly European white folks!
posted by Goofyy at 6:04 AM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Btw, Race ? Or ethnic group ? But in the USA as in other places, even this is challenged by Meta Ethnicity.
posted by nicolin at 6:26 AM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


If I'm not mistaken Obama is 50% Majority white, 50% minority white. He chose his race based on his color, not his ethnicity.
posted by Gungho at 6:55 AM on November 5, 2008


sorry, 50% minority black...
posted by Gungho at 6:55 AM on November 5, 2008


An important distinction is lost in these examples. None are members of a subordinated racial minority and that's what people are talking about. There's an argument for Disraeli, but that's hardly recent and far from obvious. Morales is from a subordinated majority, Mori and White South Africans are from economically dominant minorities. I'm not sure you'll ever find a democracy that elected a member of a small ethnic or racial minority that is substantially disadvantaged relative to the mainstream.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:59 AM on November 5, 2008


In México, Benito Juarez was a pure Zapotec, and served 5 terms between 1858 and 1872. Victoriano Huerta was fully Amerindian, and at least 50% Wixáritari, he was president in, I believe, 1913, after a weird coup.

Juarez was responsible for the separation of church and state, slowly being undone by the last 2 presidents (who were elected after 60 years of one party rule, the first one (Fox) basing his campaign on the themes of hope and change, and the "we can do it" slogan).

Amerindians constitute about 30% of the Mexican population, are disproportionately poor, discriminated against by the mestizo majority, and have a long history of oppression. If this does not qualify as a minority, Zapotecs are less than 2% of the population, and there are less than 50,000 Wixáritari.

It would be good for Mexico to have another native president. Our last 3 Harvard and 1 Yale educated presidents have sucked balls.
posted by dirty lies at 7:28 AM on November 5, 2008


Just remember another piece of useless trivia: Juarez and Lincoln were friends (or at least friendly), and helped each other a couple of times. During the U.S. Civil War, the Confederate government sent a delegate to Mexico to get Juarez on their side. Juarez put the guy in jail. The confederates had missed the Juarez Law of 1855, which declared all citizens equal under the law.
posted by dirty lies at 7:44 AM on November 5, 2008


Scots are classed as a separate race to an extent in the UK - on equal opportunites forms you have 'White British' 'White Irish' 'White Scottish' and 'White Other'. I guess if I want to be super-technical I'm the second one on the form, but I'd have to be going back a few generations.
posted by mippy at 8:09 AM on November 5, 2008


Scots are not classed as a separate race in the UK. 'White British' obviously includes the Scots, who are - no matter how vehemently some may deny it - British.
posted by ComfySofa at 8:57 AM on November 5, 2008


Canadians from Quebec

Yes, if you consider the Quebecois an "ethnic minority" then Canada has a long tradition of Prime Ministers from a minority. Trudeau and Chretien in recent memory, lots of others before that.
posted by GuyZero at 9:26 AM on November 5, 2008


I'm pretty sure the white leaders of South Africa were there first.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:33 AM on November 5, 2008


These answers leave something to be desired. Reading between the lines a little, it seems like the important question is: has there been anything like this before? Not just a member of a technical, numerical minority, but a member of a group that was straightforwardly, profoundly oppressed by the very country that elects the person.

Feel free to delete if this is a derail or piggyback, but I'm trying to clarify the question. (I don't know the answer.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:39 AM on November 5, 2008


Yeah I'd have to agree that this is less about the fact that he is a minority than it is about the fact that he is a member of the minority that was enslaved in this country 150 years ago, and oppressed, lynched, and largely without franchise 40 years ago.

That is the exceptional part.
posted by zhivota at 10:05 AM on November 5, 2008


Great answers folks, thanks.

Jaltoch...your question is probably more interesting than my original one. Mine was more of a black & white (pun intended) kind of query, very binary. Yours introduces a more interesting, qualitative element to it.

In general, what I seem to recall reading was that while several other nations had elected women chief executives, none had elected one from a racial minority. Clearly my recollection was wrong, they may have couched it with "a historically oppressed minority in a nation where voting rights are not granted based on race, ethnicity, class, religion, etc." I really don't remember, but it must have been something like that.

(And quite honestly, I'm a little embarassed that I didn't even think about the South African example. I guess it's because I wasn't equating their prior voting system to that which we have in the US.)
posted by brandman at 10:33 AM on November 5, 2008


Brandman, I was just watching a clip of Juan Williams from Fox News that Salon linked to. He made a point along those lines, but the nuances are probably important. He'd just made the point that American blacks had been disenfranchised until 1965, and said that he couldn't think of another example where a country elected a leader from formerly despised minority. Even in that context, he might be wrong, but not as blatantly.
posted by Good Brain at 11:12 AM on November 5, 2008


"If I'm not mistaken Obama is 50% Majority white, 50% minority white (sic). He chose his race based on his color, not his ethnicity"

Gungho what you may not understand is that until the mid-60s, being 50% black was more than enough to be legally considered "black" in large areas of the US, and denied a range of civil rights as a result.

The passage of the major legislation of the civil rights movement may have changed the law, but it didn't immediately change attitudes. Whatever latitude Obama had to decide how he identified, racially, when he was forming his own identity, he still did so within the context of a society that prevailingly identified him as black.

Also, for what it's worth, it's clear that Obama's self-identification is nuanced. That you think he chose his race based on his color, rather than his ethnicity demonstrates that even now, his racial identity is as much imposed from the outside as it was chosen from the inside.
posted by Good Brain at 11:35 AM on November 5, 2008


Not a sovereign country, but a big piece of territory: Canada's province British Columbia elected Ujjal Dosanjh as premier in 2000. He was born in India.
posted by zadcat at 11:49 AM on November 5, 2008


Reading between the lines a little, it seems like the important question is: has there been anything like this before?

OK, spin it hard enough and yes, you Americans are so different and so special. No one else ever has (or even could) do this incredible special thing that you guys have done when defined in just this way!

Manmohan Singh
, current Indian PM, Sikh. (they make up ~1.9% of the population).
posted by Meatbomb at 12:51 PM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


OK, spin it hard enough and yes, you Americans are so different and so special.

Not to mention all the female leaders that there have been around the world: Thatcher, Bhutto, Helen Clark in New Zealand, the short-lived Kim Campbell in Canada, Aquino in the Phillipines and 41 more. I mean, y'all are getting beaten by Pakistan, Bangladesh and Mongolia in the female leaders category.

Also, with the election of Obama, there are no more African-American Senators. (though one may have been elected that I am unaware of).
posted by GuyZero at 2:55 PM on November 5, 2008


Pakistan has elected minority leaders before, the late Benazir Bhutto among them. She was Sindhi, and Shia, whereas Pakistan is majority Punjabi and Sunni. So not only a woman head of state, but a religious and ethnic minority at that!
posted by BinGregory at 7:48 PM on November 5, 2008


Mahendra Chaudry
posted by pompomtom at 8:07 PM on November 5, 2008


OK, spin it hard enough and yes, you Americans are so different and so special. No one else ever has (or even could) do this incredible special thing that you guys have done when defined in just this way!

Well, I actually think that's really important if it's true, but I should have remembered that pro-American sentiment is verboten on Metafilter.

Anyway, since the OP has said I misinterpreted the question, my earlier point is obviously moot.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:35 AM on November 6, 2008


what you may not understand is that until the mid-60s, being 50% black was more than enough to be legally considered "black" in large areas of the US, and denied a range of civil rights as a result.Good Brain

Wait a minute. In one thread people are excusing him for being 8 when Ayers was an active terrorist, and now you want he should be black based on what happened before the civil rights movement?

Can I have some of that cake and kool aid?
posted by Gungho at 6:26 AM on November 6, 2008


And what about Michaelle Jean ?
posted by nicolin at 2:42 AM on November 7, 2008


While technically the Canadian Head of State, the GG isn't elected.
posted by GuyZero at 7:26 AM on November 7, 2008


Can someone tell me why Benito Juarez does not qualify? Member of a minority which at the time had a history of more than 200 years of oppression, he was elected by a small margin, then re-elected.
posted by dirty lies at 7:45 AM on November 7, 2008


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