The Obama Factor

To blacks in a Vienna still troubled with racism, he is “a man who gives us hope”

Opinion | Dardis McNamee | March 2009

At the Amerikahaus, Simon Inou was in constant motion, organizing the last details for the Radio Afrika & Co celebration of the inauguration of Barack Obama, a consortium of NGO’s representing the migrant communities in Vienna supported by the U.S. Embassy.

We caught him in the final moments before the festivities were to begin. The inauguration of Barack Obama was, without question, a day of days.

"For our generation, in our Africa countries, there are no statesmen who have done anything like this," Inou said, clearly moved, reaching for just the right words. "It’s unbelievable! The picture of a statesmen…, someone who gives you hope that you can reach the goal that you commit yourself to achieve!"

Even after more than a decade in Vienna, Inou feels racism as a constant presence, defining what is possible for him and others of African descent. The experience of Vienna International School teacher Mike Brennan, beaten by Vienna police on the platform in the subway at Spittelau on Feb. 11, is only the latest in a long list of incidents. The ZARA Racism Report reports 406 reported incidents of racism in Austria in 2007 alone. Assuming many go unreported, the actual number is surely even higher.

In a parallel he sees with Obama, Inou spent his childhood in a developing country and trained himself in the ways of the West. Born in Cameroon, he studied sociology at university and has since spent a lifetime in journalism. He has lived in Austria since 1995, serving as chief editor of Radio Afrika International from 1995 to 2005, and now founding head of the web portal Afrika Info (, covering immigrants of African descent living in German-speaking countries.

Barack Obama has changed his view of what is possible. When Inou tries to imagine how this has could have happened, he comes, inevitably to Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham Sutoro.

"When I think of this woman, this young mother, and what she managed to accomplish, that she had so much strength to get from Kansas, I am overwhelmed," he says, It’s so convincing, the way she just got things done."

But the biggest thing for him is feeling that his reality is being considered.

"That’s the difference," he said, "representing the values of the minorities." But it’s not affirmative action. "With him, I believe that his skin color hasn’t played such a big role. It’s a picture of someone who has accomplished something."

He paused, acknowledging a visitor who came over to great him, and another who haled him from the doorway. Then, he turned back, apologizing, and caught my gaze.

"Personally, it all very emotional," he said. "I never dreamed in my wildest dreams that something like this could happen in my lifetime."

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