The Trayvon Martin saga rekindled America's obsession and never-ending dialogue about race relations. As expected, much ink was spilled and much hot air was exhaled on the topic. One would think, based on the sort of ridiculous hyperbole that regularly pollutes our airwaves -- such as the "nation of cowards" comment by Attorney General Eric Holder back in 2009 -- that Americans are among the most racist people in the world.
Certainly, Americans are not (and never will be) perfect, so eliminating all racism from a society is an impossible task. But anybody who thinks that the U.S. is a particularly racist country simply has little knowledge of what happens outside our borders.
Consider a Pew study which determined what percentage of Americans are comfortable with interracial marriage. (For sake of brevity, the results are provided only for whites and are broken down by age group.)
Age 18-29: 88%
Age 30-49: 75%
Age 50-64: 52%
Age 65+: 36%
As might be expected, the millennial generation is very liberal in this regard, while the oldest generation is not. Both our parents and grandparents grew up in a decidedly more racist society, and that fact is reflected in this poll.
Now, compare that study to one conducted in Hungary, which asked if parents would allow their children to be friends with a person of another race. Hungarians said that they would NOT allow their children to be friends with Jews (46%), Africans (58%) and Roma (68%).
In the U.S., our children are being taught that interracial marriage is completely acceptable; in Hungary, children are being taught that simply being friends with a person of another race is unacceptable.
Of course, there's no reason to single out Hungary. Racism is a problem throughout much of Europe. Italy's first black government minister was compared to an orangutan by a senator and had bananas thrown at her by a citizen. Dutch politician Geert Wilders exploits racial tensions to advance an anti-immigrant (particularly anti-Muslim) agenda. And a terrible tragedy unfolded recently in Poland, when Mexican sailors were attacked by Polish soccer hooligans.
And these aren't just isolated events. Indeed, as Benjamin Ward wrote in a 2012 article for openDemocracy:
The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party entered the Greek Parliament in June, securing 7 percent of the popular vote. In France, the National Front won almost 18 percent of the vote in the April 2012 first-round presidential elections. In the Netherlands, the Freedom Party caused the government to collapse in April 2012, withdrawing its support from the ruling coalition (though it lost ground at the polls in September). Until recently, extremist parties were also part of government coalitions in Italy and Switzerland, and earlier in Austria. Similar parties have made significant gains in Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, and had electoral success in the 2009 European Parliament elections in Hungary, the UK, and elsewhere.
If, according to Mr. Holder, the U.S. is a "nation of cowards" in regard to race relations, what would this make Europe?
Perhaps those who continue to obsess over American race relations should try reading global news every once in a while.