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About KA Dilday

KA Dilday worked on the New York Times opinion page until autumn 2005, when she began a writing fellowship with the Institute of Current World Affairs. During the period of the fellowship, she is travelling between North Africa and France. KA Dilday is currently planning a New York office for openDemocracy.

Articles by KA Dilday

This week’s front page editor

Clare Sambrook

Clare Sambrook, investigative journalist, co-edits Shine a Light.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

The Shutdown: Forty years in the making

What is going on in the United States?  Why the first government shutdown in nearly two decades? Kay Dilday sits down with Colin Greer to trace the origins of the current crisis.

Michael Jackson: crossing over

A gifted musician born of black American culture whose work reached beyond. Why did he matter? KA Dilday reflects on Michael Jackson's journey.

Only in America (part V)

In the wake of Obama's victory, KA Dilday begins to digest an unprecedented result. Catch up with the earlier segments of her conversation wtih Anthony Barnett: part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.  

Dear Anthony:

From the moment the news was announced at about 4 am in London, and I heard the triumphant roar of the Harlem, New York City residents through the phone as I spoke to my sister overseas, I've been in a state of shock.  A black man with a funny name, and Hussein as a middle name no less, was elected president by more than half of the Americans who voted in the largest voter turnout in 100 years.

I never believed that enough of my fellow citizens would feel comfortable voting for a black man to be president for Obama to win. In a time of Islamophobia, I never believed that enough of my fellow citizens would feel comfortable voting for a man who had Muslim relatives for Obama to win. Until the moment when it became an irrefutable fact, I had underestimated my country.

So I consumed my dish of crow with relish.

One nagging concern though: while John McCain's concession speech was gracious, I inferred that he thought Barack Obama's success heralded the end of racism in America. Just as Thatcher's tenure as prime minister didn't mean the end of sexism in Britain, or Lula's and Morales' triumphs don't mean the end of classism in their respective countries, nor does Obama's success mean that racism no longer exists. But it does mean that for any one person with determination, anything is possible. And that is a powerful piece of knowledge to hold.

I think I'm going to take a few days to mull this over, Anthony, before we continue our conversation.


KA Dilday was recently a France-based fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs. She covered integration and immigration in France and traveled frequently to North Africa. She has written and edited for many American publications. She was an editor for the New York Times opinion page. 


Only in America (part I)

In the first segment of a multi-part exchange, KA Dilday reminds Anthony Barnett of how Barack Obama's rise is very un-European. Read on: part II, part III, and part IV

Dear Anthony:

It's been several months since I told you that Barack Obama's nomination as the presidential candidate for a major political party, could only happen in America . But even as I said that, I also insisted that he would never be elected president because of his race, particularly since he was running against a patrician white man. Now, and I say this with a cautious optimism, it seems that on the night of 4 November (EST of course) I may be eating a dish of crow, and relishing every bite.

I've lived in three countries in Europe - France, The Netherlands and now the United Kingdom - and despite the western European belief, particularly in France, that their countries are more liberal and tolerant than the United States, none of them have ever voted someone from an ethnic minority to a major position in national government. France, despite having a Muslim population (mostly of north and sub-Saharan African descent) of nearly ten percent, has never elected any Muslims to their National Assembly, the directly-elected body of their bi-cameral parliament.

In a way I'm embarrassed that my excitement is based on a politics of identity - Obama's black, I'm black, hooray for the race! - because as a thoughtful person, I've always tried to base my decisions on a candidate's ideas and policies. And despite that I've always been registered as a political independent, unaffiliated with either major party, I didn't vote for another black man, Jesse Jackson, when he ran as an independent candidate for president in 1988. But I can't deny the thrill I felt when I colored in the dot next to Barack Obama's name on the absentee ballot that I scoured the mail for each day until it finally came last Monday. I'm still expecting an unpleasant surprise. I don't think the exposure of Obama's aunt as an illegal alien will derail him, but who knows what the Republican's dirty tricks strategists will throw up. They're fiendishly clever and unabashedly dissolute when it comes to winning elections. But could it be? A black man, president of the United States! Who would have thought it in my lifetime?

Optimistically yours,


KA Dilday was recently a France-based fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs. She covered integration and immigration in France and traveled frequently to North Africa. She has written and edited for many American publications. She was an editor for the New York Times opinion page. 

Only in America (part III)

In the third portion of her exchange with Anthony Barnett, KA Dilday argues that majority-minority dynamics in the US would make an Obama presidency unique and incomparable to the rise of Lula, Bachelet and Morales in South America. Previous letters: part I and part II. Read on: part IV.   

Dear Anthony:

It's the day of reckoning and I am taut with nervousness, so I'm pleased to be distracted by our discussion.

You question whether Barack Obama's success makes American exceptional. I still believe that it does. But I do acknowledge several of your points: blacks in America have a much longer history than the dominant ethnic minorities in the United Kingdom or in France or in most of Western Europe for that matter. And I agree that the US is woefully behind in matters of gender. Just witness the "taming" of Michelle Obama and Hillary (then Rodham, forced to change her name to) Clinton, both of whom had to downplay their own intelligence and accomplishments to fit into Americans' notion of a potential first lady.

So why does Obama's success make the United States exceptional?

America's pious song and dance

The US presidential campaign reveals how central - and intractable - public piety is in American political life. Until other moral spaces are found, politicians and candidates will need to keep their ministers nearby, says KA Dilday.

The London - and Obama - effect: back to being black

It took a global village. KA Dilday, openDemocracy columnist, writes in the New York Times

The gaze of strangers: Morocco, male love and modernity

The new-media exposure of homosexual activity in the Muslim world highlights the paradoxes of its collision with modernity, says KA Dilday.

Language, immigration and citizenship

The acquisition of language skills in an unfamiliar world unlocks the door to belonging as well as opportunity, reflects KA Dilday after a Paris hospital experience.

Intelligence, inequality and race

Intelligence is more than skin-deep. KA Dilday, unimpressed by the IQ test, retraces her own journey to take a different measure of social outcomes.

Defenders of the nation

What is happening when the children of immigrants use their achieved social standing to reinforce Europe's narratives of national identity? KA Dilday explores the trend.

Morocco’s illusory democracy

A pre-election journey across Morocco is for KA Dilday a lesson in the consequences of civic disempowerment.

Nadia Yassine’s journey

The social entrapment of millions of poor Moroccans feeds a hunger for improvement. Can the the charismatic reformist Islamism of Nadia Yassine be the vehicle to deliver it, asks KA Dilday.

The Copenhagen syndrome

How far does your radius of empathy extend? Are you prepared to include "others" in pursuit of a more inclusive "we"? The impact of immigration and poverty on everyday life make these questions a matter of personal as well as intellectual and governmental concern, says KA Dilday.

Morocco outside in

The increasing presence of sub-Saharan Africans in Morocco is forcing the people of the north African country to look behind as well as across to Europe, finds KA Dilday.

A girl, a knife, and Hawa Gréou

A Malian woman's story of genital mutilation in France lies at modern Europe's nerve-ends, says KA Dilday.

France's two worlds

The election of Nicolas Sarkozy is a sign of France’s divisions, its fears, its conservatism, and yet its hunger for change. KA Dilday measures a complex moment.

There is a particular type of French boy who irks me. I don't often see him in my own neighbourhood on the edge of what is sometimes called Paris's "little Africa", a bustling mix of Maghrebis and sub-Saharan Africans. This boy has paler skin than that crowd. I usually see this boy on the left bank, in the 7th arrondissement. He can be between 15 and 18.

The discomfort of strangers

How do western societies accept outsiders into their midst? KA Dilday reflects on one dimension of the Virginia Tech massacre.

The Darfur conundrum

French and other European intellectuals are mobilizing for intervention in Darfur. Who are they really writing about, asks KA Dilday

The university's freedom lesson

The pressure on universities to manage and monitor their charges in the wider social interest is in tension with their role as incubators of civic virtue, says KA Dilday.

Sister in spirit: Ayaan Hirsi Ali's 'Infidel'

The Somali-Dutch dissident's critique of Islam resonates with KA Dilday's experience of fundamentalist Christianity in the American south. But their distance lies also in the journey beyond.

Iraqis adrift

The scale of Iraqis' displacement matches the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948. In addressing it, Sweden shames the American architects of war, says KA Dilday.

Barack Obama, Moroccan Ali, and me

Behind the mild racism of a misplaced compliment is a subtler, deeper prejudice that confronts every black "outsider" in the west, says KA Dilday.

Zidane and France: the rules of the game

The French football captain Zinedine Zidane's act of retaliation in the world-cup final was also an immigrant's declaration of independence from the country that reveres him, says KA Dilday.

In the days after the world-cup final in Berlin on 9 July 2006, the contrast between the contestants was brutal: while victorious Italy engaged in an orgiastic frenzy of the nationalism that the sporting event provokes, defeated France was simply confused.

The writer and politics: Peter Handke's choice

The Austrian writer Peter Handke is at the centre of a Europe-wide cultural controversy: the withdrawal of a literary prize because of his support for the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. The row touches on the heart of a writer's self-understanding, says KA Dilday.

A question of class, race, and France itself: reply to Richard Wolin

The protests of middle-class French students against the youth employment law were more complacent than heroic, writes KA Dilday.

The labour of others

America is convulsed by a debate over immigration. KA Dilday wonders if it is evading the subject's harsh realities.

The worth of illusion

People discriminate; it's a fact of life. So what is better, asks KA Dilday: to pretend they don't and leave people frustrated and disappointed when the bigotry finally reveals itself, or to be honest and let people know up front when they’re not wanted?

Europe's forked tongues

How does a person in movement come to "belong" to a country? Europe's blood-and-soil confusions towards its would-be citizens highlight the crisis of identity in the continent itself, says KA Dilday.

A question of class

The resentment of western elites’ addiction to material excess amidst oceans of deprivation must be addressed if it is not to turn toxic, says KA Dilday.

France seeks a world voice

The French state plans to create a global news network. KA Dilday asks if more than national vanity is involved.

Judith Miller's race: the unasked question

Why is race a factor in journalism scandals only when the central figure is black or Asian? The current dispute over Judith Miller at the New York Times suggests to KA Dilday that public discussion about media standards, values and failures is too often only skin-deep.

Rebranding America

The United States is trying to improve its public image in the Arab and Muslim world. KA Dilday asks if its “public diplomacy” should be looking closer to home.

Art and suffering: four years after 9/11

When does it become appropriate to make fiction from terrorism or genocide? And how does a writer do that without feeding off the grief of victims?
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