Thursday, June 19, 2008

I'M WORRIED

I am still worried about the ways that race is going to play out in the fall election. Today a friend from Blue Jersey reported his conversations at a recent party with a mix of middle-aged and older white New Jerseyans. There were some die-hard Republicans and unwavering Democrats in the mix. Their political preferences were clear. But many of the folks, those independent voters, expressed concerns about supporting a black candidate. My friend was amazed that in a non-media, non-political wonk, non-blogging South Jersey crowd how many people spontaneously raised the spurious Michele Obama "whitey" story. Clearly they missed her witty response:
"I mean 'whitey'? That's something that George Jefferson would say."

The most worrisome question came from one of the party-goers, a moderate who will probably support Obama, opined that he expects that many whites will find it unacceptable to vote for a black candidate no matter what his positions. The question for him--and for the country--is how big is the "some"?

The polls are looking good for Obama right now, including in swing states like Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. But it's early--and a lot can happen between now and November. In the meantime, I'm going to worry.

4 comments:

CJ said...

I don't mean to be a worry wort, but I share your feelings. My small midwestern hometown has had a lot of racial issues in the past 40 years (and a recent eruption of them to boot). At least partially as a result of that more than a few of the people in my hometown are finding it very hard to bring themselves to vote for a black man, and several have already declared their outright refusal to.

As sad and sickening as that is, it's also interesting sociologically to see how these people justify their decisions. They don't view themselves as racist and think racism is a bad thing. So they're using interesting justifications and euphemisms. It makes me wonder if some of the side allegations of Obama being Muslim or any other number of things which aren't related to race will become things people latch onto a nice, acceptable, concrete justifications of why they can't vote for Obama.

Pete Jones said...

I also worry about the "Bradley Effect." Such an argument might be voided by Obama's success in Iowa, Oregon, Idaho, etc., but how this translates to a general election- I don't know.

Examples do exist where whites voted for African Americans in former Confederate States in the post-war period. I'm thinking about Virginia, with which I'm most familiar .

The most striking example came when Oliver Hill won a seat on Richmond's 1949 City Council- the first time an African American had done so in the Capital of the Confederacy. Richmond's African American community made up 29% of the city in 1950 and considering the City's past racial climate and future resistance to Civil Rights (and Hill's own Civil Rights Legal Career)- this was a significant victory. Of course, the nature of City Council elections may have had something to do with it.

In Roanoke (4th largest VA city, 17% African American), African American minister Noel C. Taylor won a crowded mayoral election in 1975. Shortly afterward Dr. Wendell Butler became the first African American school board chairman. Of course, local politics don't translate to national politics perfectly (esp. the nature of city council elections).

In a state-wide election, L. Douglas Wilder's gubernatorial victory in 1989 proved identity politics did not necessarily dominate in a large two horse race. I will say that this race was incredibly close and had strong racial overtones, but Wilder ultimately overcame.

The examples are exceptions in the post-war period (especially in Virginia), but if Richmond and Roanoke can overcome racial politics in 1949 and 1975 respectively, I hope America can in 2008.

Tom S said...

Both excellent comments. Thanks, especially, Pete for the Virginia examples. The Obama campaign is targeting VA in part because of this history, the state's recent purplish to blue political taint, and their candidate's appeal to the state's sizeable black population. And CJ, you're right about small towns in the Midwest. Having written extensively about racial politics in the midwest, there is a deep and poisonous well of racism in the Midwest that, even if it dare not speak its name, concerns me come November. One last point: check out David Sirota's analysis of race and the Democratic primaries/caucuses. It was published in In These Times earlier this spring. It's a little dated, but its major argument stands. http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/3597/the_clinton_firewall/

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