Wednesday, February 07, 2007

IDENTITY POLITICS FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN IN 2008... IT'S GOING TO BE A TOUGH ONE

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A few weeks ago I flew from Burbank to Oakland and sat between two African-American women. One was in her 30s and the other was probably around 45. We got to chatting and I asked them if they had any feelings about Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama in the Democratic presidential primary. The older woman didn't know much about Obama, other than that he was Oprah's fave. She likes Hillary. The younger woman was more familiar with Obama and is open to knowing more about him but, at least for now, she's for Hillary. Today, one of the sagest voices in American politics, Tom Schaller, looked at the same question in the Baltimore Sun. Like me, Schaller had an obvious question about identity politics: "Barack Obama is black. Hillary Rodham Clinton is a woman. So if you're an African-American woman-- and therefore, presumably, a Democrat-- how do you choose between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton in what could turn out to be a precedent-setting presidential election?"

Schaller goes on to explain how significant the female African-American vote is for Democrats (very-- nearly 60% of the 14 million African-American voters in 2004 were women). And then Schaller interviewed some Democratic Party operatives-- women who were far more politically savvy than the two I was sitting with on the plane. All of the women he spoke to said, basically, that "For me, it's not about their race or gender, but who is going to be the best candidate." We all think like that, although voting patterns consistently disprove it.
Senator Obama's allure may be perceived as more generationally prospective, whereas the appeal of Senator Clinton-- the former first lady married to the man novelist Toni Morrison once called the "first black president"-- is deemed more historically retrospective. "He brings a lot to our heritage and culture, especially to our youth," said Victoria Haynes, a 47-year-old Denver native who worked on the campaign of newly elected Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. "She brings a lot of strength as a woman who came from behind her husband to lead as a woman..." We'll see if Democrats and the rest of the voters keep it real in 2008. Until then, with Senator Obama in the race, Senator Clinton will have to work harder to lock down black voters who might otherwise have been hers for the taking. For his part, Mr. Obama would be wise not to underestimate the potential for female solidarity to trump race.



UPDATE: OF COURSE AFRICAN-AMERICAN MALE POLITICIANS ALSO HAVE A HEAVY DECISION TO CONSIDER

Today's New York Observer looks at the Obama/Clinton contest from a different perspective. Imagine if you were an African-American politician... in New York. Jesse Jackson doesn't run for office or trade political back-scratches every day; Carl McCall and Charlie Rangel do. They support Clinton. On the other hand, Alabama Congressman Artur Davis, a pretty middle of the road Dem, is on Team Obama. "By the time primaries roll around and significant black-voter populations weigh in, Senator Obama will get the lion’s share of the black vote. The fact of the matter is that Obama offers this country the chance to transform itself overnight with his election to the Presidency.”

Not that anyone's asking, but me, I always like an agent of change more than a defender of the essential status quo. Are either of these two that? Both are... to an extent. And neither is in many ways. Now Feingold...

6 Comments:

At 7:53 AM, Blogger Psychomikeo said...

I have a feelin' that the media will destory one (or both)of them...

 
At 1:38 AM, Blogger Eric Mar said...

i have a gut feeling too that the racial prejudice of the electorate [and the pundits] too will be much stronger than sexism in a presidential race...

 
At 9:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check the going's on in New England !!! Word is that New England will see its first Black female candidate for Congress in '08. And, she's from Maine, the whitest state. Maine will have an open seat in CD1 in the next cycle. Do a web search on Jill Duson. She is a city councilor and has served as Mayor of Maine's largest city, Portland.

 
At 7:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thought you would find the article pasted below of interest.

"African American Women and the 2008 Presidential Election"

http://www.blacknews.com/pr/women_election101.html

 
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