April sent me a link to this CNN article titled “Is black America Ready to Embrace Obama?” I just wanted to point out the absurdity of the “story highlights” listed at the top of the page. There seems to be an assumption that black people should like Obama and vote for him because he’s black–as if his other policies don’t matter at all.
The article starts with highlights:
• In a new poll, Obama leads Clinton 44 to 33 percent among black voters
• Some blacks doubt that Obama understands their experience
• Obama, a Democrat from Illinois, is the Senate’s only black member
• Polls say blacks are less likely to believe America is ready for a black president
Are you missing the irony here? The title seems to imply that Black Americans are skeptical of Obama, but then points out that 44% of Blacks favor Obama, in a race where there are a bazillion candidates. He leads everyone else, but people are questioning whether or not Blacks are loyal to Obama? The doubt angle is reiterated in the second “highlight,” and then the last highlight seems to reinforce Black Americans’ doubt in Obama, which is expanded in the text:
Blacks, in part, may be slow to warm to the candidacy of Obama because, a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll suggests, they are less likely than whites to believe that America is ready for a black president.
The poll, conducted December 5-7, 2006, found that 65 percent of whites thought America was ready, compared with 54 percent of blacks. The poll’s margin of error was plus-or-minus 5 percentage points.
I think they are missing the point here; just because people may think the US is not ready for a Black candidate, doesn’t mean that they are not willing to vote for a Black candidate. My perception is that the vast majority of Black Americans are ready for a black President, but most Black Americans believe that many White Americans are not ready for a black President. (I tend to agree.) So I think reporters are confusing skepticism about whites willingness to accept a black President with skepticism about Obama himself.
The article goes on to suggest that Black Americans are skeptical of Obama because:
Part of Obama’s problem with black voters is that he is viewed by whites as the first black candidate with a legitimate shot at the White House.
“When white America has embraced a candidate — as they have with Barack Obama — there is a certain amount of distrust that goes with this among a number of African Americans,” Wilson said.
In an interview with National Public Radio, Obama acknowledged the dynamic:
“In the history of African-American politics in this country there has always been some tension between speaking in universal terms and speaking in very race-specific terms about the plight of the African-American community,” Obama said. “By virtue of my background, I am more likely to speak in universal terms.”
I am sure that there are a few blacks who feel this way, but I think this is an over-generalization that has been perpetuated by many media outlets.
This is the same problem we see time and time again with the media coverage of Obama and Black voters. Many people seem to be perplexed as to why black voters are not flocking to Obama in droves, and then they are shocked that black voters are deliberative, taking time to analyze Obama’s positions.
Imagine the tables were turned, and we were talking about John Edwards or Hillary Clinton. I personally would hope that we would see the same “highlights:”
• In a new poll, Edwards/Clinton leads Obama 44 to 33 percent among black voters
• Some blacks doubt that Edwards/Clinton understands their experience
Why am I not seeing those stories, particularly for Edwards and the other white male candidates (and to a lesser extent Clinton)? Maybe that’s because people are surprised that Barack Obama isn’t automatically getting Black support (although as Black voters learn more about Obama, he is garnering more support), but the recent statewide elections in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Maryland should have shown that black voters don’t just run willy nilly to the first Black candidate that comes along. Maybe these reporters believe only whites have to prove themselves to black voters. Would we ask similar questions to white voters–why are you skeptical of John Edwards; do you feel he’s not white enough? Why are you voting for Obama when there are several other white candidates? Either way the assumption is really unfair, and it reveals some unfortunate racial double standards.
I wish the mainstream media could just accept the fact black voters don’t automatically vote for Black candidates. Perhaps black voters care more about policies than they do about a candidate’s racial identity. Now isn’t that a novel idea, voting on policy.