Indecision with African American Voters?

By Ilasiea L. Gray

Barack Obama running for President of the United States of America of course hit home with African American from the very start.  In our history we have had Jesse Jackson, Alan Keyes, and Al Sharpton as our African American candidates for nomination. These men were close and dreamed of that nomination, however none of them got as far as Barack Obama. Now that he is closer than ever and has almost made it to the Presidency, how will the African Americans take it if he loses?  For many, it will be disappointing however, there are many African Americans who welcome the loss.

In the primaries, Obama did well with the black vote, getting ratios of 8 to 1 and 9 to 1 in many places. Though these numbers were good, they still did not completely skyrocket over Hillary Clinton. At the beginning, among black registered Democrats overall, Clinton had a 57 percent to 33 percent lead over Obama. She clearly had many African American Democrats divided.  Part of the reason for such a gain for Hillary was the know-her factor.  People all over (whether black, white, male, female) knew the Clinton name and what the Clinton’s were about.  Most people had no idea who Obama was which did not work in his favor.

But what about when people began to pay attention to Senator Barack Obama?  Once people took some time to look into his policies and how he planned to bring change to this country, Obama’s campaign took off-especially with black voters.  He began climbing up in numbers, winning over states, and finally took the victory of the primary.  African Americans saw not only was a black man running for President, but that this black man really has a fighting chance.  In Professor Randall Kennedy’s “The Big ‘What If'” article, he states,

Hillary Clinton, outpolled him among blacks in part because many didn’t believe that he stood a chance of prevailing. Then came Iowa. And the near-victory in New Hampshire. When blacks realized that Obama’s candidacy represented a serious drive for electoral power with an appreciable chance of success, they gravitated overwhelmingly to the Illinois senator.


After all the excitement of Obama winning the primary, people automatically assumed that Obama had completely taken over the black vote. This was not necessarily the case and still the election between Obama and McCain is very close. There are still many black voters, conservatives and liberals alike, who do not want to see Obama in office. A group called the Hip Hop Republicans for example are all for McCain.

There are also other African Americans who may seem to want Obama to succeed, yet say things against him.  One famous example is when Jesse Jackson disagreed on Obama’s Father’s Day speech in June, and some of the things he was saying about black fathers.  The microphone Jackson was wearing happened to pick up his unflattering response:

This got a lot of attention because this is a man who was suppose to be on Obama’s side.  Jesse Jackson Jr. was probably the most outraged of anyone and began lashing out at his father’s comments.  He stated that he was “deeply outraged and disappointed,,,He should keep hope alive and any personal attacks and insults to himself.”

What I find more interesting about some of the anti-Obama African Americans is that they too are torn,  Though there are those who are voting for McCain, there are still many who are can’t decitde between history and values, and their “ideology” and the Republican party.  These black conservatives stay true to their values, stating things like “there is very little I agree with Obama on,” but at the same time, can not stand the thought of not voting for him. In an article titled, “Obama Giving Some Black Republicans ‘Heartburn‘,” Michael Fauntroy, author of “Republicans and the Black Vote,” states:

Let’s say Barack Obama wins, and 30 years down the line, you’re a black Republican or black conservative, and your grandkid comes to you and says, ‘Did you vote for Obama?’ It’s going to be hard to argue why you didn’t.

This election is obviously very heartfelt for African American voters no matter what one’s politics. An African American student of writer Randall Kennedy wrote,

Obama is a once-in-a-lifetime black candidate…our one shot, probably the only real contender that my parents and grandparents will ever see, and maybe the only contender my generation will see. All my hopes ride with him

This may be true.  Who knows when the next time a strong, solid African American candidate will come along again.  Not only that, but at what seems to be the perfect time (acceptance speech the day of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech).  The time is of the essence.  Not only will Obama’s loss be a disappointment in the black community, it will also be looked at as “The Man” not letting African Americans advance.  If Obama does lose come November, I only hope that change will still come, and that some day soon we will see a black President.

I anticipate that most black Americans will believe that an Obama defeat will have stemmed in substantial part from a prejudice…to become president on the day they were born black. They will of course understand that race wasn’t the only significant variable — that party affiliation, ideological proclivities, strategic choices and dumb luck also mattered. But deep in their bones, they will believe — and probably rightly — that race was a key element, that had the racial shoe been on the other foot — had John McCain been black and Obama white — the result would have been different.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Indecision with African American Voters?

  1. Stephen Noriega

    Thanks for your post. It was very interesting. I would be curious to see what percentage of the black population the groups you talk about represent. If their numbers are like the Log Cabin Republicans (gay Republicans) then this will have little effect. However, any loss of voters is crucial in this election that appears to be extremely close.

  2. Tony Robinson

    Ilasiea:
    A very interesting post on a crucial topic. I agree with Stephen that it is important to actually know how big such groups as the Hip Hop Republicans for McCain are. You say a few times that a substantial number of black voters are considering McCain–but I don’t think the hard numbers bear this out. Obama will get 90-95% of the Black vote, and that’s about a tight a lock on a demographic group as you can imagine.

    Much of the racial bloc voting for Obama will be due to the long-standing tendency of the black community to vote 85% plus for Democrats. Democrats took their stand with the civil rights movement in the 1960s, stood for urban development and social welfare spending programs of all stripes that are important to the black community for decades, have built their base in diverse/urban areas (while the Repubs have built a base in the more white suburbs), etc., etc. This means blacks for Dem for serious policy and historical reasons.

    But part of the reason Obama will lock up this vote does have to do with his race, and the understandable excitement, pride, and sense of historic moment that his historic candidacy surely must motivate some voters in the black community (as well as members of other races, including whites).

    Martin Luther King once used the phrase “The fierce urgency of now.” That’s exactly how it feels to many Obama voters, I’m certain–and his race has something to do with the “fierce urgency of now.”

    I think these quotes that you cite say it very well:
    “Let’s say Barack Obama wins, and 30 years down the line, you’re a black Republican or black conservative, and your grandkid comes to you and says, ‘Did you vote for Obama?’ It’s going to be hard to argue why you didn’t.”

    This election is obviously very heartfelt for African American voters no matter what one’s politics. An African American student of writer Randall Kennedy wrote,

    “Obama is a once-in-a-lifetime black candidate…our one shot, probably the only real contender that my parents and grandparents will ever see, and maybe the only contender my generation will see. All my hopes ride with him.”

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