Is Black America ready to embrace Obama

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From Candy Crowley and Sasha Johnson
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) — In recent months, ABC News-Washington Post polls showed Sen. Hillary Clinton running 40 points higher than Sen. Barack Obama among blacks voters asked to name their preference in the Democratic primary.

But in Wednesday editions, the Washington Post reported a poll that has Obama leading Clinton by 11 points among black voters — 44 percent to 33 percent. Obama is the Senate’s only black member and has been campaigning across the country for the last couple of months. Clinton is his chief rival for the 2008 presidential nomination

That change represents a stunning 24-point swing, but does it mean the black community has embraced the Illinois Democrat as its candidate?

Not exactly.

“Obama does have a plurality of black voters right now. He doesn’t have a majority yet,” CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said. “That means a majority of blacks still aren’t sure about him.

“Forty-four percent favor him. That’s certainly good news for him, but I think the Obama camp would like to see that be significantly higher.”

Among blacks, Obama’s favorables are high (70 percent), but Clinton’s are higher (85 percent). Plus, Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have deep roots in the black community.

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.

George Wilson, the host of XM Radio’s “GW on the Hill,” hears doubts about Obama all the time from his black audience.

“There is this doubt ‘But is America ready for a black president?’ ” Wilson told CNN. “And the overall consensus from my callers is that America is not ready for an African-American president.”

Even at a rally for Obama in South Carolina you hear it:

“I’m being honest,” Akyshia Gantt, an African-American, said. “No, I think — which is bad — that America is not ready for that, but I don’t think they are.”

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.”

Obama suffers, in part, because voters are not familiar with him and there is doubt whether the son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, who was raised in Hawaii and educated in elite schools, can relate to the black American experience.

This has been described as “not black enough,” a notion and a phrase that Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who is a noted civil rights leader, rejects.

“I don’t think he has any of the hang-ups that a lot of people that are victims of segregation and racial discrimination tend to have,” Lewis said. “I think he’s free of it, and he’s running as an American citizen.”

24 thoughts on “Is Black America ready to embrace Obama

  1. rikyrah

    Well, we’ll never know unless he runs.

    I have no Black Tax for Senator Obama.

    He’s running for President of the United States of America.

    Not

    President of Black America

    I know the difference. My fellow Black citizens will have to decide for themselves if they know and accept the difference.

    I am no dewey-eyed, waiting-for-a-Messiah person.

    Don’t need a Black Messiah – I already got one – Jesus.

    I think Obama’s run is a Rorshach test on race for everyone….

    And the ugliness has just begun.

  2. dblhelix

    The polls were all over the place for Cardin-Mfume. Same pollsters (WashPost/ABC) had Mfume leading Cardin by 6pts in July.

    Across the board, the polls varied wildly — at any given moment Steele was tied w/ Cardin vs 10pts behind.

    The variations were always due to very different projections of Black voter preferences in the state.

    There’s going to be a lot of ‘theorizing’ in the coming months.

  3. dblhelix

    Is your theory what you posted at mydd?

    Didn’t CBC/FOX sponsor a debate in ’04 at Morgan State?

  4. rikyrah

    dblehelix,

    yes, that’s my theory. Maybe they did sponsor a debate in ’04, but I still think they don’t want for Tavis to steal ‘their’ thunder.

  5. John Lewis IS delusional. Those blows to the head that he took on the Selma bridge back in 1965 are beginning to catch up with his train of thought.

    As for America being ready for a Black President, only if it’s one they create, and not chosen by US. For that reason, African-Americans are going to continue to be skeptical about Obama.

    But the Borg Queen has helped him because she’s attacking him without cause, too early in the game, and because she thought she had a lock on the Black Vote. We’re not a monolithic group and it’s time Hillary learned that.

  6. dblhelix

    Borg Queen has helped him because she’s attacking him without cause, too early in the game, and because she thought she had a lock on the Black Vote. We’re not a monolithic group and it’s time Hillary learned that.

    Can’t agree more.

  7. yogo

    You have to be skeptical of the polling as well. One week she’s up, next week he’s up. I’d like to know who they’re polling and how they’re phrasing the questions. It’s really to early to tell.

  8. One of the clearest and simplest assessments I’ve seen comes from the Chicago Tribune’s Steve Chapman: he said Obama has “the knack of appealing to whites without evoking the slightest twinge of guilt.” And I think Chapman wrote that without the slightest sense of how problematic that is.

    I think the real Rorschach test would be NOT whether white Americans will vote for the grandson of a Kenyan goat herder, but whether they would vote for the grandson of a black sharecropper. I’m thinking: not so much.

  9. I think that most white voters who factor in skin color aren’t that discerning. Harold Ford Jr. tried the “guilt-free” strategy last year (he did everything but don a Klan robe to make southern white folks feel warm and fuzzy) and still met with rather limited success. I think the big swing in the polls may be due to more people preceiving that Obama might have a chance to win. Then again it could be a snub to Hillary’s arrogance as well.

    It would have been interesting to see the dynamic if the white candidate had not dropped out of Obama’s senate race. As it is I tend to believe that there’s still a mountain to climb for any minority candidate and that Obama can’t overcome it just because he’s an “outside pickney” as they say in Jamaica.

  10. Mark

    this is insulting. None of you have the right to question Obama’s race. As a black man, if anyone ever questioned my race, we’d have some problems. Obviously, racism is alive and well in America. Now go ask Guiliani if whites or Italians embrace him

  11. Mark, you’re missing the point. It’s not about whether Obama is black, it’s more that he doesn’t carry with him the historical weight of American slavery, racism, or brutality the way many black voters do. Culturally, Obama’s experience does not contain the disitnctive African-American historical narrative. There’s a sense that when Obama speaks before Amercan black audiences he reaches for the persona of a black leader in a way that it feels like a suit he puts on rather than who he is in his own skin.

  12. There’s a sense that when Obama speaks before Amercan black audiences he reaches for the persona of a black leader in a way that it feels like a suit he puts on rather than who he is in his own skin.

    That’s the description I’ve been looking for. You hit the nail on the head.

  13. dblhelix

    redrabbit: he doesn’t carry with him the historical weight of American slavery

    If this is true, apparently he does ..

    Obama spokesman Bill Burton said the senator’s ancestors ”are representative of America.”

    ”While a relative owned slaves, another fought for the Union in the Civil War,” Burton said. ”And it is a true measure of progress that the descendant of a slave owner would come to marry a student from Kenya and produce a son who would grow up to be a candidate for president of the United States.”

  14. vjp,

    I apologize for leaving the “i” out of “American.”

    dblhelix,

    I think the rest of my sentence drives home the point: “he doesn’t carry with him the historical weight of American slavery, racism, or brutality the way many black voters do.

    Afterall, if you are arguing that the “weight of slavery” is borne by every descendant of slaveowners, than whites, like Jimmy Carter, John McCain, John Edwards and Al Gore, share the “weight of slavery” in the same way that Barack Obama does.

    I think Obama recognizes that, for a certain set of voters there’s an “African-American identity” that resonates, and then he appropriates that identity in order to gain an electoral advantage. Obama claims he wants to run on the issues, but he is as much at fault as the media for making the crucial question his identity.

  15. dblhelix

    redrabbit – I did understand what you were saying, which is why I omitted the rest of your sentence.

  16. Culturally, Obama’s experience does not contain the disitnctive African-American historical narrative.

    No. If you didn’t know his father was from Kenya and his mother a White woman, you’d think he was just another brother who graduated Ivy and made a run for the brass ring. What’s more important, is that’s what most WHITE people see. they don’t know, nor care, about his ancestry. Keeping that in mind, realize he’s gone through what whatever Black Yale grads🙂 go through vis a vis being a Black man in America. Considering the number of death threats he’s likely to recieve over the next few months, if he doesn’t know now, he’ll find out.

    A larger point, it’s something that we’ll have to get used to as the scions of The Dream pass into middle age; the Black folks in power will be coming from the same places as the White folks in power; Ivy league, MIT, Silicon Valley, and people who have wealthy and/or powerful parents. No longer will we have the kind of power seats that we’ve had in the past, who have come from “the struggle.” Like Souljah said, get out of the way or get run over. All the hand wringing over whether these people fit our definitions of “Black” is wasteful.

  17. Note: two different Mark’s in this thread.
    Note also that most of the White people talking about Obama’s Blackness/Whiteness are Republicans.

  18. Mark (the second one),
    Most white people see a black man they feel very comfortable with when they look at Obama. I think I made this point upthread.

    I understand that “historical experience” is open to interpretation and I agree that the question of “who is really black?” is a slippery slope.

    My concern is not whether Obama should, or should not, be defined as black, but that Obama has made his “identity” part of his campaign. By, among other things, consciously changing his voice patterns, so that he’s starting to sound like an old Baptist preacher, Obama is playing the game rather than exposing the game as being tainted. And, to me, this exposes him as disingenuous.

  19. rikyrah

    redrabbit,

    How exactly could Obama avoid making ‘identity’ part of his campaign? It’s sort of obvious that he has to. It won’t be allowed to just be set aside.

    As for him changing his voice patterns, is that any different that when Black folk speak differently when they’re around one another, and when they’re in a general (i.e., White) setting?

    In a few posts below, Obama was blasted for not speaking differently to a predominantly Black audience. For being ‘too mainstream’.
    Sigh.
    He can’t catch a break.

  20. redrabbit

    You gotta go to more events featuring Black politicians. Using that old MLK cadence is a gag so old it has whiskers. Nothing he invented. Nothing “disingenuous” about it.

    Most white people see a black man they feel very comfortable with when they look at Obama.

    So? Are you expecting Ice Cube to run for office? What exactly are your expectations for a candidate running for national office?

    But that point doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m talking about. Since he is PERCEIVED as Black whether some hand him a ghetto pass or not, he is still going to face discrimination and racism because of his SKIN COLOR. It’s just a fact you can’t take away from him. Now that he’s Senator Obama, Presidential candidate, the take on him may be a little different. However, he didn’t just come out of the egg a Senator. He had to get to this point, which means live life in America as a Black man.

    What is it about that fact that people don’t understand?

  21. yogo

    What was up with his comments about anti-intellectualism, turning off the tv, talking to teachers, cousin Pookie, etc.? What does that have to do with running for President of the United States (not pres of black america)? I hope he uses the same Cosbyesque crap when he speaks to other ethnic groups.

    And what he know about some Pookie?

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