October 13, 2007

Obama and black voters

Andrew Sullivan has been doing some interesting posts this week exploring why black voters aren't rallying behind Obama to the degree you might expect. A few of his readers have mentioned that they don't feel obliged to vote for him simply because he's black. Fair enough -- I can't vote myself, but if I could I wouldn't pull the lever for Hillary just because she's a woman. Some of the reasons, though, were sobering:

"You would gain tremendous insight by talking to some Black, middle age folks. You will gain insight as to why this group favors (rightly or wrongly, Hillary. And they will tell you that (1) Obama is not ready; (2) He will be assassinated if he gets within striking distance of the White House. Middle-age Blacks know a thing or two about how America really is. One does not hear these insights from younger white folks."

And in today's Times, Katherine Seeyle takes the temperature at some beauty parlors in South Carolina and finds "an almost maternal concern for Obama's safety" was a common theme:

“'I fear that they just would kill him, that he wouldn’t even have a chance,' she said as she styled a customer’s hair with a curling iron. One way to protect him, she suggested, would be not to vote for him."

Obama's rise has been so swift that it's easy to forget how unlikely his candidacy is and how slowly America changes. A country that has never elected anyone but white men is finally considering not only an African American but a woman too (albeit one who owes her momentum to her husband's presidency). Still, there are many currents that will tug voters of all kinds to retreat from the audacious choice and revert to something safer. A dark view of the fate of prominent black men is just one of those currents. This election may seem like a historic one, but it's really only a beginning.