Obama’s big hurdle: Black voters

US political darling Barack Obama has received enthusiastic support for a possible 2008 presidential bid — except from fellow African-Americans, a group many believed would be among his staunchest backers.

In contrast to the effusive reception Obama has received from white Americans, many US blacks so far have been cool, saying that while they may share skin color with Obama, they do not have a common culture or history.

"Obama did not — does not — share a heritage with the majority of black Americans, who are descendants of plantation slaves," wrote African-American newspaper columnist Stanley Crouch last month in an article entitled "Barack Obama — Not Black Like Me."

Radio host George Wilson, whose nationally-broadcast talk show tests the opinions of a cross-section of African-American listeners, said response to the Illinois senator so far has been "lukewarm."

"He’s not getting as much of an enthusiastic send-off from black people as he is from whites," Wilson said.

Obama draws enormous, mostly white crowds, even though the first presidential primary election is more than a year away, and is he seen as a top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But Crouch said that the first-term US senator — the bi-racial progeny of a black Kenyan father and a white American mother — does not share with most American blacks the painful legacy of slavery, repressive Jim Crow laws, and civil rights struggles.

"While he has experienced some light versions of typical racial stereotypes, he cannot claim those problems as his own — nor has he lived the life of a black American," Crouch wrote in his New York Daily News column.

"If we then end up with him as our first black president, he will have come into the White House through a side door — which might, at this point, be the only one that’s open."

Political analyst Ron Walters said that Obama is a black whom many whites find reassuring, with his Harvard pedigree and law degree rounding out his half-European ancestry.

"If you take this in almost anthropological terms, there’s a sense in which whites are more comfortable with blacks who they believe reaffirm them," Walters said.

He said other whites apparently view Obama not so much as a black trailblazer but as a multicultural figure, with his racially-mixed parentage and childhood spent in Hawaii and Indonesia.

African-Americans however, who are are accustomed to leaders who emerge from the civil rights movement, sometimes appear to struggle to relate to Obama.

"For some African-Americans, he has not really affirmed their identity. He has affirmed his own mixed identity, but he has not strongly affirmed the right and the claim of African-Americans in this society to equal treatment," said Walters, a professor at the University of Maryland.

Others said Obama is simply an unknown figure to many African-Americans who are almost reflexively suspicious.

"There’s a feeling that if white folks like him so much he must not be good for us. For some blacks it’s a turn-off," said Wilson.

If he does run, Obama would be the first African-American candidate for president who does not come out of the civil rights movement. US Representative Shirley Chisholm, of New York, was the first African-American to run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972.

Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson was a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988.

A CNN poll last week found that 60 percent of Americans said they have no reservations about voting for a black president, although experts caution that polls are not always a reliable measure of racial bias. Some wonder whether whites who now are urging him to run will be as enthusiastic in the voting booth.

"There are individuals who say one thing publicly, but time and time again has shown that when … they’re in the privacy of the voting booth, they do something else," said Wilson.

Despite the adulation he has received from Democrats around the country, some blacks said it will be nearly impossible for Obama to win the White House in 2008 without massive support from the African-American community.

"The American population is not ready — despite of what Barack says — to have a black man be the president of the United States," Wilson said.

"When it’s all said and done, if he declares, then he will have to convince African-Americans to support him, and just his color alone is not going to be enough," he said.

Copyright © 2006 Agence France Presse

Comments

  1. All of that african mumbo jumbo is besides the point. Americans need to find out what is he all about. This country is at a crossroads and this election is key. Same sex marriage , abortion , violence in the media , drugs, failed public schools, personal and national debt.

    Alan Keyes put it best when He said

    “Jesus Christ would not vote for Obama.” black white purple orangatang who cares Is he led by The Word of God .Yahshua Saves souls
    pro choice kills babies and Homo sexuals can not make them unless they are on the DOWNLOW.

  2. All of that african mumbo jumbo is besides the point. Americans need to find out what is he all about. This country is at a crossroads and this election is key. Same sex marriage , abortion , violence in the media , drugs, failed public schools, personal and national debt.

    Alan Keyes put it best when He said

    “Jesus Christ would not vote for Obama.” black white purple orangatang who cares Is he led by The Word of God .Yahshua Saves souls
    pro choice kills babies and Homo sexuals can not make them unless they are on the DOWNLOW.

  3. Peter Ngunyi

    I agree that African Americans may not share the same background as Obama in regard to their painful American heritage of Slavery history.

    But that is neither here nor there in regard to African Americans’ support for Senator Obama’s possibility of running the for president.

    It is desperately wanting to expect that African Americans will support a candidate just because he is black.

    The expectation must and should always be that African Americans (like all Americans) will support men and women of integrity and vision.

    Secondly, regarding the “real African American” against other blacks in the background of Obama, where do the likes of Allan Keyes rank…although he carries the said history? I hope that the Kenyan heritage of Sen.Obama does not obscure the debate about his ability to lead…that would be sad and silly.

    Lastly, African Americans should realize that Obama’s African heritage is a stronger bond with African American (blood baby!) than African American history can ever provide. When Joseph, while in exile, met his brothers in Egypt, his painful experience in exile did not get on the way of re-connecting with his blood brothers.

    I am from Kenya, and I live here. I love my African American sisters and brothers.

  4. Jim C

    Hey Joe , no kool-aid , just a fact . I believe the number of black americans that can trace a straight line back to a slave ancestor is about 30% ( thats probably a high number ) . I’m not talking about some twice removed cousin . All one has to do is look at the numbers of slaves freed then compare that with the immigration numbers after emancipation . A high percentage of american blacks can trace their heritage to the west indies . If Obama runs , and I hope he does he will get both my vote and enthusiastic support .

  5. Ken

    This (original) article was forwarded to me via an email list that I belong to.

    Disclaimer: – I’m from Africa, Kenya to be specific – the ancestral home of Obama (Senator’s) father.

    I’d like to start by saying that I agree with most of the comments that have been made above (on both sides), but especially by Tashi (I believe – who lived in East Africa). I’d like to say that I was surprised by the article, but I’d be lying. This notion that Senator Obama is not “African-American” enough is not only baffling, but ridiculous. I’ve always wondered what defines/makes somebody African-American. After, I thought all of (us) black people originated from Africa (regardless of where we may have ended-up). I wonder, what makes one an Italian-American or Irish-American? What happens if an Italian couple immigrates to America and have a kid – would that kid qualify to be an Italian-American, even if his parents didn’t come on boat (via Ellis Island)?

    This reminds me of when I was in college (in the New York area). I tried to join a black fraternity – needless to say, I was not successful! Go figure! As one of the commentators suggested, I ended up socializing more with non black-Americans in college (you name it, White, Hispanic, Asian – speak of “running the table”). The only time I truly associated with a black-American was in my final year of undergrad, initially because he wanted me to help with Calculus, but eventually we became good buddies – so much so that he actually took me home and introduced me to his younger sis (who was also a student on campus), but guess what, the brother absolutely made sure that it didn’t happen because she had dated one of the basketball players!

    Back to Senator Obama! Have you read his current book (“The Audacity of Hope”)? If it is true that most Black people don’t trust him because he’s got majority backing and support from White people, then it is very telling of the inherent reverse racism that exists in the Black community – something that I and fellow Africans felt when we immigrated to this country! Here’s my gut-feel, Obama’s message resonates with a broad majority of Americans. I live in Boston (where we just elected an African American governor) and I saw Obama when he visited New Hampshire a couple of weeks ago. If you get a chance, attend one of his gatherings.

    Brethren, come join me in supporting the Next President of United States – Barrack Obama!

    Ken.