It seems really strange that the New York Times and the Washington Post would run news stories both taking place in Black beauty shops to talk about th efight for Black women’s vote in South Carolina. But today, they did. Their stories, both accompanied by video, take different points of view on what Black women are thinking about how they are going to vote this year, and on the tactics Clinton and Obama’s machines are using to court their vote.
The most interesting thing to me is what the women in both stories say about how they’re voting, or considering their vote. In the Washington Post story–which focuses most on using the political tactics of reaching Black women voters–the women say:
“I’m not even thinking about color, but I guess in a way I am. I think basically white people won’t vote for him,” Bell said of Obama. “Isn’t that what voting is all about? You are voting for a person that you feel could be a winner.”
That pessimism that a black man could ever become president is a powerful force, even for Obama supporters such as Gaynell Wise, 51, an accountant who was getting her hair cut the day Champaign came into Passion Slice.
“I’m voting for him. I’m old-school. I know what’s going on,” she told Champaign. “He’s trying to take this country someplace it’s never been before. It’s going to take a lot for him to win. I know that. I know the system is not set up for him to win. It’s going to take a miracle and a lot of prayers for him to win. If you can get us to vote . . .” Most of the salons Champaign visits are frequented by younger women, who polls show have been more likely than their elders to vote for black presidential candidates.
But I think the New York Times story has a more nuanced and interesting approach. They talk to the women not just about the vote, but about their conflicted feelings about loving Bill Clinton and wanting to support Hillary mostly because of that. But they also are afraid, literally for Barack Obama’s life, and some are afraid to elect him, for it will mean his untimely demise:
Clara Vereen, who has been working here in rural eastern South Carolina as a hairstylist for more than 40 of her 61 years, reflects the ambivalence of many black women as she considers both Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.
“I’ve got enough black in me to want somebody black to be our president,” she said in her tiny beauty shop, an extension of her home, after a visit from an Obama organizer. “I would love that, but I want to be real, too.”
Part of being real, said Ms. Vereen, whom everyone calls Miss Clara, is worrying that a black president would not be safe.
“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.
And Mrs. Clinton?
“We always love Hillary because we love her husband,” Ms. Vereen said. Then she paused. Much of the chitchat in her shop is about whether a woman could or should be president.
That’s an interesting predicament. The Black women profiled in this story it could be said, want to elect Clinton because they like Bill, and because perhaps they want to seek revenge against the Republicans for the 2000 Florida voter fraud. The are scared to elect Brack not because they don’t think he’s Black enough (a media hype) but because they know he is more likely to be assassinated.
Perhaps for the first time in American history, people are really taking the voting interests of Black women seriously. I’ll give more of my analysis of this at NYU on Tuesday.
If you’re in NYC, come check out this panel!
Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality
New York University
GENDER, RACE, AND THE 2008 ELECTION
“Are Americans ready to elect a woman or a black man as president?”
A panel discussion with:
Kenyon Farrow, co-editor of Letters from Young Activists: Today’s Rebels Speak Out
Richard Kim, Associate Editor, The Nation
Marianna Torgovnick, English, Duke University
Moderated by Tavia Nyong’o, Performance Studies, NYU
October 16, Tuesday
6 to 7:30 PM
19 University Place, Great Room, 1st Floor
between 8th Street and Waverly Place
This event is free and open to the public.
Venue is wheelchair accessible. If you need sign language interpretation services or other accommodations, please let us know by Monday, October 8, if possible.