October 23, 2008
Contact:
Anna Christopher, NPR



   

VOTERS CANDIDLY TALK RACE AND POLITICS, IN YORK, PA

NPR’S STEVE INSKEEP AND MICHELE NORRIS HOST CONVERSATION
WITH DIVERSE GROUP OF VOTERS IN CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA
ABOUT RACE IN THEIR LIVES, AND IN THIS ELECTION

CONVERSATION AIRS TOMORROW ON MORNING EDITION
AND ALL THINGS CONSIDERED; EXCERPTS BELOW



October 23, 2008; Washington, D.C. – Senator Barack Obama’s candidacy has brought the issue of race in America to the forefront of the 2008 presidential election, though it’s rarely, candidly, discussed. To better understand the difficult intersection of race and politics, and its influence in people’s lives, NPR News travels to the city of York in Central Pennsylvania for a series of conversations with a cross-section of area residents. The latest discussion, led by Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep and Michele Norris, host of All Things Considered, will air on both newsmagazines tomorrow, Friday, October 24. For local stations and broadcast times of both programs, visit: www.NPR.org/stations

Inskeep and Norris first visited York in early September with an admittedly difficult goal: to get a diverse group of voters to talk openly about race, in the context of this election, and in their lives. That first meeting – held post-conventions, but pre-debates – addressed voting references; the policies, experience of both presidential candidates; and voters’ own experiences with race. Both pieces are available to listen to at: www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94499874

For their second meeting, airing Friday, the group included voters who are multi-racial, black, white, Latino and Southeast Asian. The conversation focused on the mixed-race identity of Sen. Obama, and of some voters in the room; expectations and fears, depending on who is elected president; and the messages and symbolism being used by the campaigns. Excerpts from the conversation follow:

On how the country would be different if Sen. Obama is elected president:
“Black people themselves, and talking about the children in the schools, they would have a model to follow. I taught in the schools for a lot of years, and those models are so important. You have no idea what an influence somebody like that has on children. And they see someone up there front and center: ‘hey he’s like me, I can do this.’”

“I don’t want to sound racist, and I’m not racist. But I feel if we put Obama in the White House, there will be chaos. I feel a lot of black people are going to feel it’s payback time. And I made the statement, I said, ‘you know, at one time the black man had to step off the sidewalk when a white person came down the sidewalk. And I feel that it’s going to be somewhat reverse.’ I really feel it’s going to get somewhat nasty. …I feel it’s going to be, they’re going to feel it’s payback time – the black people, the black population. Not all of them. I’m not talking about you and I’m not talking about them, I’m talking about the people that are out on the street looking for trouble.”

On the messages being used in campaign ads and stump speeches:
“The thing is, is when you talk about a Barack Obama, who they show you these pictures of his white family and who he grew up with. What it’s basically saying to the America people is: ‘Don’t worry, you don’t have to worry about him doing these things that you might think he might do that comes from this African-American culture.“

“First, he's [Sen. McCain’s] trying to remind the voters about how he's lived his life, and especially the showcase experience of the POW time. …And I think he's trying to make that statement that he has a history of bipartisanship too, reaching across the aisle. And those things I think are admirable and good tactics. Perhaps less admirable is, I think he's using it to raise questions about whether his opponent, also, puts his country first.”

“I think McCain is much more patriotic than Barack Obama.”

On defining “Joe Six-pack”:
“Joe Six-pack is people just like me: work every day, pay their taxes, but she [Gov. Sarah Palin] is not talking for me.”

“When I hear Joe Six-pack, I think of the hunter, and his gun, and his dog, and that's a definite white man out in the countryside. And I have a son like that, who is the Joe Six-pack!”

“The jist of it is, the white man is the hard worker. The others are lazy. They don't work as hard. So that's where the Joe Six-pack comes in. He's a hard-working white man.”

NPR News chose York, PA, located in the rural center of the battleground state, because it’s a midsized city and is typical of many places in America: it’s urban, suburban and agricultural; blue collar and white collar; and racially and economically diverse. The city has a history of race struggles; today, black and Latinos make up 40 percent of York’s 41,000 residents. This series of conversations from York is one element of NPR’s extensive election coverage; throughout its programming, NPR is exploring the issues, candidates, polling and policies. All election-related coverage can be found at: www.NPR.org/election