Obama Discusses Race Issues in Iowa

In Des Moines, Iowa, the concerns of African-American Iowans and the state's fast-growing Hispanic population will take center stage Saturday.

All eight Democratic presidential contenders say they will attend the sixth annual Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum at the city's North High School.

During a campaign stop there earlier this week, Barack Obama got a head start on discussing a subject that is often avoided — race relations.

Prejudice Persists in Iowa

It was the very last question Obama took from a crowd far more racially diverse than one would expect to find in Iowa. Annette Brown told Obama she had a rough time when she moved from Chicago to Des Moines some years ago.

"Even though we lived here, and we have all colors here, I have to say that it hasn't been a pleasant (move)," said Brown, who is black. "And the reason for that is that those who are here to help (us) have not helped us, and we need that."

It was an opening for the Democrats' only black presidential contender to talk about race.

"One topic that we've talked about around the edges but haven't talked about explicitly is the issue of race in this country, which obviously still has an impact. And I don't think any of us can deny it," Obama said.

With that, and a reminder to the crowd of his own racially mixed heritage, Obama talked about the persistence of racial prejudice in America:

"We do have a legacy of race in this country, and we see it in our daily lives. There's a reason why African-Americans are so much more likely to be incarcerated. There's a reason why Hispanic-Americans are more likely to be without health care and in low-wage jobs. It has to do with history. It has to do with the legacy of slavery, and Jim Crow and discrimination. And, even if people aren't discriminating now, that legacy is still there."

Barbara Oliver Hall, who once headed the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Iowa, said she had never heard Obama talk about race the way he did in that instance.

"Iowa, of course, has had some discrimination issues, but it has grown from those days," she said. "In some areas, there may be still some legacy, as Obama said, with that issue, but I think basically I've lived a good life here."

But the charge of discrimination did resonate with 37-year-old Christopher McCrory, a former South Carolinian now living in Iowa. McCrory's car sports a decal identifying him as a former Marine, and he recalled how that seemed to transform a white driver's perception of him.

"The gentleman looked at me real odd, and then he sees the sticker on the back of my car," McCrory said. "So, when we get to the next light, oh, he smiles, and he's my friend now because we have a common belief and purpose, but we are of a different race."

Clinton Gets High Marks

A national survey of black voters came out this week showing both Obama and Hillary Clinton with high approval ratings, though Clinton did even better than Obama.

Clinton also picked up key endorsements from some prominent black ministers in South Carolina.

David Bositis, senior research associate with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, said it makes sense to court Iowa's black voters, though their numbers are few.

"The number of people who attend the Iowa caucuses is very small," said Bositis, who did the survey. "And, in Iowa, if you can motivate any group in the population — even if it's 2 percent of the population — it would have a significant impact on the outcome."

Discussion of race in Iowa and around the nation will likely continue at Saturday's forum.

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