A Conversation: How Race Influences Two Voters

Trish Callahan

Trish Callahan, who is biracial, says she has experienced racism from both blacks and whites. Courtesy of Trish Callahan hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Trish Callahan
Greg Harden

Greg Harden says race is "too much of an issue in this country, unfortunately." Courtesy of Greg Harden hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Greg Harden

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The two listeners interviewed for this piece wrote about the way race could influence their voting in this year's presidential race.

Trish Callahan of Maine wrote that she wants to elect a politician who is able to transcend racial politics.

Greg Harden of New York wrote that racism is more polarizing than ever before.

With Illinois Sen. Barack Obama as the first African-American presidential candidate, the issue of race will undoubtedly play a role in the way many voters view the election. To kick off Weekend Edition Sunday's ongoing series about race and politics, host Liane Hansen spoke with two listeners, Greg Harden of Rochester, N.Y., and Trish Callahan of Portland, Maine.

Harden, who is white, spent the majority of his life living in suburbs. Callahan has a black biological father and white mother, but grew up in a white family after she was adopted.

They discussed their views on race in this excerpted conversation.

Liane Hansen: Have there been experiences that you have had that make you believe that there is such a gap between black and white Americans?

Greg Harden: Absolutely. I mean, my son goes to a city school, and he's 10. And he comes home with stories about how the little black kids say how they hate all white people. They pick on him, and he gets beat up. You know, I've tried to raise him treating everybody equal, and I don't know what to say to him.

Hansen: Greg mentioned his experiences with hostility between the races, and Trish, I noticed you've also experienced racism from both blacks and whites. Can you tell us some of the situations you've had to deal with?

Trish Callahan: It's been very challenging for both myself and my immediate family, as well as my extended family. One set of my grandparents were racist for most of their lives, and toward the end of their lives they began to see things differently. And I once attended a basketball camp with a lot of inner-city black girls — and I did run into quite a bit of racism from the other girls, sort of resenting my whiteness and the white family, and things like that. So I've definitely received it from both sides, and understand the hostility from both sides, given the history.

Hansen: Do you think that voters can realistically ignore race when they've had the kinds of experiences that you've had?

Callahan: It is not an easy leap to make, no. And historically, we are so immersed in traumatic incidents around this particular issue. But I think it's time for us to really stop and reflect on how much of that history are we going to choose to recreate in our children's minds and lives and perceptions of the world.

Harden: It's too much of an issue in this country, unfortunately. And it's wrong. I mean, it feels wrong when you get that racist feeling, you know it's wrong, you know. But it's so prevalent in this country, you know, it's going to be an issue.

Hansen: How will race affect your vote?

Harden: I'm actually thinking about exercising my right to not vote this election, because neither one of them really does it for me.

Callahan: I don't think race will come into play, honestly. I'm definitely looking more at leadership styles. And I'm looking for someone to step up to the plate with some hard messages about other things, and I'm more concerned about their leadership styles definitely than race.

Hansen: Why do you think race is such a big deal in this campaign?

Harden: Well, because it's a black man and a white man running against each other. If Obama is elected and he does a good job, I think people will accept that. But I think if he does a bad job, I think a lot of people — and I'm not saying this is right — but I think a lot of people will equate it with his race.

Callahan: Oh, that's a tough one to answer. I think that everyone is hurt by this subject and very uncomfortable by this subject. And so I think we all feel this wanting to move beyond it. And in Senator Obama, we see this opportunity to sort of move beyond it and say look, a black man has achieved this office.

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