Black Women Face Quandary in Democratic Race

Sen. Hillary Clinton is the first woman frontrunner for president in either party. But right behind her looms Sen. Barack Obama, the most competitive black candidate for president ever. What conflicts might this pose for black women in Democratic primaries?

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination presents a historic choice - that's no less true for being widely observed. The Democrats may nominate a woman for the first time, Hillary Clinton, or an African-American, Barack Obama, also a first.

Polls suggest, and we don't want to put it more strongly than that, that a majority of black men favor Obama while black women favor Clinton. Clearly, this campaign offers African-American women a special choice. To get a sense of what they may do, NPR's Linda Wertheimer met with two groups of women and asked them.

LINDA WERTHEIMER: We talked to half-a-dozen young women at the student center at Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore, Maryland. All four classes were represented and an assortment of majors ranging from philosophy to electrical engineering. These women are engaged; they're excited. One thing they know for sure: They will vote in this election, Shana Cassiano(ph) for the first time.

SHANA CASSIANO: I'm 50-50. I don't even know who I would vote for because having a first women president, that would be a great thing, and then to have an African-American president, that would be another great thing. So I'm kind of stuck.

WERTHEIMER: Shana is from Waldorf, Maryland. She plans to major in philosophy. Sally McMillan(ph) is already in that department. From Baltimore, she's worked in a couple of political campaigns. She insists her decision will be on the merits, and Hillary Clinton has more experience.

SALLY MCMILLAN: I definitely considered Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama very carefully. Right now, I would say I'm leaning probably more towards Hillary Clinton based off the fact that I don't think Barack Obama has the experience behind him. I think he might have the passion right now, and while passion can be refreshing and you see someone new, they have to be able to know how to influence others properly to get to the desired results, and I think that's something that Hillary Clinton, as a woman, will be able to do.

WERTHEIMER: Several said a woman might see things differently. For these high- achieving young women brought up to believe they can do whatever they set out to do, this election is an affirmation and an exciting choice. Jeanette Scott(ph) is a freshman from Long Island who wants to major in political science.

JEANETTE SCOTT: Like when I was younger in like sixth grade, I always wanted to - I'm going to be president one day, you know, and change the world, and now that a female is actually running for a candidate, I think that is very empowering because now that we know that, you know, it's not just a man's world.

WERTHEIMER: But Hillary Clinton is carrying a lot of baggage, Lauren Williams(ph) told us. Williams is a senior in public relations from Chesapeake, Virginia. She said Republicans would replay all the old attacks on former President Bill Clinton.

LAUREN WILLIAMS: The Bushes and the Clintons, they have been in office going back from the old Bush to George Bush and Bill Clinton, and I think it's time for a change. I think that the world needs someone fresh, someone new, to come in, take over - because things aren't getting any better.

WERTHEIMER: This is clearly a complicated decision. Dawn Walker(ph) is a chemistry major from Washington, D.C. She's distressed by Hillary Clinton's vote for the War in Iraq which, Walker noted, diverted funds badly needed by people here in the U.S. But Walker, like others we talked to, is a little apprehensive about this contest. She sees this not as a race between a man and a woman but between a black person and a white one.

DAWN WALKER: So she's a woman, but because she's not a black woman, though. You see what I'm saying? You see, the hierarchy is: white man, white woman, black man, black woman. You see what I'm saying? So she's a white woman, and I'm a woman, but I'm like two doors down from her, even still. Yeah, she's all about women's right and da, da, da, or pro-choice and this and that, but I'm still black, and she knows that, and she knows she's white.

So it's like she's not really thinking about us. She's not thinking about us, and I know Barack is thinking about us, and he's a man, but because he's black, it's just going to be like that, you know? You have to think about that when we, you know, go to the election and vote.

WERTHEIMER: The young women you just heard are all students at Morgan State University. We also talked to a group of women who sing in the choir at St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church in Seat Pleasant, Maryland. Most of the group were sopranos, although we had one woman who sings tenor - you'll be able to tell. All these women are retired government workers still up for a good political argument.

Shirley Holsten(ph), Nellie Montaigne(ph) and Gayle Carter(ph) are all from Maryland's mostly black Prince George's County. They, too, have concerns about Mrs. Clinton's vote on the Iraq War.

NELLIE MONTAIGNE: I don't know whether it just a political thing or what, but now she seems to be against it, but in the beginning, she was for it. She voted yes for this war.

GAYLE CARTER: You know, we were given a snow job. We were given a snow job about what this war was about. Nobody really told us the facts. They just said we're going to go over there, we're going to kick them around and take their oil.

SHIRLEY HOLSTEN: Yeah, I got the impression that Bush was playing John Wayne role, okay? But you know, the truth will always come out in the end. I'm not concerned about the fact that Hillary voted for it the first time because a lot of congressmen and senators voted for it. What the information they were given was limited, and it was filtered. Now the truth is coming out.

MONTAIGNE: It was inaccurate.

Unidentified Woman #2: Right, exactly.

WERTHEIMER: There were two for Obama and one for Clinton in that group. For them, too, Clinton represents the establishment, married to a former president they all admire; and Obama is new and different. In fact, a new kind of black candidate. Here's Gayle Carter again.

CARTER: Where he comes from and how he's looked at are two different things, you know? Folks will always see him as an African-American, but they are taken aback when they hear him open his mouth because he has a broader look on the world. He sees it from a different perspective, but he has that compassion of being an African-American that will stay with him.

WERTHEIMER: Gayle Carter noted that Obama has raised millions of dollars from every-day folks. Nellie Montaigne likes Clinton because of experience, and she's not sure the country is ready for Obama.

MONTAIGNE: Some people would be voting for Barack Obama because he's black, but we still live in white America, ladies, and you know it.

WERTHEIMER: What do you mean?

MONTAIGNE: When the majority of America, which is white, looks at Barack Obama, they see a black man. They don't see a man of mixed racial heritage. All they see is a black man. Like I said, this is still white America. I think the reality of the thing is he's going to have a struggle.

WERTHEIMER: We'll give the last word to Janice Stewart(ph) of Bowie, Maryland. Like most of the others, she leans toward Hillary Clinton, but she could go either way.

JANICE STEWART: I look at it this way. We have given the white man all these years to get it right, and you know, it's about time to make a change, and if we can put a woman in and a black man in, so be it. You know, they had their chance. Let someone else try and see what they can do.

WERTHEIMER: For these women, to be torn between candidates with whom they share so much poses a dilemma but a new and delicious one. Linda Wertheimer, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NORRIS: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: