FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
Some people say they've seen the face of Jesus on a piece of toast. Others folks see a parody of Barack Obama on a waffle box. Well, actually you can even buy that waffle box. On today's Bloggers' Roundtable we're going to take a look at the imagery of Election '08, plus undecided voters. With us, writer Amani Channel who blogs at My Urban Report, citizen journalist and public policy consultant Faye Anderson, she blogs at Anderson at Large and for NPR's election blog Sunday Soap Box, and pop culture critic Desmond Burton of the blog AfroNerd. He also hosts AfroNerd Radio on Blogtalk radio. Hi everybody.
GROUP: Hello, hi Farai.
CHIDEYA: So the undecided voter is a major topic on blogs and everywhere right now. And an article on the Market Watch website reported that one in 14 Americans still don't know who to vote for. In swing states that estimate is doubled. Faye, you've been looking at this whole issue, this important issue, and what have you found out?
Ms. FAYE ANDERSON (Blogger, Anderson at Large): Well, what I found out is that they actually do exist. I was skeptical up until a few days ago, when I met two at a conference here in New York City. And what they told me, what is keeping them undecided - I should say, they're former Hillary Clinton supporters, members of the United Federation of Teachers. And what they told me, what is holding them back, and they seem genuinely anguished about it, but what's holding them back are Barack Obama's associations. They specifically mentioned Bill Ayers and Reverend Wright. And one volunteered that some of her quote "friends" are afraid of Michelle Obama.
CHIDEYA: What did you make of that last part, afraid of Michelle Obama? Do you think it's, you know, what some people are calling the fear of a black planet, sort of generalized racial anxiety, or is it more a question of her political views or her demeanor?
Ms. ANDERSON: I think it's a combination of all three. Michelle Obama has been portrayed by many as the stereotypical angry black woman. So I believe that's playing into it.
CHIDEYA: You know, let me bring in Desmond. And do you believe that there are large numbers of undecided voters? And if so, what do you make of what Faye found?
Mr. DESMOND BURTON (Blogger, AfroNerd): Well, I'm not going to discount what Faye's talking about, but I think that at some point, I think it's somewhat dubious as to just how many people we're really talking about. We're not really getting into a - I mean, it's been a lot of media attention towards the Bradley effect. I'm not so sure if that's really true 20 years plus since Bradley was running for the governorship.
So I'm not really sure. I think that - I don't want to assume that voter indecision is tantamount to prejudice amongst whites. I think that as long as they're able to give you a cogent reasoning as to why they are voting or not voting for Obama or McCain, I can go with that. But if it gets to the point where they can't go with plan A because plan B is black, that's where you might get into a little bit of problems.
CHIDEYA: Amani, do you think that indecision is largely around race, or policy, or just - you know, people look at personality. What's the factor that you think is responsible for undecided voters?
Mr. AMANI CHANNEL (Blogger, My Urban Report): Farai, it's probably a combination of all those things that you mentioned. Of course, if you're looking at the traditional Americans who may not think that Barack Obama represents what they've seen historically as a president, it might be that. It might be that some of the issues have been obscured with, you know, the recent economic situation. Folks may not know who really to go with in this situation.
So it's probably a little bit of all those things. You'd hope that, you know, Barack Obama, the fact that he is the Democratic candidate, that the United States government has done their due diligence in making sure that he has no real shady shadiness to him. I mean if that was the case, I'm sure he would not be standing right now where he is if there were any real links to any real security threats against this country.
That being said, it's, you know, it's the end of the wire. We have a few weeks left, and either way voters are going to have to decide one way or another whether you want to sort of stick to maybe what may be seen as a safe choice, maybe with McCain, although you know, his association with the Republican Party, if you look at the past eight years, there are those who probably say, well yeah, but look at what the present administration has done. But then there are those who say, well I still don't know about Obama because of his reverend, which, from my perspective, those comments were taken out of context. His association with Ayers, that could be an issue. But in the big picture of is he really a threat, I don't think there's been any proof of that at all.
Ms. ANDERSON: Farai, if I can add on the unsure voters. as I said, I attended a conference, Time Warner Politics Summit. And there was a panel discussion among some of the top pollsters, including CNN's William - Bill Snyder. And he mentioned that very few of the undecided or unsure voters are black. so there is a racial component to those voters who are, you know, three weeks away from the election who remain undecided.
Mr. CHANNEL: Well some are still calling him a Muslim, which is amazing, I mean, I was thinking about this. That's like if I were to be a member of a synagogue for 20 years, and then all of a sudden I'm really Catholic. Who does that? So for some reason, I don't see the media really pushing that agenda as really as to the logicness - the logistics of it. That's just - I mean really, it doesn't make any sense.
CHIDEYA: Let me jump in here, because we have this whole other issue of imagery in the campaign. There's a very, very prominent one that is about waffles. It's a video post that's featured on the African-American Environmentalists Association blog about Obama Waffles. It's real waffle mix packaged in political satire. So two freelance writers came up with this idea when they overheard someone talking about how Obama changes his position on policy. And there's - part of this is, you know, a video that references the Muslim issue that you mentioned. Here's a little bit of that.
(Soundbite of video)
Unidentified Interviewer: Point the box toward Mecca for tastier waffles. What is that?
Mr. BOB DEMOSS (Co-Creator of Obama Waffles): Well, he's been accused and...
Mr. MARK WHITLOCK (Co-Creator of Obama Waffles): Even recently. In the last few days.
Mr. DEMOSS: And there's - I don't if you saw the video clip of Qaddafi saying, my Muslim brother Obama, and everybody in Africa and the Muslim world knows he's a Muslim. I don't know, but it makes you...
Unidentified Interviewer: But he attends the United Church of Christ, right?
Mr. WHITLOCK: Yes, that's what we hear. Yes.
CHIDEYA: All right, Desmond. What do you make of that?
Mr. BURTON: I think it's two guys that want to make fun at Obama's expense. I think that - listen, this - Senator Obama...
CHIDEYA: So you don't read malice into it?
Mr. BURTON: No, I read malice into it, definitely. I think that, first of all, I saw the box. Senator Obama is a Constitutional law academic, and to try to equate him with rap lyrics and all kinds of things through tribalism, it looks - it's dumb. And they're not going to get away with it. It's just - they're trying to use under the parody of political - I'm sorry, under the guise of political parody, but it doesn't hold any water. I think his stand's - it is what it is.
CHIDEYA: Amani, there's been an increasing amount of pushback to this whole idea that you cannot be Muslim or Arab and patriotic, and that came up in the context of recent comments by Senator McCain that seemed to imply that, you know, being a good American was not necessarily, you know, sort of in line with being Arab. People have been complaining about the association of being Muslim and being a terrorist. How do you think that this kind of satire or, you know, attempted satire plays into that?
Mr. CHANNEL: It certainly adds to the confusion for those who may have not read their books or don't know, you know, the truth behind Obama's, you know, religious values or his religious beliefs. Any time someone throws up, you know, Muslim, people may have a tendency to think terrorism just because - I mean, look at what 9/11 has done to that whole paradigm of thought. So the fact that he's not a traditional skin color of, you know, the traditional candidates, you throw up the (unintelligible) discussion of a domestic terrorist. OK, (unintelligible) was not Muslim from what I understand, but it's really clouding the thought for maybe some of these undecided voters.
Certainly with these Obama waffles, you know, I kind of laughed at it. It was, you know, to me it was just political satire. What's the harm done? I mean, perhaps if there are those that truly believe that this is the truth, yeah, there's harm done. But you have to consider the source. These were, you know, some guys who, you know, were looking at the fact that Obama may have been flip-flopping, and that is what they claim is - was their impetus for designing this box. You know, I was thinking more if it was Obama chicken and waffles, maybe then it might be a little bit more offensive.
But, you know, it really is what it is. I mean, it's a blip on the radar in terms of the whole big picture. And what's the damage done? I would say it's little to none, but then you really don't know what effect it's had on all these voters who may be thoroughly confused.
CHIDEYA: Faye, there's also a new study by Tufts University and Harvard Business School that says that white people have a tendency to go silent and act color blind when it comes to discussing race. And it says that white Americans may avoid discussing race to avoid appearing prejudiced. What are - I mean, what does that really mean in practical terms to you in terms of how it plays out during a time like this in American history?
Ms. ANDERSON: Well, it's not just white Americans who don't like to talk about race. I don't like to talk about race. What is there to say? I'd rather talk about public policy issues, about racial disparities. That said, you know, there is the AP Yahoo News poll, which found that 40 percent of white Americans hold prejudicial views about black Americans. So it is not socially acceptable to express such views, so that may be one of the reasons why they don't want to talk about race.
How it's playing out in this campaign we will see on November 4th or November 5th, depending on when the votes are counted. With the Bradley effect, we'll see how - that's how whites will express their true feelings about race. You'll have white voters in Colorado and Nebraska, where affirmative action ballot initiative is on the ballot. Let's see what they do, whether those initiatives pass in those states.
But you know, just talking about race, you know, President Clinton tried to jumpstart a national dialogue on race with his One America commission, and he didn't get very far.
CHIDEYA: Well let me - Desmond, you know, what do you think of even trying to make an issue like this into this kind of a poll? I mean, is this kind of a poll or study useful to us in any way?
Mr. BURTON: I think with itself it's a non-sequitor. I think it's difficult to say that avoiding race by whites equals prejudice. I think we're in trying times, where in the latter '60s we had black folk that were very comfortable in using the term brother, and in 2008 we use the N word. Well some of us use the N word. So I think that causes confusion.
I can even think of a story anecdotally that one time I was - at DMX's height, the rap artist, when the top hit "My N word" was going on. I was in a car and the car next to me was white females and they were playing this song, and they were singing the chorus. And when they saw me and a friend, they became sheepish and meekish and they quieted down. And ever since then, I was like, why didn't you continue singing the song? You bought the record, who doesn't sing the chorus?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BURTON: And listen, some black - some within our community have commodified the word - the N word. So because of those kinds of situations, if I were white, I would not to really get into it either. We don't know - there's no consensus on blackness. So I think that's really where we get into these kinds of problems.
CHIDEYA: All right. Amani, you get the last word, and it has to be a quick one. Do you think that out of this election, people are going to come away with a broader understanding of race, or more resentment?
Mr. CHANNEL: I hope that at least there's a wider dialogue. I mean, this presidential election race has made aware a lot of issues that may be under the surface, but they really speak to the greater issues that America has with its history, where we are and where we're going. My hope is that we can move beyond race, see each other as the individuals that we are.
Maybe I'm dreaming, that's maybe in Amani Channel's utopia. But perhaps this election, whichever way it turns out, it can lead to that. I mean, that's hopefully really what America's about, right? Land, liberty, justice for all. And those are the sort of words, the key phrases that we all use, but, you know, it seems that we're really far from that. But hopefully we'll lean to that direction.
CHIDEYA: All right. Guys, thank you.
Mr. CHANNEL: Thank you.
Ms. ANDERSON: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: We were talking with writer Amani Channel who blogs at My Urban Report, he was at Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta, citizen journalist and public policy consultant Faye Anderson, she blogs at Anderson At Large and NPR's election blog, Sunday Soapbox, and pop culture critic Desmond Burton of the blog AfroNerd. He also hosts AfroNerd radio on Blog Talk Radio. They were both at our New York studios.
And you can find links to their blogs and ours at nprnewsandnotes.org. And the conversation doesn't stop here. Our online series Speak Your Mind gives you a chance to sound off on the issues you care about. To find out more, go to our blog, nprnewsandviews.org, and click on Speak Your Mind.