MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From New York to a conversation in York, Pennsylvania. I'm joined this afternoon by someone who usually helps us start our day. Glad to have you here, Steve.
STEVE INSKEEP: Great to be awake, Michele.
NORRIS: That's Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep. And this fall, the two of us have been talking about race in politics with voters in York.
INSKEEP: It's a mid-size city in a battleground state. And in that city, we assembled a diverse group of voters: White, black, Latino, and South Asian, 15 in all.
NORRIS: And just to clarify, we also added to the diversity. I'm black.
INSKEEP: And I'm white. Seven weeks have passed since our last visit. And the voters, of course, have heard the presidential debates. They've seen the leaves change. And they've watched neighbors put out their pumpkins and Halloween decorations.
NORRIS: And as we drove around York, we noticed something else that was or in some cases was not on display. In largely white neighborhoods it was much more common to see American flags on display than in places where blacks or Hispanics tend to live. We asked our voters if there were something to that.
INSKEEP: Michael Sagara(ph) was one of the voters we gathered in a hotel suite, and he says it might have something to do with the way that people are treated. He's Latino and he sells real estate.
NORRIS: I mean, one of my clients is still trying to sell his house because the people next door, who are white, want to kick - want him to move out. They keep throwing their trashcans in their - I mean, it's such a disaster. And they're Hispanic and the people next door want to throw them out. So I don't see them putting an American flag, even though their kids were born here and whatnot. I don't think they feel that welcome.
NORRIS: Margie Orr doesn't see herself flying the flag either. She's a receptionist, and she's black.
NORRIS: I'm proud of America, but I'm not there putting a flag on my house.
INSKEEP: Why not?
NORRIS: I'm just not into the flag. I can't give you a definitive. I don't know. Maybe it's because when the United States shows me that I'm of - a total equal person, then maybe I will put a flag out on my property. But I don't feel that yet.
NORRIS: For people of color, expressing love for a country that has not always loved them back can be complex.
INSKEEP: And at times confusing to some white Americans who see the flag as the ultimate expression of national pride.
NORRIS: It's a small difference that underscores broader divisions in how these people view race in this election, and express concerns about what happens beyond the election.
NORRIS: No matter how this election comes out. I don't think this country will ever be the same again.
NORRIS: That's Blanche Hake, a retired schoolteacher. She's voting for Obama.
INSKEEP: Leah Moreland is sitting a few feet away. She is related to Blanche through marriage, and she's supporting John McCain. So we asked the two women the same question.
NORRIS: Would the country be different? How would the country be different if led by a black man?
NORRIS: I would think black people themselves and talking about the children in the schools, they would have a model to follow. You have no idea what an influence somebody like that has on children. And they see somebody up there front and center, hey, he's like me. I can do this.
NORRIS: Can I ask your sister-in-law the same question? Leah Moreland?
NORRIS: How do I see...
NORRIS: How would the country be different if led by a black man?
INSKEEP: If at all.
NORRIS: If at all. 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 it's going to be somewhat reversed. I really feel it's going to get somewhat nasty. Like I said, I feel it's going to be - they're going to feel it's payback time.
NORRIS: Who is they?
NORRIS: The black people, the black population and not all of them. And 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. Putting a black man in the White House - and if he gets there, he get there. I'm going to live under his presidency and everything, and I'm still going to be friends with anybody black who wants to be my friend and everything. But I really feel there's going to be a time of adjustment. I really feel it. I hope I'm wrong. I hope I'm wrong.
NORRIS: Michael Smith(ph).
NORRIS: Being open-minded and really listening to what you're saying...
NORRIS: Michael Smith, a black man, has been sitting across the room with his arms folded tight across his chest. He cocks his head and slowly raises a pointer finger in the air.
NORRIS: I really understand what you're saying. I think what you're referring to as fear is just that change. The fact that we would be happy or excited, exuberant, motivated, is - we're expressionable people.
INSKEEP: Michael, I just want to clarify one thing. You're talking about celebration - cheering, dancing in the streets, wahoo, high five. Leah is talking about chaos - violence, broken windows, people shoved off sidewalks.
NORRIS: Why would you shove someone off the sidewalk if you're happy? You shove somebody off the sidewalk if you're mad.
NORRIS: I think there's more fear. If you're really afraid of something bad happening, I hate to say this, but let him not win.
NORRIS: That's Cal Weary. He's 34 years old, a drama teacher and a black Republican now supporting Obama after twice voting for George Bush.
NORRIS: If I were really afraid of somebody looking for payback, I'd be more afraid of the Joe Six-Packs looking for payback after Barack Obama wins the presidential election.
INSKEEP: Cal Weary is worried about white resentment after a potential Obama win.
NORRIS: But an Obama loss stokes yet another set of fears.
INSKEEP: Are you suggesting that if Obama were to somehow lose his lead, the polls turned out to be a little wrong, something happened, Obama were to lose this election that there would be a lot of African-Americans who would not accept that result as legitimate.
NORRIS: I guarantee it. I think even the black people who haven't been that involved would have that disenfranchised feeling of, we got so close, and now we didn't get it, and now I'm angry about it. I see that happening.
INSKEEP: So those are some of the fears on voters' minds and here is one more. It's a grim fear that's been whispered since Obama became a serious contender for the White House and is spoken aloud here by Margie Orr.
NORRIS: You know what I am most afraid of? I am most afraid of the rhetoric that's been going on in the McCain rallies. I'm afraid for Obama and his family for the things that have been said at those rallies. It's as though they want to bring out the skinheads, the KKK, so they can kill this man. I'm afraid of the impact of what will happen here in these United States if Obama is murdered by a white person.
NORRIS: Oh, that's my fear, too.
NORRIS: That's my fear. That's my fear. That should be your fear.
NORRIS: Uncomfortable stuff. Now forgive us if we've left you with the impression that these voters are approaching the election with only trepidation. That's not true. There's also great anticipation.
INSKEEP: But no matter what happens on November 4th, many in this room are concerned about what happens November 5th.
NORRIS: And we'll return to York after the election for another chat about the outcome of the vote and the outlook for race relations under a new administration.
INSKEEP: You can hear our other conversations from York, Pennsylvania and also see photos of the participants by going to our website, npr.org.