The campaign dynamic between Clinton and Obama in South Carolina is fascinating, since it’s not so much that black voters have to be convinced to like Obama as a candidate, it’s that they have to be convinced that a black man can be president in our time. Not an easy task anywhere in America, let alone the heart of the South.

From a McClatchy Interview with Michelle Obama, who is stumping for her husband in South Carolina:

Q: Explain the choice and the issues that black voters are confronting (in whether to support Barack Obama’s candidacy) that white voters aren’t confronting.

A: People who are oppressed at every turn in their world, they see indications directly or indirectly of what they can’t do. You see negative images about yourself on TV. This is what you take in as a person of color. It feeds on that self-doubt — it builds on it and it makes you think that somehow, something must be wrong with me and others like me so that we’re not ready, and we’re not good enough to be anywhere, let alone running for president of the United States. Folks don’t want to be disappointed; they don’t want Barack to be emotionally disappointed by what they perceive to be other people who won’t accept the possibilities of who he is. Sometimes it’s easier not to try at all than to try and fail.

The campaign pitch says it all. It’s not that Obama has to convince black voters that he’s the better candidate for them, it’s that he has to convince them that he can actually win in a country that still struggles with racism.


I know folks talk in barbershops and beauty salons, and I’ve heard some folks say, ‘That Barack, he seems like a nice guy, but I’m not sure America’s ready for a black president,’ ” Michelle Obama told a crowd Tuesday at historically black South Carolina State University.

“We’ve heard those voices before, voices that say, ‘Maybe you should wait’ — you know? — ‘You can’t do it,’” she said. “It’s the bitter legacy of racism and discrimination and oppression in this country.”

[...]

“I know it’s also about love,” she said. “I know people care about Barack and our family. I know people want to protect us and themselves from disappointment and failure. I know people are proud of us.

“I’m asking you to believe in yourselves. I’m asking you to stop settling for the world as it is and to help us make the world as it should be.”

[...]

Ask yourselves,” she admonished the crowd at South Carolina State, “who will fight to lift black men up so we don’t have to keep locking them up? Who will confront racial profiling? Voter disenfranchisement?”

It sounds corny, (and straight out of the Obama campaign script) but for many it really is a choice between hope and cynicism. My impression is that a great many black voters in South Carolina like Obama better as a candidate but doubt that America is ready for a black president. I’m not gonna lie, as it looks increasingly possible for the Obama campaign to pull of a win in Iowa, I’m facing my own doubts about whether or not this country will really vote for a black man once they find themselves in the privacy of the voting booth.

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