Race v. Race

By Terry Keleher Feb 05, 2008

Just when you thought the race versus gender feud was the big story in the heated Democratic primary contest, now there’s increasing media hype around the Brown versus Black dynamic. As the primary contests finally move to states where the electorates are not overwhelmingly white, the media seems to be getting more fixated on the question: “Will Latinos vote for an African American?” Pitting one race against another seems to be an infatuation of the media. Sure, real racial conflicts exist between communities of color, but it pales in comparison to the tensions, distrust, competition and power imbalances that exist between whites and communities of color. By focusing so much attention on racial conflict between communities of color, whites seem to get a pass. The question that still looms large is whether whites would actually vote for a Black man? Voting for Sen. Obama in a caucus or primary is one thing, but would whites actually choose him as President/Commander in Chief/Leader of the so-called Free World? We just may or may not get to find out. Gregory Rodriquez wrote in the L.A. Times this week: ” The Clinton campaign’s assertion that Latinos historically haven’t voted for black candidates is divisive — and false…" A few weeks ago, Sergio Bendixen, a Clinton pollster and Latino expert, publicly articulated what campaign officials appear to have been whispering for months. In an interview with Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker, Bendixen explained that "the Hispanic voter — and I want to say this very carefully — has not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates." The spin worked. For the last several weeks, it’s been on the airwaves (Tucker Carlson, "Hardball," NPR), generally tossed off as if it were conventional wisdom. And it has shown up in sources as far afield as Agence France-Presse and the London Daily Telegraph, which wrote about a "voting bloc traditionally reluctant to support black candidates. The spin also helped shape the analysis of the Jan. 19 Nevada caucus, in which Clinton won the support of Latino voters by a margin of better than 2 to 1. Forget the possibility that Nevada’s Latino voters may have actually preferred Clinton or, at the very least, had a fondness for her husband; pundits embraced the idea that Latino voters simply didn’t like the fact that her opponent was black. Rodriguez went on to cite the research of University of Washington political scientist Matt Barreto who has compiled a list of Black elected officials who received strong Latino support in the last several decades. Examples include: In 1983, Harold Washington received 80% of the Latino vote in Chicago; in 1989, David Dinkins pulled 73% in New York; in 1991, Denver’s Wellington Web pulled more than 70%; as did Ron Kirk in Dallas for three elections from 1995-99. Furthermore, former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley also won clear Latino majorities in four mayoral reelection campaigns. Historically, the hype that Latinos won’t support an African American doesn’t hold water. Regardless of the outcome of this primary season, and whatever hype we hear from the media or the candidate’s campaigns, hopefully, it will not have all been in vane. Perhaps, it may even pave the way in the future for a lot more Latinos to be able to vote for Blacks and vice versa.