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Minorities and the American Electorate

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This is an historic election year in the U.S. For the first time ever, the pool of Democratic presidential candidates includes a woman, an African American, and a Latino. And, better yet, the first and third spots in the Iowa caucuses went to the African American and the woman, respectively.

Recent polls show Obama and Clinton in first and second place as we move towards Tuesday's New Hampshire primaries. And, as the campaigns move on from there, it will be interesting to see how the two will fare in the various demographic regions of this great nation, particularly in the conservative south.

I couldn't imagine this happening 20, 30, or 40 years ago. Until now, white men have run this nation.

I vaguely remember Shirley Chisholm running for president in 1972, and Geraldine Ferraro running as the vice-presidential candidate with Walter Mondale in '84. But those campaigns were unsuccessful novelties. On the other hand, Obama's current success, and Clinton's, don't feel like novelties.

This could be a major step forward for social progress in the U.S. -- or not.

It is a good sign that Obama won the majority of votes in the very white state of Iowa. Some are touting this victory as proof that the United States is no longer as racist as it was in previous years.

But is this really the case? Has America finally become a color-blind nation?

Some reports have attributed Obama's success to the youth vote. Unfortunately, though, we've still got a lot of old racists around.

I have friends in the U.S. south, and I read the newspapers, and I know that racism is still alive and well in much of the U.S., particularly south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

I recently saw a corporation's advertisement rejected because it depicted a white hand and a brown hand shaking in partnership. The picture had to be dropped from the ad campaign because it would likely offend the company's southern customers.

And, of course, we've got the Jena Six as probably the most visible case of race-based violence in the American south today, preceded by the Jasper, Texas, case of 1998 in which a black man was tied to a truck and then dragged for two miles to his death -- because he was black.

Given these blatant examples of modern-day racism, we cannot assume that Obama will win every state. And those same states that hold blacks as second-class citizens also seem to have a problem with the concept of women in power. (A recent comment from a Georgia-based acquaintance regarding women in business or politics: "We don't let our women work.")

Hopefully these red-state mindsets are shrinking. And hopefully the rest of the nation will make up for those archaic attitudes.

But it's not going to be a free ride. If Obama or Clinton wins the Democratic presidential nomination, he or she will have to face the right-wing smear machine as well as die-hard prejudices.

Hopefully the public at large -- inside and outside of Dixie -- will see through it all.

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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
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