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In Pennsylvania, Race is Still a Voter Issue

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Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has come under fire recently for suggesting that some Pennsylvanians "are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate."

But he is right, as I know from my own experience as a lifelong resident of the Keystone State.

It's been said that Pennsylvania consists of Pittsburgh on one side, Philadelphia on the other, and Alabama in the middle. And it's true. I grew up in the "Alabama" part of the state, in a small coal-mining town in north-central Pennsylvania. It was a scene out of "Deliverance". And everyone was white.

Not only were they all white, but they looked on any outsiders with suspicion and contempt, especially racial minorities.

When I went away to college, I briefly dated a wonderful African-American man. When the news got back to my hometown, there was hell to pay. I couldn't walk down the street without hearing shouts of "N____ Lover". This was in the late 1970s.

30 years later, that racist attitude still prevails in rural Pennsylvania. It's enough to keep them from voting for Barack Obama. And I can't imagine them voting for Hillary Clinton, either -- even though she is white. Women must be kept in their place as well.

No, the rednecks in the "Alabama" part of the state will likely vote for John McCain this November, even though he doesn't currently own a gun.

These attitudes are why I spent most of my teenage summers staying with relatives in Philadelphia and Washington, DC. And these attitudes are why I made the permanent move to civilization immediately after college. Some parts of Pennsylvania just aren't the right habitat for a fiercely independent and progressive woman who thrives on diversity.

So, yes, Governor Rendell is correct. Some Pennsylvanians are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate. Especially for President. But this is a big state, with big urban populations in and around Philly and Pittsburgh. We managed to throw Rick Santorum out of the Senate last year. Hopefully we can help to put a Democrat in the White House this year.

Fingers crossed.

PS: Apologies to any readers who happen to reside in the actual state of Alabama. I'm using your state in a conceptual/metaphorical sense, and no offense is intended.
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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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