Race: only a surface level perception in primaries

Christina Stavale

Students, professors say the U.S. is ready for a black president


Credit: DKS Editors

Quiera Lige won’t let her status as a woman or African-American determine who she will vote for in the primary elections.

She said she’s not yet completely sure whom she will support come March 4, but she is sure of one thing – race and gender will not be a factor.

“To me, it doesn’t matter,” said the sophomore psychology and justice studies major. “In every instance or case, you should be well-informed. If you’re well-informed, then you’ve done your duty.”

But sometimes Lige, who is leaning toward supporting Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton, said people expect her to support Clinton’s opponent, Barack Obama, because of her race.


Barack Obama will be in Akron tomorrow at the John S. Knight Center. Doors open at 4 p.m. and the program is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.

“Now that Barack is doing so well,” said George Garrison, professor of Pan-African Studies, “you’re going to find a lot of black Americans putting pressure on blacks who are not behind him, to get behind him. That’s just politics – that’s natural politics.”

The right timing

Garrison said it’s Obama’s timing more than anything that sets him apart from black presidential candidates of the past, and that America is now ready to embrace a black candidate.

For example, Jesse Jackson was a presidential candidate in 1984 and 1988. But Garrison said his timing was not right because of his connection to the civil rights movement.

“(Obama) is a post civil rights person,” Garrison said. “No one’s going to associate him with marching in the streets, challenging the state government in the South. He doesn’t have that kind of political baggage that he’s bringing into this election.”

Trudy Steuernagel, professor of political science, added that the reshaping of American culture contributes to America’s willingness and readiness to elect a president other than the traditional white male.

“What happens is, the whole country starts to reshape its image of what a leader looks like,” she said. “When we hear leader, we used to think ‘white man.’ But now, because we have African-Americans as leaders on television, in the news, we start to reshape our image of what a leader looks like. I think that’s helped Barack Obama, just as it’s helped Hillary Clinton.”

A different kind of election

Kellie Stewart, freshman political science major, said while she thinks having two minority candidates vying for the Democratic nomination has changed this year’s presidential primaries, it hasn’t affected her personally.

As the president of Students for Barack Obama, an offshoot of College Democrats, she said she does not consider race an issue and certainly has no problems voting for someone of a different race than she. She sees Obama as a candidate who will effect change – just that.

“When I see Obama, I don’t see a black or white man,” she said. “I see someone who can change the country.”

After this election, Steuernagel said she hopes race and gender will not matter for people running for the presidency, just as they do not matter for those running for other offices.

“I think that’s what this election’s going to do,” she said. “… next time, it won’t be a big deal for a person of color or a woman to run for president – just like it’s not a big deal for governor.”

Still, Garrison said having these dynamics creates a positive image of America for the rest of the world. It shows that in America one doesn’t need to be a white male to succeed.

“America’s going to make history no matter what one of these candidates gets the Democratic nomination,” Garrison said. “This has done more to boost the image of America, because it reminds people of the great experiment that began on these shores about 200 years ago, following the signing of the Declaration of Independence.”

He said the diverse pool of candidates has energized young voters more than ever and awakened the older generation.

“Most people in my generation never thought we’d see a black president in our lifetime, prior to the Iowa caucus,” Garrison said. “That was a serious re-evaluation of black America that happened then.”

A reawakening of hope

Before Obama’s win in Iowa, where the black population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is 2.5 percent, Garrison said blacks didn’t doubt Obama’s capabilities, but the willingness of the rest of America to vote for a black candidate.

“The question was whether or not America would allow him and give him the opportunity to serve at that level – doubting the rest of America had achieved the level of political sophistication necessary to pick the best person for the job, rather than the ‘white’ person for the job,” he said. “But the politics of America have always been along racial lines, and I think his win in Iowa caused a re-evaluation of his candidacy in black America.”

Lige said her only fear with having Obama, or any African-American, as president, would be the ignorance of others – that more narrow-minded groups would use his presidency as an opportunity to take a stand against blacks and other races and cultures.

She said she’s heard others say they fear he’ll be assassinated, but thinks that’s a risk for any candidate.

Garrison said he has none of these fears.

“I would like to think that what most people in the country now are looking for is a leader,” he said, “regardless of race or gender, who can lead this country properly, restore our image, correct our economy.”

And if Obama is elected, Steuernagel said people may eventually not even notice his race.

“After a couple years, it won’t be perceived,” she said. “He’ll be blamed for being a Democrat; he won’t be blamed for being a black man.”

Contact minority affairs reporter Christina Stavale at [email protected].