Black Unease Is Growing

Gary Fields and Jonathan Kaufman, Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2008

An anxious murmur is rising among black voters as the presidential race tightens: What if Sen. Barack Obama loses?

Black talk-show hosts and black-themed Web sites are being flooded with callers and bloggers reflecting a nervousness—and anger—over the campaign. Monday night, Bev Smith, a nationally syndicated black talk-show host in Pittsburgh, devoted her entire three-hour show to the question: “If Obama doesn’t win, what will you think?”

“My audience is upset,” she said. “Some people said they would be so angry it would be reminiscent of the [1960s] riots—that is how despondent they would be.”

Warren Ballentine, a nationally syndicated black talk-radio-show host, added: “Once Sarah Palin was picked and African-Americans saw the Republicans ignited again, they got worried. We are scared now.”

Black nervousness could help Sen. Obama, the first African-American to head the Democratic—or any major party—ticket, by boosting black turnout in November. But if Sen. Obama loses, “African-Americans could be disappointed to the point of not engaging in the process anymore,” or consider forming a third political party, said Richard McIntire, communications director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

{snip} The latest Wall Street Journal poll shows 88% of blacks backing Sen. Obama. Black voter registration has surged.

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“If he loses, it will shake the very ground that we stand on mentally as far as what we need to be to succeed,” said Robert Gordon, a 48-year-old engineering surveyor from Dallas. “From day one, we’ve been told to be a certain way, to be neat, intellectual, speak clearly. He is the symbol of what we were told to be by our parents and by society as a whole. If this doesn’t work, what does that do to our psyche? What do I tell my sons? No matter what the hell we do, it doesn’t matter? We can only assimilate so far.”

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Melvin Thomas, a professor at North Carolina State University and past president of the Association of Black Sociologists, said black response to the election likely will depend on “how African-Americans will see a vote against Mr. Obama. What does the racial distribution of that vote look like? If the answer for African-Americans to the question of why Obama lost is race, an Obama loss will have the potential to deepen the racial cut.”

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Obama campaign adviser Valerie Jarrett said the campaign isn’t spending its time wondering what happens if the senator loses. “One of the life lessons I’ve learned from Barack is that you can’t have a fear of failure. It is debilitating,” said Ms. Jarrett. “You can’t go into any venture fearful of what will happen if you fail.”

She recalled that when Sen. Obama lost a House race in 2000, she and others suggested he give it more time before seeking another seat. Instead, he ran for the Senate and won in 2004.

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