The other day, my daughter announced her support of Senator Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. I asked why, and she answered, “It would be awesome to have a woman President.” (She is 8 years old.) When I asked why not Senator Barack Obama, she paused, a slight crease developing between her eyebrows:
“Oh, I don’t know, Mom. I just think it would be better to have a woman President.” With that, I said something encouraging about her growing interest in presidential politics but didn’t press her on her choice.
My daughter’s nascent political interest–and her stated preference for Clinton–appears to be influenced by her budding sense of girl power more than black power. In this respect her preference defies the new conventional wisdom: in the black community, post-civil rights era blacks go for Barack Obama, while old heads support Hillary Clinton.
The week of the New Hampshire primary, I contacted several African-Americans to sound them out on this. The one clear consensus was that black voters are pleasantly surprised to find themselves at a historic moment in which a window is open to elect a candidate who may be able to move the needle significantly on matters that for too long have been ignored. But my conversations also reflected a distinct generational divide, with some interesting contours.
From her home in Los Angeles, Tananarive Due, a novelist, expressed unwavering enthusiasm for Obama. Like me, she is in her early 40s and straddles the line between the baby boom and post-civil rights eras.
“This is like a big family squabble, only more painful,” said Due, the daughter of 1960s civil rights activists John and Patricia Stephens Due. Tananarive, author with her mother of Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights, decided to “come out” about her political views only after seeing Obama speak last May at the First AME Church at the edge of South Central Los Angeles. She was so moved, Due said, that she returned later to the church, got a videotape of Obama’s speech and spent hours transcribing it. She described her abiding belief in his candidacy in a post on her blog, which made the rounds among black writers and journalists in the days after the New Hampshire primary.
Due is mindful, she said, of the high emotions that will likely play an important part in black voters’ decisions. And as she sees it, for some black Americans fear is the biggest influence on that front–the feelings of self-doubt and the deep fears born of long, grim, generational memory. “When you have been beaten down for as long as blacks have been, it is hard not to be afraid,” Due told me. “Afraid that voting for Obama will be a wasted vote. Afraid that someone will try to harm him or his family, the closer he gets.”