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April 18, 2024

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Clinton, Obama fight for the black vote in Alabama

Race and politics. In this country they seem to go to together like chocolate and vanilla…wait, maybe that’s not the best metaphor.

Nevertheless, this election cycle promises to revisit those old wounds we just can’t seem to stop picking.

For the first time, a black candidate has a serious shot at the Democratic nomination. But that doesn’t mean he has any claim to the black vote. Until recently, Hillary Clinton thought she had that one in the bag but due to major gains by the Obama camp, she had to go fight for it in Selma, Alabama.

There in Selma, the sight of “Bloody Sunday” where, in 1965, some 600 civil rights marchers were brutally beaten by police, the stage was set for a struggle of similarly titanic proportions: a match-up that would determine, once for all, who does the best fake southern accent.

Heavyweights Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama gave their speeches in separate churches but the air of conflict was unmistakable. The contest turned out to be a draw.

Neither candidate – Obama despite being black and Hillary despite living in Arkansas for years – could perform a southern drawl if their lives depended on it.

Still, the two pandered so unashamedly as to give one pause.

This is not Hillary’s first time attempting to play race cards she doesn’t hold while speaking to a black audience. Last year at a Martin Luther King Day speech she lamented Republican control of Congress by comparing it to a plantation, adding “And you know what I’m talking about.”

Her husband certainly didn’t have to try so hard. Toni Morrison called Bill Clinton “the first black president,” making Hillary just his incredibly white wife.

Nice try with the ebonics at Selma but maybe Hillary should stick to sincere statements about the meaning of the marchers’ sacrifice.

And Barrack Obama is far from being beyond reproach. Like Hillary, Obama foolishly attempted to paint himself as a guy who “gets it” by adopting an accent even less believable than Clinton’s.

What’s more, he tried to describe himself as a product of the civil rights movement, calling Selma “the sight of my conception” and declaring he had “come home.” Obama was born in Hawaii to a Kenyan and a white woman where he was raised by his white grandparents. Later he lived in Indonesia and eventually went to Harvard Law. So why pander to stereotypes about the black experience when your own life proves how flimsy such notions actually are?

Both Clinton and Obama have made the mistake of underestimating the intelligence of black voters.

What’s worse, they assume them to exist as a monolithic “voting bloc,” which can be wooed with a few ebonics phrases meant to connote a sense of solidarity.

Maybe, just maybe, black voters would like to hear about the issues of importance to them treated substantively instead of Scarlet O’Hillary’s patronizing song and dance.

Or maybe black voters – and here’s a real shocker – are generally concerned with the same things as other people: the war, health care, the economy, etc.

Recently it was revealed that one of Rev. Al Sharpton’s ancestors was owned by a relative of Strom Thurmond, the famed segregationist senator.

This development brought home how real the master-slave relationship was and how momentous it is that men like Obama and Sharpton have been able to earn their way to the top just a few years later.

It has also come to light that Obama’s ancestors may have owned slaves. Such a development need not be taken as a damaging revelation.

Rather, it further indicates the complexity of race in the United States and the confused legacy it leaves behind.

The mixed race child of renowned bigot Strom Thurmond, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, also has ancestors who owned slaves. Does this mean she has not lived the “black experience?”

Clinton and Obama cheapened the sacrifices of the civil rights marchers when they pandered to racial stereotypes at Selma.

Clinton should know she will never be a participant in any black experience and should instead take a page from her husband and try actually listening to black people.

Obama must understand that his life will never be able to be crammed into any “black experience” molds, yet this may not be a hindrance to his campaign.

Though men like Sharpton may have, as an activist, lived a life that corresponds more directly to such preconceptions, he has been repeatedly rejected by voters, black and white alike. Barrack Obama was four years old when the Selma march took place – no one expects him to relate first-hand experience.

More importantly, he should know that black voters are mature enough to understand that the “black experience” is in fact a diverse and storied one with room for many variations.

Send comments to Jon Bosscher at [email protected].

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