A bit of a depature from the obstensible subject matter of this blog, but of interest I imagine to potential readers as well.
I’ve just turned off tonight’s primary coverage. If I have to hear Wolf Blitzer’s awkward rambling or trite references to “The Best Election Team on Television” one more time, I may turn off from this primary season all together. Yet one aspect of this race that continues to capture my attention is the supposed black/latino split between Obama and Clinton supporters.
One commentator on Charlie Rose has just claimed that Barack Obama earned 80% of the African-American vote. And much has been made of the Clinton camp’s success among latinos. In New York for example, Hillary carried 75% of the Latino vote. Perhaps this isn’t the best indicator, given that Hillary had an “incumbent” advantage among New York voters. Nonetheless, it is clear, despite chants of “Si Se Puede” periodically heard at Obama rallies, Clinton has received majority support from the voto hispano.
I find this result surprising in many ways. Above all, in the most recent debate between the two remaining Democratic candidates, Barack Obama articulated positions on a number of issues that one would think would be more latino-friendly.
At one point, both candidates were asked the following question: “There’s been no acknowledgement by any of the presidential candidates of the negative economic impact of immigration on the African-American community. How do you propose to address the high unemployment rates and the declining wages in the African-American community that are related to the flood of immigrant labor?”
In typical “uniter-not-a-divider” fashion, Obama shifted the focus of the question to the greater economic insecurities that have faced all American workers – immigrant, African-American, white, latino – in recent years. He continued, “Before the latest round of immigrants showed up, you had huge unemployment rates among African-American youth. And so I think to suggest somehow that the problem that we’re seeing, in inner city unemployment for example, is attributable to immigrants, I think, is a case of scapegoating that I do not believe in, I do not subscribe to.”
Hillary, on the other hand, played to more populist politics, arguing that it is important to acknowledge that the low wages afforded to latino immigrants have in fact displaced some African-Americans from jobs in communities across the country.
Is not Barack’s open stance against scapegoating a more likeable position for latino voters? Is it not Obama that has come out steadfastly in favor of allowing undocumented migrants to receive drivers licenses? (Clinton opposes this position.)
Why is it then that Clinton did so well with latinos tonight? Skeptics are quick to point to the issue of race. Latinos, it is widely assumed, are suspicious of African-Americans and are thus much more reluctant to support an Obama candidacy, regardless of his policy proposals.
It’s not that I don’t think there may be some substance to these suggestions. But to leave our answer simply at a question of race 1) relies far too heavily on stereotype and vague insinuations for my liking and 2) grossly underestimates the capacity of Latinos to think critically about their choices above and beyond whatever stereotypes or prejudices they may hold. I think it’s safe to say that Barack Obama – Harvard grad, distinguished lawyer and politician, eminent orator, and (let’s be frank) lighter-skinned – does not conform to Latino stereotypes of African-Americans as prone to crime, gangs, violence, and drugs.
Others offer more mundane suggestions for Hillary’s apparent Hispanic success – everything from the legacy of Bill Clinton’s popularity among latinos to extensive outreach in latino communities (via Spanish-language media and other means) to endorsements by notable latino leaders like Antonio Villaraigosa (mayor of Los Angeles) and Senator Robert Menendez.
But neither do these explanations satisfy my curiosity. Hopefully as this campaign season continues to unfold, we’ll continue to gain insight into this fascinating – and evolving – dynamic.
Finally, the aspiring academic in me compels me to say that the idea of a black/Latino divide is a myth – or at least a misnomer – for yet another reason. Plenty of Latinos – from countries such as Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Colombia – are of African heritage as well!