When covering the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary, it was the easiest of questions, and it seemed that many journalists couldn’t resist. Black women were tracked down in churches and beauty parlors or chased while walking down the street, and asked: Are you going to vote for race or gender, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton?
“I found myself yelling at the TV” every time they wondered if black women would choose Obama or Clinton, Tenita Robinson told me as she waited to celebrate Obama’s strong primary win. The 43-year-old Columbia housewife didn’t particularly like being reduced to her race and gender.
She voted for Obama because “I believe in his values and I think we need a change,” she said. “I’m tired about the color thing. It’s about what he can do for the country.”
Let me assure you I had not asked the question; she volunteered her outrage spontaneously.
A demographic that is often discounted was – by its large number in the Democratic voting population – in the spotlight. Once there, they were lumped together and reduced as pawns in an identity politics game.
I cringed, as a journalist and as a black woman.
The women I interviewed, in two weeks covering Democrats and Republicans in South Carolina, had issues on their mind: the war in Iraq, the economy, education and health care.
Robinson’s daughter Bianca, voting for the first time, chose Obama because of his plan to provide college tuition credit in return for national service.
On the trail, I also noticed how few black women journalists were asking the questions. On cable talk shows, it wasn’t unusual to see bunches of white men dissecting black women and their motives. They sounded clinical, almost anthropological.
Asking black women about their difficult political decisions in a historic election season isn’t a bad first question.
Too often, it was the only one.