May 052008
 
Authors: Mary Ackerson

Initially I was excited to hear that for the first time, a female and a black candidate were presidential nominees for the Democratic Party. Now, three months after the Colorado caucuses, I couldn’t be more tired of hearing about it.

Race and gender quickly became key topics for partisan politics. I was surprised, and then annoyed, when I started reading questions in the media like, “Is America ready for a black/woman president?”

In a country that claims to view everyone as equal, it is more than disappointing to see race and gender portrayed as the most important qualities that distinguish candidates.

Equally as obnoxious are the groups that advertise themselves as “Women for Obama” or “Blacks for Clinton.”

Such groups send the message that they are the exception to some social norm in which women are expected to support Clinton, and blacks are expected to support Obama. While this norm may seem natural to some, it is based upon racist and sexist lines.

On April 24, a New York Times article cited a poll that “found that 18 percent of Democrats said that race mattered to them in this contest – and just 63 percent of those voters said they would support Mr. Obama in a general election.”

The implication is that blacks’ voting along racial lines is acceptable, while whites’ voting along racial lines is not. Why?

The fact that “black” and “woman” aren’t culturally dominant statuses in our society does not make it any less racist or sexist to base one’s vote upon them. Furthermore, the historical significance of these statuses being present in an election for the first time is not a sufficient justification for voting along race/gender lines.

I am a white woman who is supporting Obama. Yet the fact that he is black and a man didn’t play any role in my decision to support him.

As a woman, I understand the historical importance surrounding Hillary’s campaign, but the differences in policy, ideology and character are what should matter most in one’s choice for the future president of the United States.

No one can honestly claim that human worth doesn’t rely on race and gender if these very factors are influencing their election decisions.

The media’s undue focus on race and gender in its election coverage doesn’t help matters.

Another April 24 New York Times story stated, “national polls suggest Mr. Obama would also do slightly better among groups that have gravitated to Republican in the past, like men, the more affluent and independents, while (Clinton) would do slightly better among women.”

This statement is a strong reflection of the media’s attempt to create newsworthy material by claiming gender difference where it barely exists.

Mutually doing only “slightly better” in their own gender group is hardly evidence that gender plays a key role in peoples’ votes.

The first New York Times article asserted the difficulty of determining to what extent race plays a role in this election, concluding at one point that, “although some polling evidence hints at the depth of racial attitudes in this country and the obstacles Mr. Obama faces winning white voters, it has historically proved challenging to measure how racial attitudes factor into voter decisions.”

Yet it later claimed that Obama “played down the racial aspects of the coalition Mrs. Clinton used to defeat him in Pennsylvania” for saying that his loss had more to do with older voters being loyal to Clinton than it did with white working-class voters.

The media’s effort to create controversial subject matter by focusing on race and gender continually taints this election by diverting the readers’ attention from the truly important differences between the candidates.

Mary Ackerson is a senior political science major. Her column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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