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Clinton, Obama, and Selma: The Battle for Identity

Marking the 42nd Anniversary of a civil rights demonstration in Selma, Alabama, on March 3rd 2007, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama took time from their busy Capitol Hill schedules to make heavily choreographed public appearances.

Why mark a 42nd anniversary? The obvious, but unsatisfying answer is that they are both in the thick of an early election year. The more satisfying answer is that both are desperately courting the African American vote. If being dark skinned was enough, then Obama should not be so desperate; however, Clinton is very popular among African American voters. Obama knows this and does… nothing.

In fact, Obama does not want to seem African American. Unlike Clinton, Obama chooses not to mention his most obvious demographic facet. He only answers to criticisms that “he’s not black enough” when brought up by others; this is a noble tactic in the face of ignorant comments, but is notable for his lack of bringing up his identity at all. Clinton’s website displays rather prominently a “Women for Hillary” clickable banner. In Obama’s website, you won’t find the word “black” or “African American” in the issues section. The only place you do find these words is in the comments section of the “blog” (a new feature for 21st Century presidential hopefuls) — notice that the blog is not written by Obama himself.

In the Selma visit, Obama takes great care to mention that the Civil Rights movement was for all Americans. True, but the struggle for African American voting rights was a very prominent feature. To play down this fact is noticeable in its obvious attempt to seem American, rather than African American.

Recently, Clinton has fell behind Obama in support among African Americans. Perhaps Obama’s strategy is working; play down the most obvious demographic facet and you will win support from people who look like you.

3 comments to Clinton, Obama, and Selma: The Battle for Identity

  • jill

    “Recently, Clinton has fell behind Obama in support among African Americans. Perhaps Obama’s strategy is working; play down the most obvious demographic facet and you will win support from people who look like you.”

    or on the flip side, try too hard to win the african american vote (clinton) and lose it.

  • It’s interesting to see how identity politics is being played out here. Obama, despite his skin color, is still authentically “black” because he espouses the same sorts of things most black politicians believe in: redistribution of income, ubiquitous racism in the U.S., and basically the rest of the Democratic party’s platform.

    Condoleeza Rice, Supreme Court Justice Thomas, and every other conservative black person in America are generally called “Uncle Toms” and derided for insufficient blackness because they don’t hew to the Democratic party line.

  • von

    He doesn’t write his own blog, but he has had a podcast for quite some time.