03 July 2008

A Select Group of Hillary Loyalists

A topic that spun off from the Unite for Change party last Saturday was the issue of Hillary Clinton supporters who won't vote for Obama. Who are they?, I asked, pointing out that these oft-mentioned loyalists strike me as a peculiarly Rovian construct.

One answer, however, made itself known when a guest spoke up. Janice, a woman in late middle age whose dialect sounds a bit more back east than mountain or high plains, mentioned that her aged mother was extremely uncomfortable with commentary made about Obama by some of her Democratic peers who were (are) Hillary supporters.

Before I go on I want to mention this: when Janice told me that afternoon that I looked familiar to her, I quipped that we must be in the same extended family. By which I meant that we are both Jews.

Janice answered my question about the Hillary supporters who might not vote by attesting that, in her mother's assisted living community, the vitriol about Obama was rank. Her mother has lately avoided the central gathering areas in her facility because of the coarse and racist speech fulminating from the mouths of these aged, Democratic voters. There were words being used, Janice said, that she would not repeat in our presence that day.

Yep, I thought. Sure. I could picture it all too clearly. I remember the first time I heard my grandparents use the term schvartze, the derogatory, Yiddish slang for African Americans. I grew up pretty far removed from the holdover mindset of my granparents' generation, and pretty far removed as well from the Jewish community of metro Detroit, so I was a little older already when I first asked my parents what the word meant.

Since hearing Janice's story about her mother's peers, I've learned that my own grandmother, as it happens, may not vote this year. According to my mother, my grandmother was "very gung ho for Hillary, and now she doesn't like either choice." It's unflattering to say so, but I suspect my grandmother and many Jews of her generation of holding yet to a deeply ingrained racism and mistrust of blacks, black culture, and black leaders today.

I don't kid myself that this type of closed-mindedness is limited to my grandparents' generation. Would that it were so. In an election year which has us talking about race as never before, as we dissect a candidate who may be neither "black enough" nor "white enough" to win over crucial voter blocs, when the words "biracial" and "postracial" have become as prevalent in the electoral idiom as "bipartisan" and "postpartisan," I strongly wonder if Barack Obama won't reveal more to us about ourselves and our communities than we might be eager to accept. Optimistically, however, perhaps the candidate will prompt us to review and more carefully question those very topics in our families, in our lives, about which we do not speak. Without dialogue, at the very least, there can be little progress.

When my mom heard that I will be actively involved in this election, that I hope to engage skeptics and win over undecided voters, she asked me to begin my efforts close to home. I believe I'll call my grandmother this 4th of July weekend, and ask if we can talk a little politics.