How will Hillary do among African-American women? This week is Hillary Clinton's "Women Changing America" week, and she kicked it off before a sold-out hometown crowd at the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee luncheon in New York. Like any self-respecting and habitually hungry reporter-schnorrer, I made a beeline for one of the few tables with uneaten food. After the half-dozen accomplished African-American women at the table wondered what the hell I was doing sitting with them, we ended up in a great conversation. They work for organizations like the New York Coalition of 100 Black Women, the NAACP, Delta Sigma Theta (a powerful black sorority) and others. Two are public school principals.
I'm not sure if they are a representative sample of black women, but they had a lot to say about arguably the single most important constituency group in this year's Democratic primaries.
Their bottom line: Black women will split between Hillary and Obama (in what ratios, they don't know), they will decide late, and younger ones prefer Obama. They say the determining factors will not be color or gender but a great variety of individual assessments of who can better lead the country. When talk turned to the danger of Obama being shot, they agreed that the more this fear was confronted publicly, the better for Obama. One joked that if Hillary selected Obama as her running mate, she wouldn't need Secret Service protection. She's be the safest president ever. No nut would shoot her because they'd get a black president.
These women scoffed at the "is he black enough?" question about Obama as the worst kind of media-induced stupidity. They know no one who asks that question. "Not black enough? He's blacker than Hillary. Is Hillary white enough?" one cracked. There was a lot of talk of the recent stories in New York about someone hanging a noose on the door of a black woman professor at Columbia University, and another noose used to harrass a 16-year-old. They agreed that these were meant partly as messages that the country isn't ready for a black president. "You think a person who would hang a noose for a 16-year-old wouldn't shoot a black president?" asked one. But on the question of whether this kind of thing helped or hurt Obama, most of the group said it helped. It made blacks, especially younger ones, more determined to show the world that they weren't going to take this kind of thing, that they could not be intimidated by racism. The pride in Obama came through strongly. "This is something I haven't heard [in the black community] in 25 years," said one. "That here's someone we need for the country."
On the "Oprah Effect," they thought Oprah would have more effect on surburban white women than on African-American women.
"She's mainstream--that's where the impact could be," said one, though none thought she was an overwhelming factor.
All told, it was four for Obama, two undecided. Considering that this was an event for Hillary, whom they all know and greatly respect, it was a small sign that this thing isn't over.