“There’s something about the sophisticated and complex ethnic identity that resonates with younger voters as well,” says Turner, who is black. “Younger people are able to say ‘we’ — and that ‘we’ includes Barack Obama.”
But exit polls also show that young Hispanics were more likely to vote for Clinton, as were Hispanics in general. Many people believe the complicated racial history between blacks and Hispanics has played a role in that outcome.
Some wonder if the welcoming attitude toward a black president has its limits, even among the most racially open young Obama supporters.
Young Han, 25, said race played little role in his decision to vote for Obama in the Washington state caucuses. But he wonders if his peers would be uncomfortable if Obama were a different type of black candidate.
“A person who talks in ‘black English,’ engages in ‘identity politics,’ and comes out of a marching, yelling-out-of-a-megaphone background might be considered ‘really’ black, whereas a Harvard-educated lawyer who looks non-threatening may be just a guy who happens to be black,” says Han, a Korean American who recently worked for a Washington, D.C., civic education foundation teaching students about government. “Whether this is a valid way by which to judge someone’s competence or legitimacy is a whole other question. But I think that’s how things work.”
Like many others, he saw attempts to link Obama to his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, as a way to play on that dynamic.
Yet the Wright controversy did not seem to resonate much with young people, even at predominantly white, relatively conservative Clemson University, where political science professor Joseph Stewart Jr. monitored the reaction.
That is striking, says Stewart, a white Southerner who came of age during the civil rights movement.
“I did not think I’d live long enough to see a black candidate who was taken this seriously,” he says. “I thought racism was just too deeply ingrained.”
He sees desegregation as “one of those subtle changes” that have influenced younger generations.
He also has found that many of the youngest voters have little sense of relatively recent incidents of racial strife — for example, the Los Angeles riots that followed the acquittal of the white police officers who beat Rodney King.
“So a lot of the acceptance and the lack of relevance of race is simply a lack of history,” Stewart says. “We usually think that’s a bad thing — but there may be some positives, too.”
For Turner, the progress made is notable and moving.
At age 52, she has vivid memories of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. So Obama’s candidacy is a reminder of how far the nation has come.
“There have been times in the Obama campaign when I think, ‘I wish Dad could’ve seen that,’ or ‘I wish my mother were here,’ to just see him holding his own,” Turner says of her parents, who are no longer living.
“They would have been proud.”
Martha Irvine is an AP national writer.
Here’s all Barack Obama has to do to meet the world’s expectations if he’s elected U.S. president: End an unpopular war in Iraq, heal misery in nations hit by the global
food crisis and stop global warming, in addition to building bridges to
Muslim countries and reversing the unilateralist approach of the Bush
administration. More »
Here’s all Barack Obama has to do to meet the world’s expectations if he’s elected U.S. president: End an unpopular war in Iraq, heal misery in nations hit by the global food crisis and stop global warming, in addition to building bridges to Muslim countries and reversing the unilateralist approach of the Bush administration. More »
"It is clear, now that Obama has clinched the Democratic nomination, that whites will vote for a competent, qualified black candidate for high office," writes the Banner in its June 12, 2008, editorial. "It is no longer possible, then, for blacks to cite the racial prejudice of some whites as a reason for their own failure to find a way to succeed." More »