Monday, February 11, 2008

Conventional Wisdom

What Conventional Wisdom Says, or…What it Doesn’t

By Merry Pool

New York—On February 2nd supporters for Barack Obama pulled together an impromptu rally in East Harlem. Known also as “El Barrio”, the organizers hoped to raise awareness about the candidate with ‘lesser name recognition’ in the neighborhood with a large Hispanic population. Holding signs that read, Latinos for Obama, the group of no more than 50 marched from 103rd street up to 116th street.

Nathan Feinberg and Davion Marcus, who were volunteering at Saturday’s event, said they were getting a great response from people in Harlem.

“I came with a stack of fliers and I have one left,” said Feinberg.

“Generally immigrants do not tune in to politics,” said Marcus. “It’s not political apathy; they aren’t able to identify with the candidates—we’re trying to get people to participate in the political system.”

Campaign volunteers for both Senators Obama and Clinton have been reaching out to “immigrants,” (frequently alternated with “Latino”) helping them identify with their candidate—(known in some circles as courting the Hispanic vote.) Yet there is mixed speculation about which candidate will be more successful.

Aristide Zolberg, a professor at The New School, said that based on the “conventional wisdom” he doubted that Latinos would vote for an African American.

“Latinos aren’t too happy with Obama, they will go for Hillary,” he said in a phone interview.

In an interview on the radio program, To the Point, Robert Suro, former director of Pew Hispanic Center, discounted the ‘conventional wisdom’ about race relations between blacks and Latino voters as unsubstantiated. Mr. Suro said that based on the exit polling that has been done, “there is not strong evidence that Hispanics are unwilling to vote for an African American Candidate.”

Take for example, Laura Richardson, an African American Congresswoman recently elected in California’s 37th district, with approximately 25 percent African American and 21 percent eligible Latino voters. In a recent Time magazine article, by Jay Newton, Ms. Richardson said that “race does exist, but more than that people are concerned about he issues…people care about whether they have a job.”

Emphasizing this point, Newton says that “the former first lady [Hillary] represents an era prosperity that many [Latino] women would like to see returned. Not surprisingly, the issue of economic security takes the precedent over race.”

When asked how he intended to address the high unemployment rates and declining wages in the African American community that are related to the flood of immigrant labor, Senator Obama replied:

“Well, let me first of all say that I have worked on the streets of Chicago as an organizer with people who have been laid off from steel plants, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, and, you know, all of them are feeling economically insecure right now, and they have been for many years. Before the latest round of immigrants showed up, you had huge unemployment rates among African-American youth


And, so, I think to suggest somehow that the problem that we're seeing in inner-city unemployment, for example, is attributable to immigrants, I think, is a case of scapegoating that I do not believe in.”

Neither Nathan Feinberg nor Davion Marcus had any conventional wisdom about race and the Latino vote. But, Mr. Marcus, an African American, did acknowledge a tension surrounding the subject of immigration and the economy.

“I know that some African Americans feel like immigrants are reaping the benefits of this country and the Blacks aren’t getting anything,” said Marcus. “If Obama is the next leader, it will be difficult for him. There are so many issues and people will expect him to fix everything.”

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