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Commentary: Issues -- not gender or race -- on minds of voters

  • Story Highlights
  • Holley-Walker: Race-or-gender choice is driven by media, not reality
  • She writes that African-American women are talking about the issues
  • African-American women expressing their pride in both candidates, she adds
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By Danielle Holley-Walker
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Danielle Holley-Walker is a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law and is actively supporting the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama.


Danielle Holley-Walker: Media's features on African-American women voters are missing the point.

(CNN) -- You can't turn on a 24-hour news channel or your nightly news this week without seeing a feature on African-American women voters. It makes sense, being that the South Carolina Democratic primary is only one day away and African-American women will make up approximately one-third of the voters.

The angle in these news features is virtually identical. The commentators wonder and marvel at the extraordinarily difficult choice for African-American women in this primary -- will we vote for the woman candidate or the African-American candidate? Reporters have been busying themselves traveling to crowded beauty shops all over the state to answer this question.

The funniest, or perhaps most disturbing, thing about these stories is how far they are from my reality. I am an African-American woman living in South Carolina. I have African-American women family members and friends who live in this state. I actually visit beauty shops to get my hair done. Never once have I heard a single woman I know frame the choice about whom to vote for as a question of gender or racial politics.

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So what are African-American women talking about when the cameras aren't watching or, more importantly, what are we telling the media that is not being fairly reported? African-American women are talking about the issues!

We talk about the vision that each candidate has for leading this country. We enthusiastically discuss the possibility that real, positive change will come from this election. We even parse the policy distinctions in the candidates' positions on education, creating jobs and ending the war in Iraq.

Sometimes, the issues we talk about do deal with aspects of gender and racial identity. We debated Sen. Hillary Clinton's statement implying that Martin Luther King's civil rights movement did not fulfill its promise until Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. We argue and marvel at the significant generational divide in the African-American community that is being exposed by this election process.

If you listen closely to the women in the news features at the beauty shops, they are commenting on these issues, even when the voice-over in the same feature is telling you that the women are discussing whether it's more important to have the first woman or the first black president.

Why is the media determined to make us choose? Why do they insist that we declare our loyalty to either women or to African-Americans? This is a truly false dichotomy in that we are the living, breathing embodiment of both identities. Asking us to prefer our gender over our race (or vice versa) is the equivalent of asking us to prefer one vital organ over another.

That is not to say that identity politics are completely irrelevant in this election. African-American women are expressing their pride in both candidates and in the progress this country has made that allows a white woman and an African-American man to be strong contenders for the presidency. My mother is uplifted by the idea that Obama's candidacy means that her two grandsons will grow up being able to realistically dream about being president.

On Saturday, we will carry this pride into the voting booth with us, but when we cast our votes, we will be thinking about the serious issues facing this country. That's the truth, and don't let the media tell you otherwise. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Racial Issues

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