Published Sep 27, 2008
From the magazine issue dated Oct 6, 2008
African-Americans thought he had no chance—then they started to believe. Now they fear defeat.
In the African-American community, the thinking on Obama's candidacy has gone something like this: In the beginning, there was disbelief that a black man could become president. Then, when Obama became the Democratic nominee and soared in the polls, listeners were concerned for his safety. Now that the race with John McCain is as tight as Sarah Palin's smile, Baisden's audience has started to worry about Election Day itself. There is still a fair amount of optimism in the black community, but it's being tempered by two words: what if. What if Obama loses? How should people respond? What should they feel? It's a common election-season concern, but it's all the more acute in the African-American community, where more people are paying attention to the campaign—and planning to vote—than ever. Managing expectations and reactions has become Topic A in many black homes and on blogs such as Bossip, Stereohyped and Angry Black Male. "People that I know that have never cared about politics are registering to vote this time: gang members, ex-cons, you name it," says rapper Snoop Dogg. "I hate to see a lot of that hope go down the drain, and if he loses, it will."
Racism, naturally, plays a part in the conversation. "I've never forgotten that he is a smart, articulate black man with a smart, articulate black wife," says Linda Wright, 34, a nurse's assistant from Houston. "You think white people were just going to turn over the keys to the most important job in the land without a fight?" The overriding feeling is apprehension, a vague fear of losing something people thought was theirs to keep. "My kids love Obama and they think it's so obvious he should be the president," says actor D. L. Hughley. "I was just honest in saying life isn't always fair and certainly isn't always fair for African-Americans. But Obama has overcome so many obstacles, it's easy to forget reality."