I'm no bigot, but you should meet my buddies

People say they'd vote for a woman or a black man, but they're not sure their friends would do the same.

By Carol Lloyd
Published March 20, 2008 11:00PM (EDT)

Oy. I tried not to do it -- digest Obama's speech about race in America with those feminist enzymes that break everything down along gender lines. While reading his speech I had to resist the echo of a parallel speech uttered by Hillary Clinton exploring how far we have come, and how far we still have to go, as Americans around the subject of gender. I resisted not simply because I don't think it's terribly fair to constantly compare the inequalities of gender with the inequalities of race but also for a more emotional reason. If Clinton got behind the lectern and talked candidly about gender, there would be a cringefest. She's so politically correct, so whiny, so self-serving yadda yadda yadda: I fear it would be a quick but painful political suicide.

Today's news about a new poll from CBS only served to confirm my suspicions. The poll attempted to get at people's biases against voting for an African-American candidate versus their biases against voting for a female candidate by asking Americans not just whom they would vote for but also whom they thought the people they knew would vote for. Unsurprisingly, most people claimed they would happily vote for a woman or a black man. Their friends, however, are much less unencumbered by prejudices.

According to the poll, only 6 percent of white voters said they preferred to vote for a white candidate, all things being equal, but 34 percent of white voters reported that most people they know would not vote for a black person for president. Either people have learned racism isn't good form (despite their prevailing racism) or we have a low-down opinion of our friends. But if this sounds depressing, the data on gender is even more discomfiting.

The poll found that 17 percent of voters admit they would prefer to vote for a man, all things being equal. (When this question is posed to Democrats only, the number drops to 6 percent.) As might be expected, their friends fared even worse -- about half of the respondents told pollsters most people they knew wouldn't vote for a woman for president. Truth in indirectness? Or simply a knee-jerk assumption that other people are not as enlightened? It's difficult to know, but it does suggest that gender still looms larger as both a real and imagined source of bigotry. (A majority of those polled admitted that racists jokes offended them more than sexist jokes.)

What this poll also makes me wonder is how many Democrats are voting not for the candidate of their choice but for the candidate's winning potential? In this way, gender (or race) might be a deciding factor in the election -- not because individuals don't want to vote for a woman or for a black man, but because they fear that, in the general election, all those "people they know" will end up slipping into the voting booth and casting a ballot for the status quo.

Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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