According to this New York Times article, African-American women are having trouble deciding which meaningless characteristic means more to them in a presidential candidate: race or sex.

When reading the article, one expects interviews with black women who can\’t decide whether Barack Obama\’s race or Hillary Clinton\’s sex makes more of a difference when deciding which candidate to support.  In fact, hairdresser Clara Vereen, the star of the article, actually gives reasons why not to support each:

Part of being real, said Ms. Vereen, whom everyone calls Miss Clara, is worrying that a black president would not be safe.

“I fear that they just would kill him, that he wouldn’t even have a chance,” she said as she styled a customer’s hair with a curling iron. One way to protect him, she suggested, would be not to vote for him.

I wouldn\’t even begin to try to explain the African-American community\’s feelings toward Obama – but this seems bizarre.  The best way to protect his life would be to refuse to vote for him?  In a way, this is ridiculous – but on the other hand, it unmasks the deep distrust of whites that still boils below the surface in the South.  How is Obama supposed to pick up traction if blacks either don\’t believe white Americans will vote for an African-American, or that they will kill him if he\’s elected? 

Clara says about Hillary Clinton:

“We always love Hillary because we love her husband,” Ms. Vereen said. Then she paused. Much of the chitchat in her shop is about whether a woman could or should be president.

“A man is supposed to be the head,” she said. “I feel like the Lord has put man first, and I believe in the Bible.”

So rather than being an article about how the positive aspects of sex and race might pull black female voters in certain directions, it actually exposes the fact that gender and color might actually work against both candidates in some aspects.  It was probably a surprise to the New York Times that many of the women to whom they spoke didn\’t fall into a neat category, as the headline suggested.

The underlying theme of the article, I think, is the unexpected complexity voters have in their attitudes towards candidates.  It\’s not a case of \”I\’m voting for Obama because he\’s black\” or \”I\’m voting for Hillary because she\’s a woman.\”  There are reasons – no matter how unrealistic – that people support candidates, and they don\’t necessarily conform to traditional views of identity politics.