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Commentary: Race, age, gender are taboo in election

  • Story Highlights
  • Roland Martin says people talk about issues but conceal their biases
  • Martin: Race, age, gender issues affect support for Obama, McCain, Palin
  • Americans need to be open about how "tribal" concerns influence them, he says
  • Martin: Let's stop dancing around the topics of race, age and gender
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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Editor's Note: Join Roland S. Martin for his weekly sound-off segment on Live at 11:10 a.m. Wednesday. If you're passionate about politics, he wants to hear from you. A nationally syndicated columnist and Chicago-based radio host, he is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith" and "Speak, Brother! A Black Man's View of America." Please visit his Web site.

Roland Martin says Americans need to rise above issues of race, age and gender when they vote.

Roland Martin says Americans need to rise above issues of race, age and gender when they vote.

(CNN) -- One of the most intriguing conversations I had at either the Democratic or Republican convention was with a white labor leader from Ohio.

I can't remember his name, but he made it clear that he is going all around the Rust Belt state looking his white union brothers and sisters in the eye and essentially shaming them into supporting Sen. Barack Obama for president.

No, he's not saying vote for the black man for president because he's black.

He said he's telling them that it's shameful that as Democrats, they agree with him on various political issues, but because of his skin color, they are refusing to cast ballots for him.

"We have gone to our black brothers and sisters for years to support our [white] candidates, and it's wrong for us to stand here and not support one of their own, even though we're Democrats," he barked.

There is nothing more in-your-face than to hear someone speak truthfully to the inherent racism that is at play in this election.

For all the talk about inclusion and the historic nature of this campaign, the true tribal feelings of so many people will come into play, whether we want to admit it or not.

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We are seeing remarkable bias playing strongly in this election. Exit-polling data in the primaries showed some evidence of bias when it came to age, race and gender, but the great concern is whether people are as honest in talking to pollsters as they are in the voting booth.

Because Sen. John McCain is 72 and would be the oldest person to be sworn in as president, there is a lot of dialogue about how old this white guy is, and how wrong it is that he's running. Age questions also have been raised about the 47-year-old black guy from Chicago and whether he is too young and inexperienced to lead.

While there is a lot of talk and excitement surrounding Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin being named as the first woman on a Republican ticket, and what that may mean in terms of widespread female support coming the way of McCain-Palin, there are some voices who refuse to vote for a woman.

We've also seen a number of prominent women -- including Washington Post columnist Sally Quinn and radio talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger -- who have questioned whether the 44-year-old white mother of five children should be vice president, considering she has five children, including a special needs child.

It's wonderful to talk about the economy, immigration, the war in Iraq, health care and education, but we can't be naïve to the reality that when voters go into that voting booth, they will, as one person told me during an interview, "vote with their tribe."

That was one of the arguments we heard during the Democratic primaries when Obama enjoyed overwhelming support from African-Americans -- to the tune of 90-plus percent -- while Sen. Hillary Clinton had major female support, largely white, in the range of 65 to 70 percent.

So what do we do when it comes to our tendency to follow group identification?

1. Stop dancing around the topic. When you watch TV and hear folks talk about Wal-Mart moms or small, rural towns, they are talking about white Americans. These catch phrases never include African-Americans or Hispanics

2. Confront bias where it is. Ask your friends, neighbors, co-workers and church members who they are voting for. When they give you the "I really can't put my finger on it" line, then press them. Hard. You know the real answer, so don't beat around the bush. The best folks to challenge Americans on their hang-ups regarding age, race and gender aren't the AARP, NAACP or NOW. It's Y-O-U. Don't give in to the "That's the way I was raised" mantra. When someone suggests that flags and faith show that a candidate isn't one of us, drill down.

3. Accept the fact that some people will not change. We all think that we have been gifted to the degree that our sane and logical arguments can get folks off their biased stumps. Some people just won't give in. Fine, move on. The goal is to rid our society of as much bias as possible. If someone is so hard-headed, then you have to go on to the next person and try to change them.

It's critical that we be as honest as possible about the impact of race, age and gender in campaigns. A lot of people love to toss around the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s quote that he hoped one day people would be judged by "the content of their character." But it's still a reality that skin tone, gender and our birth date means more than character to a lot of Americans.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

All About Racism and BigotrySexismBarack ObamaJohn McCain

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