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Racial Divide May Affect Election

Cherlonda Hampton, 37, of Detroit, talks with reporters about the upcoming Presidential election on Sept. 22, 2008 in Detroit. How can it be that in 2008 — 143 years after slavery was abolished, decades after the civil rights movement — an AP-Yahoo News poll could find that racial misgivings could cost Sen. Barack Obama the election?
AP PHOTO
The Classic Creations barber shop sits empty, surrounded by drunks and shuttered storefronts just two blocks from the manicured lawns of Grosse Pointe Park. The contrast isn't lost on LaVar Anthony, a young barber who speaks in riddles of race, class and politics.

"What's already understood," he says without looking up from his Ebony magazine, "don't need to be explained."

But when it comes to race, what is understood? And what is misunderstood?

And how can it be that in 2008 - 143 years after slavery was abolished, decades after the civil rights movement - an AP-Yahoo News poll could find that racial misgivings could cost Sen. Barack Obama the election?

In search of explanations, two Associated Press reporters - one black, one white - listened to people of both races along Detroit's divides: Alter Road, which separates the city from the tony Grosse Pointes near Lake St. Clair, and 8 Mile Road, the vast northern border between a mostly black Detroit and its mostly white suburbs.

They found people of both races living just blocks apart who nonetheless spoke of each other like strangers. There was suspicion, contempt - and yet, for many, a desperate hope that Obama's candidacy might be the final step in America's long path to racial equality. For whites, their support of Democratic economic policies forces them to confront their racial prejudices.

It is here you meet decent people with much in common - both sides of 8 Mile Road are populated by blue-collar Democratic families. But many still can't get past their racial differences.


Whites say their neighbors consider blacks to be violent and solely responsible for problems in the black community.

Blacks say many of their own consider whites to be spoiled and condescending.

But nobody - well, hardly anybody - acknowledged their own prejudices. Both blacks and whites instead blamed "they," a vague and unaccountable surrogate for their own racial attitudes.

"They" are whites who say Obama is unqualified when they really mean he's black.

"They" are blacks who say all whites are bigots.

Anthony knows who "they" are.

"It's understood that there's still a lot of racism that goes on out there," the barber says with a nod out his window and a wisdom beyond his 30 years. "A lot of white people look down on blacks as being lazy or whatever."

Perched on a ragged leather barber chair closest to the door, his knees pulled to his chest, Anthony fixes his gaze on a white journalist visiting his shop. "The stereotype against whites is that they have all the advantages," he says. "They all look down on us. They're snobs."