How do I convince my racist and ignorant grandmother to vote for Obama?
October 11, 2008 6:01 AM   Subscribe

How do I convince my grandmother to vote for Obama? Oh, and the reason why she won't vote for him is because of his race.

I have a pretty good relationship with my grandmother. She's 80 years old, registered Republican, but mostly votes democrat. Although, she probably voted for Reagan.

The last election, she didn't want to vote for Kerry because she didn't like his wife. I managed to convince her last time that his wife isn't a good reason to not vote for someone.

I had a long conversation with her about the election (she hates McCain) and race. She has never known any non-white people, and is basically scared of people of other races, it seems especially of black people. Also, she thinks "they" have an agenda and "they" will take over once Obama gets into office. My analysis, is that even though my grandmother is racist, she's not a hate-filled racist. It is mostly fear and ignorance.

I listened to what she had to say, we had a good dialogue, she said she will think about it. I sent her a youtube of Richard Trumka from the AFL-CIO talking about race and the election, and I want to keep pushing her with conversations, and articles and videos from the internet (that aren't too intellectual).

Maybe I am over-optimistic, but I think she can be moved, mostly because of her anger over the last 8 years. So, please, give me any creative ideas you have!
posted by hazyspring to Human Relations (40 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Bring up Obama's mom and what she went through. Show her photos, but don't mention that she was white. Get pictures of his grandparents and tell the story of how he fought with Patton's Third Army in Europe.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:04 AM on October 11, 2008 [6 favorites]

How about videos of Palin? I probably would never have voted for McCain, but I used to respect him. Palin, while probably not as moronic as she seems, is evidence of extremely poor judgement. And her husband's Eskimo and probably has an agenda;-)
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:24 AM on October 11, 2008

I really see this as more as a chatfilter question and I'm flagging it as such, because it's approximately impossible to answer it without some sort of bias, either politically or racially. My opinion is that, fwiw, people vote for the person they feel more *comfortable* with. I believe that Clinton got voted in because he's the world's best schmoozer, more than that he's some incredible politician. I think that it's also impossible to even remotely look at either of the two candidates and not go "holy hell how did we wind up HERE?". This really is a lesser of two evils question for lots of Americans who aren't driving with blinders on, or who aren't CON-VINCED by rhetoric.

Basically I'm saying it's not your job to convince your grandma how to vote. If she's picked someone, it's not your job to convince her otherwise. That runs in stark contract to the "racism is bad" argument I got into a couple weeks ago with some nice folks, but I believe if you're asking this question, then you're not as fully educated about the full spectrum of candidacy as you should be for someone in the position of convincing everyone they know that X candidate is the saviour of America.
posted by TomMelee at 6:47 AM on October 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'd try a different angle entirely. Something that has swung some older not-racist Republicans I know: If she makes less than $50,000 a year, under an Obama administration she'd be off the hook for income taxes.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:53 AM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To clarify, this isn't a "why is Obama better" question. This is more of a "what do you think could move someone who has issues with his race. I'm incredibly educated on Obama, but being educated is completely different from trying to figure out what might be effective in moving someone like my grandmother.

Most answers so far have been helpful.
posted by hazyspring at 7:03 AM on October 11, 2008

Too right, I shouldn't have said that with that tone. To answer your question about moving someone with race issues, you have to find out where the racial issues stem from and what the motivation is. That's what we do with kids, anyway. You ask them what the differences are. You ask them why they think that. You ask them to tell you a time it was true. You ask them to tell you a time it wasn't. You discuss coincidence, and you discuss dreams and goals, and you discuss how we take different paths to get to the same destination.

Then you realize that we're all nothing more than the sum product of our experiences, and even though you can't understand their feelings, you empathize with their perspective.
posted by TomMelee at 7:15 AM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Mod note: a few comments removed - question is NOT "how can Obama win?" or "should I mind my own business" You are more than welcome not to answer, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:23 AM on October 11, 2008

What state is she in? If she's not in a swing state it probably won't have any outcome on the election anyhow.

If it doesn't have any outcome on the election, then you don't have to worry about "how do I make her like Obama", and you can decide whether or not helping her get comfortable around black people generally is worth the trouble.
posted by mendel at 7:24 AM on October 11, 2008

I like the idea of telling her about Obama's personal history and life, and showing her pictures and video tape. You need to humanize Obama for her, to make her realize he's a person just like any other she knows. And since Obama astutely realized he had to do this himself for people like your grandmother, there is a lot of material out there.
posted by orange swan at 7:35 AM on October 11, 2008

Ask her that if she was drowning, would she refuse a life preserver thrown to her by a black man?
posted by ShooBoo at 7:51 AM on October 11, 2008 [9 favorites]

Tell her how important having Obama in office is to you, as the outcome of this election will have an impact on your life for years to come. Perhaps it will influence your economy or oppertunities in a way that might be better than if somone else comes into office.
In 20 years time she might not still be around, but hopefully you will be, and perhaps will have children, so this is a way for her to influence the world her grandchildren will live in.
posted by Iteki at 8:01 AM on October 11, 2008 [10 favorites]

I can say from the reading I've done that he is a hell of a lot more centrist than I would have believed. I was discussing this with a friend the other night, I wonder how many people who support him realize what a (middle-class) tax cutting, border securing, war (in Afghanistan) presiding-over president he would be. Politically he seems to be exactly the right-down-the-middle type that swing voters like her would like.

For the race part, for the sake of argument it might be useful to take this ridiculous notion that "they" will take over seriously and walk through the absurd steps that would actually take.

And you're absolutely right in not dismissing her as a hateful racist. People learn racism just like they learn religion or other things, and they can be changed from their views with the right approach.
posted by mattholomew at 8:03 AM on October 11, 2008

I'm with Ironmouth. As unfortunate as it is, I think she'll have less reason to fear "they" are going to take over if you point out he was raised by a white mother.
posted by Nattie at 8:05 AM on October 11, 2008

Sarah Silverman is trying to get young white Jewish Obama supporters to convince their Jewish grandparents (esp. in Florida) to vote for Obama. Maybe you can use some of her arguments?
posted by Brittanie at 8:10 AM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

>She has never known any non-white people

Can you change this and get her engaged with some reality? If the issue with her is solely about race, then you need to change her perspective about race, not focus on Sen. Obama. She's 80 and an act of kindness can mean a lot. Can any of your non-white friends go with you to help her with groceries or something? Just to ease her irrational fear and engage her? No politics, just people helping each other. Maybe that's all she needs.

Another thought... I had the same problem with an older person I know who was a huge fan of the Kennedys but uncomfortable with race issues. I explained that for Sen. Obama to achieve the presidency would be the fruit of the Kennedys dream for the future of America. Completely bogus argument, but it really, really did the trick.

If you try this latter approach, I suggest you don't mention Teddy. People of that generation may more readily associate him with Chappaquiddick than his Senate record, and the conversation can go sour fast. Stick to Jack and Bobby.
posted by quarterframer at 8:24 AM on October 11, 2008

Can you get her to sit down with you and watch his speech on race? Because it acknowledges the reality of white fear as well as the reality of black oppression. I found it really stirring, and it spoke to unity rather than agenda.
posted by headspace at 8:48 AM on October 11, 2008 [5 favorites]

If you are genuinely trying to help your grandmother overcome issues with race, you ought to wait until after the election, and then have these conversations with her. The impact will be greater than the worth of any one vote.

The present timing reeks of insincerity. By that I mean, you appear to be pushing the issue now to win her vote, not to make her a better person.
posted by whatisish at 9:04 AM on October 11, 2008 [7 favorites]

Although the speech on race might be good, I think there are two videos the campaign has produced that will accomplish a lot of the humanizing of the Obamas that other respondents think is necessary (I agree).

The first is A Mother's Promise, the biographical video that preceded his big convention speech. It covers the white mother and grandparents, and the fact that his grandfather fought in Patton's Army.

The second is Four Days in Denver, which goes behind the scenes at the convention and was just released. It's basically fifteen minutes of the whole family being completely adorable. I can't watch it without crying.

If these two vids can't turn her around, there may be no hope.
posted by awesomebrad at 9:17 AM on October 11, 2008 [8 favorites]

She should not vote for him because of his politics, not because of his ethnicity. I'd just try to convince her to not vote at all, if I were going to get involved with someones personal decision when the reason was ugly.
posted by dawson at 9:27 AM on October 11, 2008

I'm with quarterframer; I bet her meeting some real live black person would be just what the doctor ordered. Just like in American History X! (Although it also has the potential to go horribly wrong, I don't know your grandma well enough.)
posted by Dr. Send at 9:35 AM on October 11, 2008

Steer the discussion away from black guy vs. white guy, and focus it on the candidates' respective policies. Not to overgeneralize, but health care might be an important issue for her, for example. Or her grandkids' education.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:36 AM on October 11, 2008

Last week I read a story about an Obama canvasser who has talked to people who say, in effect, "I don't want to vote for a n****r, but I'm worried about the economy."

I'm sure the campaign has come up with an answer to your question. They seem to have a robust "how you can help" section on his website, so you might just want to contact them.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 9:37 AM on October 11, 2008

Also, I similar, but much steeper hill to climb with my grandparents. They're hard core Democrats who have probably never voted Republican. In their case, race is definitely, literally, the only reason why they won't vote for Obama. No one will ever ever change their minds. I've decided that the next time the election comes up, I'll talk about our senate race.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 9:41 AM on October 11, 2008

You're not going to erase 80 years of ingrained racism. Maybe play up the fact that he's half-white, was raised by his white mother, and find some videos of public appearances with his white grandparents?

Or... give up, and spend a day volunteering for the Obama campaign calling people/going door-to-door/etc. Much better return on your time.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:47 AM on October 11, 2008

Nthing the "humanize" approach. Part of the reason racism seems to endure is because the racist doesn't quite see the people of the other race as human. Doesn't mean that the racist is necessarily just an ignorant jerk. It could be a product of upbringing and lack of contact with people of the other race (as is the case with my grandma's-in-law and seems to be the case with your own grandma).

Of course, the facts also speak for themselves. My own mother didn't want a black man in the White House. She also didn't like Michelle Obama very much. All completely irrational reasons to not vote for someone, as you said. However, once she actually listened to the facts of Obama's platform and saw just how bad off things were now with McCain/Palin and the GOP, she realized that perhaps he's not so bad after all. She surprised the living crap out of me when she came out one day and said, "You know, I think it's imperative that we vote for Obama." When I asked her what had swayed her, it was all about the issues. She didn't think all of it would be realistic, especially if he ended up only doing 1 term. But she saw that his intention to better the country seems more genuine and feasible than McCain's.

So sit down with Granny one day and talk about the facts. I also like the above suggestion of introducing positive examples of black people into her life. Once she realizes that the difference between herself and them is purely external, she will be more open to hearing about and voting for someone like Obama.
posted by arishaun at 10:08 AM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here's the thing, people that think this way made up their minds the first time they heard that a black man (half black but whatever) was running for the Democratic nomination. They thought of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and their own fear of black people and they made up their minds. They stop listening to the speeches because they're voting for Hillary and that's that. Now, confronted with the specter of a black person running for office they're still not listening to the speeches. Because if they truly listened they would hear that this guy has got it going on and that he was raised in a far more nuanced racial environment than many people in America and that he has a broad spectrum of interests at heart. His wife is also hella smart (and I do think that that is important) and he's not going to alienate half the country for his own agenda (unlike other politicians we know). But, really, her mind is made up. Maybe she could vote for Ron Paul?
posted by amanda at 10:11 AM on October 11, 2008

For many who are bigoted, the bigotry is against an unknown them, while people they actually know, work with, etc. are fine ("exceptions").

Try making it personal. Maybe talk about his kids, his youth, the good things he's done.
posted by zippy at 10:17 AM on October 11, 2008

She has never known any non-white people, and is basically scared of people of other races, it seems especially of black people. Also, she thinks "they" have an agenda and "they" will take over once Obama gets into office.

I think the suggestions above that you talk to her about Obama's white grandparents and mother could address this nicely. If you can help her understand that for Obama, white people are part of his "them"--the people he's looking out for, the "side" he's on includes white people--her view of him as a black man looking out for his fellow black people may soften.

I also think amanda's spot-on about the Jesse Jackson connection.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:25 AM on October 11, 2008

Some people with mild paranoid tendencies seem to cope by finding something to be nervous about that doesn't have much impact on their daily lives. For your grandmother, paranoia about black people may have been a pretty good choice because she doesn't know any black people or have to have anything to do with them.

You might need to come up with something else that has little to do with her daily life for her to worry about, such as nuclear proliferation or UFOs.
posted by jamjam at 11:39 AM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

About the agenda thing: part of his message, beginning in the 2004 DNC speech and through his race speech, is that he does not believe different groups should nurse just their own, particular agendas. He believes specifically in not having tribal agendas. He repeatedly makes the point that for progress to happen there needs to just one agenda, because in the end what's good for one American is the same as what's good for another, regardless of color, socioeconomic class, etc. It's a pretty central part of his message and he seems to want to get disparate groups participating in the system rather than staying outside, alienated.

You could say that so far he's been putting his money where his mouth is, spending it on an unusually grass-roots-based campaign across pretty much every state. Not just blue America, etc.
posted by egg drop at 12:17 PM on October 11, 2008

Does she enjoy watching The Golden Girls? Betty White has something to tell her.

I wonder what other senior celebrities have said public things like this. What's Andy Griffith's political stance? I'd love to see a political ad with Matlock making the case for Obama.
posted by Telf at 1:15 PM on October 11, 2008

Sorry for partially hijacking this thread. I'm leaving for work right now, but what is the feasibility of rounding up older celebrities to seriously do a pro Obama ad. Sure, everyone knows that Matt Damon and gang are Obama supporters. But Betty White? In his wikipedia profile, it says that Andy Griffith votes democrat. What are some other older celebrities who might lean democrat? Ed Asner? How does Don Rickles vote? What about some old crooners? Someone needs to pull some strings and get this (theoretical) ad showing in Florida.
posted by Telf at 1:22 PM on October 11, 2008

You may have more luck convincing your grandmother not to vote for McCain. He's been in politics long enough to have done plenty of things that would turn your grandmother off. Also, you can find a lot of information on unpleasant aspects of his personality and character. If she dislikes Bush a lot, she could be persuaded by the Republican candidate's pattern of supporting Bush's policies during the past eight years.

My mother, age 80, believes that "this country isn't ready for a black president," and any discussion about it makes her feel like she's being personally criticized. Talking about issues and the other candidate seems to make her feel less as if she's under attack.
posted by wryly at 2:12 PM on October 11, 2008

Stop saying her grandmother's vote doesn't count!

How her grandmother votes for president is very likely to have an affect on her future votes for city council and aldermen and senators and where do you think presidential candidates come from?

Presidential candidates don't appear fully formed from the ether every election - they come from smaller offices. And they don't run on their own - their campaigns rely on support from people in smaller offices.

Additionally, grandmother's vote is important to hazyspring. Doesn't that count?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:15 PM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Rather than try to persuade the un-persuadable, go out and try to persuade the persuadable.

In other words, go out and volunteer for programs in support of your candidate, and persuade 10 people to vote for Obama (who perhaps don't care about his race, but merely disagree with his politics) and simply out-vote your grandmother.

That's called "democracy."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:03 PM on October 11, 2008

Mod note: this is already in metatalk, please feel free to take your off topic comments there, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:38 PM on October 11, 2008

It's not just persuading her t free herself from racism fr the Presidential election; talk to her about racism, and what it means. There's a great essay "Unpacking the Invisible Backpack" widely available online.
posted by theora55 at 8:09 PM on October 11, 2008

Doesn't address the race issue specifically, but I've found this week's New Yorker magazine endorsement of Obama very compelling.
posted by chefscotticus at 10:18 PM on October 11, 2008

Is your goal to convert her or to figure out why she thinks the way she does?

I think it's unfair if you're trying to pressure her into voting for Obama because you are. She can vote for whoever she wants to vote for.

On the other hand, I think you are already doing a great job and having open conversations and you both seem pretty confident about speaking your minds. That's how it should be.

People often don't fully understand their own views and positions until they are forced to explain them. So when she says she won't vote for Obama because he's black, instead of going into attack mode, say "That's interesting - can you explain to me the link between skin colour and being a competent president?"

This is a good tactic for these kinds of things because racists positions don't have a leg to stand on and the person will often look very foolish, scrambling to justify an unjustifiable position.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 11:01 PM on October 11, 2008

Response by poster: My grandmother lives in PA. I am already VERY active in the campaign and going to Ohio to help get the vote out.

I mostly just put this up as a way to get ideas. Yes, on a certain level it is not sincere. We've never talked about racial issues in a serious way prior to this. Once she made a comment about "orientals" and I corrected her, but aside from that not much else.

I am going to keep having weekly conversations with her about the election, and after the election, I'm going to see her at thanksgiving, and I'm definitely going to bring it up with her and my grandfather.

The thing I just started thinking about, when I had this initial conversation that was so eye-opening to me, was how Obama running (win or lose) sparked this really interesting dialogue between my grandmother and I that otherwise would have never happened. Now that this has happened, I'm definitely going to continue the conversation moving forward.
posted by hazyspring at 6:10 AM on October 12, 2008

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