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Skin color shouldn't equal a vote

by Niesha Miller (


Published in the Philadelphia Daily News on October 10, 2008

ON A RECENT Sunday, as I waited by the Auntie Anne's stand at the Cheltenham Mall while my mom and sister got a cinnamon pretzel, a young boy asked me if I was registered to vote.

He looked about 10. "Do you want to register to vote?" he asked me cheerfully with a clipboard and pen in hand.

"I don't want to," I said, smiling. He walked away toward the registering squad stationed in the middle of the mall.

I could feel the heat burning into the back of my neck as I spoke to my mom, still waiting in line for her pretzel. I turned and saw a bunch of registration groupies staring at me. It must be illegal for an African-American not to register to vote when another African-American is running for president, I guess.

The ringleader, a slinky, middle-aged African-American woman, began to approach me. As she walked toward me, her crew stared at me with dismay.

"Why don't you want to register to vote?" she asked.

I was appalled that she'd walked over to me just to ask why I didn't want to register. It's not like I told a dying Girl Scout I didn't want to buy her cookies.

"I just don't want to," I hissed.

"Why don't you want to?" she snarled. "Don't you want Obama to win and help us out?"

What made her assume I would vote for Barack Obama?

"Help us out how?" I asked. "As a matter of fact, why should I vote at all?"

She looked at me puzzled, twisting her face. "This election is very important," she said. "Obama can do us good."

"Hmmm," I hummed. That wasn't very convincing, I thought.

"Are you a college student?" she asked.


"Well, you definitely need to register and vote for Obama," she said.

She still hadn't explained why I should vote and why the election was so very important.

Is Obama the right candidate in her eyes because they have this one thing in common, like race? Obviously, in her eyes, it's important for me to vote because I'm African-American.

People keep telling me that this election is so important. But no one has actually told me why. What makes it so important? OK, it's a historical landmark, but I still don't understand why this vote is more important than any other.

Is 2008 about putting an African-American - or a woman - in office?

"Hey, they're just like me," won't cut it when the economy is crashing.

If this election is so important for economic reasons, then making history shouldn't matter, especially when parents don't know if they'll be able to pay for their children's college education, or if their money is safe in the banks. Race and gender shouldn't be the deciding factors.

America needs to stop pointing the finger at various political parties and decide who they think will save their homes and jobs. Let's put a blindfold on and hear our candidates out.

According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, Obama trailed Hillary Clinton in female voters by a 2-to-1 margin.

Now that Sarah Palin's in the big picture as John McCain's running mate, soccer moms everywhere are feeling connected.

"Palin's a woman, and I'm a woman, so I'll vote for her," some think.

"Obama's black, and I'm black, so I'll vote for him," others sing.

In my intellectual heritage class at Temple last semester, an African-American classmate told the professor that she voted for Bush. The other black students shot her dirty looks. So being black and voting Republican must be illegal, too.

'I voted for Bush because he has the same religious values as me," she said.

When I was younger, my family told me to vote Democrat. I was taught that voting Democrat was good, voting Republican was bad. I was never given a reason. And I still don't know why.

Being genetically or socially predisposed to a party or candidate doesn't help the world, especially when choosing someone to run a country. No matter the outcome, this campaign will have been a stepping-stone for women and blacks everywhere. No longer will you have to be an older white male to run the country.

In the end, I plan on voting. And when I do, religious values, race, sex and common interests will not play a role in my decision. Let's vote for who will help us, not for who is like us.


* This essay was originally prepared for Professor Miller's J2396 Magazine Article Writing class during the spring 2008 semester.