On election night at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad warned the audience in the Langston Hughes auditorium that what they were about to be shown would likely offend them. The projection of live presidential election coverage ceased and was replaced by a collection of racist caricatures of president Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. The crowd groaned. Many of them had seen these images before.
With that, Dr. Muhammad, the Schomburg Center’s director, set the tone for a discussion between the panelists on the racist messaging that the Republican party had helped nourish since Obama won his first term in 2008. Newt Gingrich labeling Obama the “Welfare President” and the “Food Stamp President” during the 2012 Republican primaries was mentioned as an example. Governor Mitt Romney’s now infamous remarks to donors in which he derided 47 percent of Americans as “victims” who “are dependent on government” and would “vote for the president no matter what” were also cited.
“Even if it’s not overt, we know who they’re referring to when they say this type of thing. We know,” said activist Monifa Bandele as many in the crowd nodded in agreement. Earlier, she had claimed that Republicans were underestimating the numbers of people of color and the youth who would come out to support Obama. Michaela Angela Davis, a fellow panelist, added women to that list. When exit polls were published in the days following the election, their words proved prophetic.
Ninety-three percent of black voters opted for the president, as did 71 percent Hispanics , 73 percent of Asian Americans, and 55 percent of women. Chet Whye, the campaign director for “Harlem 4 Obama,” believes that Republican attempts to suppress the minority vote through identification laws in battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Florida ended up galvanizing these constituencies into braving the long lines and making sure their voice was heard.
On a cold November night, residents of America’s black cultural capital of Harlem celebrated the reelection of the United States’ first African American president. Members of the community fanned out from their homes and election viewing parties at various bars in the neighborhood, converging near the statue of Adam C. Powell on 125th street to sing, dance, and laugh. Barack Obama won 93 percent of the black vote in the 2012 election, exactly the same percentage he carried Harlem’s district by in 2008.