For the past couple of weeks, I've been talking to people in Fishtown, and I've found much the same thing. Obama's skin color is a problem for many white voters in Philly — but with the economy in ruins, they're turning to Obama anyway. Call it the Fishtown Effect.
What this means for the general election might be pretty straightforward: Obama may win even the votes of prejudiced whites. But what, exactly, it says about race in Philadelphia — or America — is a lot harder to figure out.
Consider Patrick McGowan, a union carpenter whom I met at Murph's bar on Girard, just a block down from the Fishtown for Obama office. McGowan said he was voting for Obama.
"Everyone's voting for him," he said.
Would race be an obstacle?
"Not at all — not for anybody who's a working man paying taxes," he assured, adding: "First of all, he's not all black. And maybe if a black person gets in there to be president, it'll keep all the crybabies from crying discrimination."
McGowan, like many of the Fishtowners I spoke with, was ready to assess Obama on his merits as a candidate, even as he viewed blacks in general as a monolithic, possibly hostile group.
Another man, a retired blue-collar worker and lifetime Fishtowner who declined to give his name — let's call him Jim the Fishtowner — struck a similar tone, though he viewed a potential Obama administration as more problematic.
"It's not that he's black," Jim insisted. "But it's what the blacks will do if he wins, that's what bothers me. ... If Obama wins, the blacks are gonna say, 'We're taking charge, he's our president.' You know how they get."
Jim was convinced Obama would be a better president than McCain. But he couldn't let go of an almost tribal mind-set.
"When Wilson Goode burnt down half of Southwest Philadelphia, they re-elected him — because of color," he said.
At least hope is on the horizon though if Obama wins. He can literally do in the office of the presidency what everyday blacks have failed to do individually for years, disprove so many ignorant preconceptions held against blacks.