An evening at the Urban League of Central Carolinas was advertised as a discussion of the black women's agenda with a multigenerational panel. And it followed the program, until the topic turned to Sarah Palin.
That's when it got really interesting.
You think Barack Obama exposed a racial divide this election season? Bring up the Republican vice presidential nominee and stand back. While some white women admire the self-styled "hockey mom," and believe that, "she's just like me," you will not get that reaction from many black women.
Of course, my poll isn't scientific and no group is monolithic. But please, trust me. This reaction is from a usually calm person who nonetheless suppresses the urge to scream whenever Palin appears onscreen. Even Tina Fey's Saturday Night Live impression makes me skittish.
I wouldn't call it "Palin derangement syndrome," but I still find myself wondering, "What gives?"
One woman on the panel, a multilingual business analyst, who is a wife and mom, drew nods when she said of Palin: "I don't see her as a qualified person to run the country." "She's not a Republican Hillary," she said.
Then she went a step further, using Palin as Exhibit A to explain why black feminists and white feminists haven't seen eye to eye for a while.
Many black women who have had to work extra hours to be seen as barely competent by less-qualified peers grit their teeth when a short-term Alaska governor, thrown into the spotlight, retains her luster after blown TV interviews and winks to the camera. She brags about her lack of travel and experience and gets away with it. She is praised for not falling down during her debate with Joe Biden, even after she pretty much announced that she won't be answering the moderator's questions.
Even The New York Times published an article on Palin and the dudes who love her.
It's just another reminder of how black women, even those who have done everything we're supposed to, are rendered invisible. What do we have to do to be considered a role model? Shoot a moose?
The women on the Urban League panel also went where few others have dared to tread—criticism of Palin the mom. "Why isn't she concentrating on family?" they asked. And why is she always toting her infant around when he should be in bed?
Finally, in an evening of frank talk and barely disguised exasperation, it was left to Miss Dot to have the most serious say.
Miss Dot is Dorothy Counts-Scoggins, who in September 1957, for four harrowing days, integrated Harding High School in Charlotte, N.C. She braved jeers, threats, a gauntlet of rocks and spit that soaked the dress her grandmother had made for her first day of school.
She has seen positive changes in this country, but in Palin's speeches attacking Obama, and in the crowds that feed on the candidate's words and hurl abuse at the mention of a man who may become our next president, Scoggins says she has seen reminders of the crowds that surrounded her 51 years ago.
Palin has "brought out things in this country that have frightened me," she says.
As the 40 or so women in the room nodded, it explained the Palin pushback.
Is she like us?
Not a chance.
Mary C. Curtis is a writer and editor based in Charlotte, N.C. She has been a columnist or editor at The Charlotte Observer, The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and the Associated Press. Curtis, a 2006 Nieman Fellow, blogs for the Nieman Watchdog site.
Mary C. Curtis is a Roll Call columnist and contributor to NPR and NBCBLK. She has worked at the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, the Charlotte Observer and Politics Daily and as a contributor to the Washington Post. She is a senior facilitator for the OpEd Project at Cornell and Yale universities. Follow her on Twitter.