Panelists discuss role of race in presidential election

October 7, 2016

Two professors and a Massachusetts House representative discussed the implications of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, the polarization between political parties, whiteness in America and the winner of last Monday’s presidential debate in Getting Political: The Implications of Political Campaigns, a panel discussion on Tuesday, Sept. 27.

Brandeis Professor Chad Williams (AAAS) told the audience of about 75 people that Trump’s nomination was a result of an Obama presidency and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Trump represents a last-ditch effort to hold onto … the privileges, the power, of whiteness” Williams said. He added that Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” implies that racial and religious minorities should “stay in their place” rather than seek equality. Williams described the country as experiencing a “moment of national crisis” in the wake of Trump’s rise to the Republican candidacy.

Leah Rigueur, a Harvard professor, described the country as in a “crisis of democracy” due to the polarization between the Republican and Democratic parties. She spoke of the necessity of a third party in politics, describing the Republican party as “rooted in racial nationalism” and the Democratic party as taking minority groups for granted. She argued that despite black woman voters having the highest rates of voter turnout in the 2012 Presidential election the Republican party still refuses to “get real with black voters” in terms of policy and outreach to such groups. Rigueur did not let the Democratic party off the hook, though, saying that because black women voted so consistently Democrat that the party takes them for granted, and thus black women and other minority groups fail to gain a voice in either party.

“Whoever becomes president, whether it is Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, there is going to be significant sections of this country who will view [the president] as illegitimate,” Williams said.

Panelists also discussed the idea that being white in America affords white people certain privileges, especially in terms of status and respectability, which minority groups don’t necessarily have due to long-standing systematic bias and discrimination.

“Often the idea of talking about whiteness contains an indictment,” said Rigueur, noting how hard it can be to not be accusatory when talking about whiteness.

“You are bad because you’re white doesn’t even start a conversation” added Tackey Chan, a Massachusetts House representative.

Williams expressed a disappointment that Clinton, the Democratic nominee, did not personally recognize the benefits of her whiteness during the first presidential debate. Although she talked about implicit biases, she did so universally rather than in respect to herself and her own political career, he noted. Williams expressed hope that the public would challenge elected officials to have a conversation about whiteness.

Rigueur said that Trump lost the debate because he did not provide policy details and often did not provide direct answers to questions. She expressed concern that his failure to be specific on policy matters may not have “really mattered” in terms of how current and potential supporters view him.

Chan also said Clinton did a better job of answering questions and speaking about policy than Trump did but, in his opinion, neither candidate made real strides through the debate because both were unable to connect at a personal level with voters. “As long as you didn’t fall on your face you didn’t lose,” Chan said, reinforcing his opinion that there were no real winners or losers in the debate.

Williams argued “we all lost” because important issues such as race in America were not thoroughly discussed by the presidential nominee of either party. Certain “blind spots” exist within this election, he said, and the ways in which the public views this election.

Panel moderator and Brandeis professor Anita Hill also believes the debate inadequately discussed many issues. “There was no discussion of immigration and historic and systemic racism in our immigration and naturalization policies and there was no discussion of voting rights,” she said.

This panel discussion was part of #TheDialogues, a series of discussions and panels on race and gender. These events will take place throughout semester. The next two events focus on the workplace: The Micro-aggressions in the Workplace panel is on Wednesday, Oct. 26, and an event on the wage gap that will help millennial women negotiate a fair first salary is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 8.

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