Misconceptions of race and racial discourse have been incorporated into the messaging and framing of American political campaigns, according to a panel that discussed race in electoral politics at the June Netroots Nation conference held in Minneapolis. Even with a Black president, “The biggest problem we are having in America right now is that we are afraid to discuss race,” noted Maria Teresa Kumar, the executive director of Voto Latino.
“I think each one of us comes to this discussion on race with our own set of baggage. Some of it is good and some of it is not so good,” added U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Maryland), the first Black woman to represent a congressional district from her state.
Cord Jefferson, a Brooklyn, NY writer and editor, said, “I think the media covers race really horribly in almost every aspect,” and presented four examples. Media coverage is mostly “event-driven and very rarely any nuanced discussions on race,” he noted, especially key issues in the Black community. He added that less than two percent of stories on Latinos “were actually specific or significant to the Latino community at all.”
There is “a very narrowly defined understanding of the minority community in the United States,” continued Jefferson. “I don’t see the breadth of the Black experience, the Latino experience, the Asian experience — I think the way the media focuses on race is just a fraction of what is going on in the United States.”
The media also likes to portray “a combative narrative — minority versus White people,” Jefferson said, adding that “We are seeing [fewer] minorities in the newsroom making these kinds of decisions on how we are going to create the news.”
Edwards believes that most Americans must admit that “we are in an environment of scarcity where the guys at the top two percent love it that we are down here chomping around on [the other] 98 percent of us. That has factored in the way we think of each other and how it crosses the race and cultural worlds.
“What a great trick the top two percent-ers are playing on us. They allow us to [stay] with our fear in this moment of scarcity and turn on each other rather than looking at why we can’t share in the big piece of pie.”
“I always get bothered when we are saying that we are fighting for a limited pie,” complained Kumar of the supposed oft-reported rift between U.S. Blacks and Latinos. Blacks and Latinos as well as Whites must realize that “the agenda that we care about, which is jobs, foreclosures, making sure that our kids get the best education possible, health care and smart retirement policies…is a collective agenda.”
Said Jefferson, “If poor Blacks, poor Latinos and poor White people ever found out how much they have in common, it would be people like Donald Trump’s worst nightmare.”
“I think a conversation about race is a conversation about class,” Edwards concurred. “A real conversation…would include all of the middle class. The people who want to continue to take advantage of this system and continue to make money off poor and working people love it that we separate this conversation.”
The panelists also discussed the emergence of the Tea Party shortly after President Barack Obama’s election in 2008. “Some are racist and hate President Obama because he’s Black, but a lot of them have radical disagreement on the way America is going,” Jefferson pointed out. “I don’t think necessarily that all Tea Partiers are racist, and I don’t think it is a racist organization.”
Instead, he views the Tea Party movement as one with “a lot of anger, but I think a lot of the anger is very rational anger acting out in irrational ways,” he explained. It is reasonable to be angry over unemployment or having less income than a decade ago, “but I don’t that they are crazy people.”
“I think part of our dilemma is how do we figure out a way to speak to even the elements of the Tea Party and the rest of them who don’t share their views in the same way,” said Rep. Edwards.
On Obama’s reelection chances, “The majority of people [in the U.S.] voted for a Black president in 2008,” recalled Edwards, who then asked if that same majority will “vote for an African American president in 2012.” She also disagreed with those who wish to blame everything that’s wrong on him.
The same coalition of voters that came out in 2008 must do so again in 2012, urged Kumar. She said there will be at least a million new young Latino voters for the next election, “and they are not in the traditional spots — New York and California — [but] they’re in North Carolina, Indiana and Minnesota.”
According to the latest census figures, the U.S. is slowly “diversifying the demographics” with people of color nearly making up 40 percent of the total population, noted filmmaker Jose Vargas, a former Huffington Post writer.
“Every 30 seconds a Latino turns 18, while Asian Americans and African Americans represented another 16 and 14 percent growth, respectively, compared to just eight percent of Whites,” he pointed out.
In the end, the list of things that separate the haves and the have-nots “goes on, and on, and on,” and should be a key talking point in next year’s election, said Edwards. “This is a story that we can tell across age, gender, race and culture, and the president can’t tell that story by himself.”
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