Department holds discussion on role of race in election

Published: November 3rd, 2008

Category: Feature, News

Michelle Jacobs

Professor Michelle S. Jacobs moderates a discussion held by the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations about the role of race in the 2008 election

The Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations held a discussion on Oct. 30 about the role race has played in the 2008 election.

Professor Michelle S. Jacobs moderated the event, engaging the audience of about 25 on issues that have been pushed to the forefront with the rise of presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Jacobs cited a recent CNN poll in which seven out of 10 people said race did not play any role in this election. “They’re lying,” responded one audience member.

“I think with the current state of the nation and obviously the economy, I think those who would be affected by race are more willing to put that aside for the better candidate,” said another participant. “I think race is always going to be an issue. Even if they don’t come out and say it, it’s going to be in the back of their heads.”

Another student said the seven out of 10 were thinking that this was an aspiration.

One student explained how race has mattered in this election in his opinion.

“I see race being a part of this election in terms of what you’re able to get away with and what you’re not able to get away with in terms of who you are,” he said. “If you’re Barack Obama, you’re not allowed to have an unwed pregnant teenage daughter and be running for president.”

One audience member commented that some people are probably voting for Obama just because he’s black. Jacobs responded that people in Iowa, which Obama won in the Democratic primary, are almost all white.

“I do think there are some people who vote for him because he’s black, but I think this idea that he’s gotten as far as he has because black people have voted for him is yet another myth, because we’re only 12 percent,” Jacobs said.

When one person suggested that Obama “acts white” more than past black politicians, another quickly responded.

“I’m interested to know what it means exactly to act white,” she said. “Does being educated mean that you’re acting white? Does that mean that education can be only white or can you be brown-skinned and be educated and not be considered acting white?”

The issue of Obama being half black and half white also came up.

“At the beginning, if there was anyone who wasn’t supporting Barack Obama, I felt like it was the black community that wasn’t supporting him because we heard the comments of ‘Oh, it’s a black guy, he’s probably not qualified, blah blah blah,’ coming more from the black community, I felt, than from other communities,” one student said, adding that the fact that Obama is half white may have helped him with some of the black community.

Jacobs started off the discussion quoting Colin Powell saying that a race or religion should not matter in a presidential candidate. She then asked if an Arab-American or Muslim would ever be elected to U.S. President.

“I think ever is a very long time,” said an older participant. “Now it would be difficult, but when you think about how our country has changed since when I grew up in the 40s and 50s, you can’t say never. No black man could’ve ever gotten as far as Obama has in the 40s.”

While most in the discussion seemed to think race has definitely played a role in the election, the examples why it has mattered varied.

“When I bring in the issue of race, it is a major issue for me,” said one student. “I was mixed heritage growing up and my children will be even more mixed. I know what it is to be a little kid and see who the president is on TV and what that does to a nation.”

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