Saturday, January 19, 2008

Race, Gender, and Reality: The Inadequacies of the 2008 Presidential Debates

A married mother of five recently sent me an e-mail in which she stated:

"Why is it taboo to talk about race or gender in the upcoming presidential election? Obama is African American and Clinton is female. When people say that they hope the election is not about race or gender that simply infuriates me. I am interested in issues that impact my life and future. I am also concerned about what kind of opportunities will be available for my children. So ignoring race or gender is like saying I'm invisible. African Americans and women are often ignored. If Obama wins the election, headlines will read "First African American or Black President." If Clinton wins, the headlines will read "First Woman President". So why are race and gender issues being ignored?"

Like the little boy in the Emperor’s New Clothes, this woman has voiced an important truth. Americans need to be able to probe each candidate’s beliefs on issues that matter most to them. At the end of the day, the best representative for a given person could be someone outside one’s own racial, ethnic, or gender group. We will never know who is best for us, unless we can raise the right questions at the right time using our media and other surrogates. In some cases, the answers we hear could and should move us beyond our traditional party alliances.

So far, the Democratic presidential candidates have disappointed many of us with their refusal to deal honestly with issues such as immigration reform, urban crime, wage inequities, gender discrimination, and the growing conflict between blacks and Hispanics over neighborhood turf, affirmative action, and other issues perceived to be zero sum for America’s minorities.

Instead of raising substantive issues, our valuable time is being wasted by endless debates about real and imagined racial slights. Consider the widely broadcast so-called racially insensitive remarks of Senator Hillary Clinton which occurred when she stated a well-known fact. It took a president to bring about the realization of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of racial equality. Of course, Clinton was correct. It took President Lyndon B. Johnson to push through and sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Voting Rights Act of 1965, as well as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. I doubt if any amount of marching or rioting could have achieved the results that came about when white and black leaders joined forces to accomplish the national interest.

Unfortunately, a dangerous racial double standard has emerged that is harmful to all Americans, especially its non-white beneficiaries. What is missing is an overdue conversation about race, gender, class, and culture in American society.

I think that my e-mail correspondent’s question deserves an answer from the powers that be. Our nation needs an honest dialogue about gender discrimination, black youth crime, drug abuse rather than merely incarceration rates, the impact of illegal immigration on low-wage, low-skill Americans’ job prospects, as well as the harmful effects of unassimilated diversity that, in some cases, have led to honor killings and behaviors that offend the sensibilities of most Americans.

Instead of being overly sensitive, we must learn to respect, cherish, and exercise the freedom of speech guaranteed by our Constitution. Indeed, no question should be off-limits for the man or woman seeking to attain the highest office in the land.
2007 Carol M. Swain. Web design by CSP