During this election series, the issue of race and ethnicity has been made a point several times. Whether it was Donald Trump’s comments about Mexicans in his first campaign speech, or whether it was the issue of systemic racism and police brutality that was debated between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, it is obvious that race will be a topic of discussion come the general election. Why is the issue of race so important, especially in the “post-racial” United States? A brief history of the racial affiliations between parties can give us some insight, as well as the significance of the rising minority populations in the United States.
“What’s race got to do with it?”
Party identification and racial identities show an interesting relationship. According to the Pew Research Center, whites, white males especially, lean Republican while minorities and women tend to lean Democratic. While this may not seem that surprising, this kind of relationship is incredibly important when it comes to the voter turnout, especially with the rising numbers of minorities in the United States and their perception of the presidential candidates running for election. This is where the rising population of minorities gets involved. In a report by NPR, it is estimated that by 2020 more than half the children born in the US will be of some kind of ethnic or racial descent. This change won’t take full effect until 2044, but the rising numbers of those who consider themselves something other than “white” can result in some significant changes for both the Democratic and Republican parties.
While these figures seem too far in the future to really affect anything currently happening in this election cycle, it’s important to note that race and ethnicity have been topics of discussion, and even topics of criticism, especially coming from the Republican side. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has had a history of making several disparaging comments about not only Mexicans, but other racial and ethnic groups as well. In his very first campaign speech, Trump pointed out how “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” His comments concerning the U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel and his Mexican heritage is just another example of his attitude towards those who are not “American”, whatever that definition may be. Trump may argue that the media is twisting his words or viewpoints, but the issue still remains that the way he comments about these groups, referring to them as separate entities (“the Blacks”, “the Hispanics”) rather than combining them with the general American public only serves to alienate these groups and create more divisions among them and his supporters, as well as the Republican party. In an interview with CNN, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell showed his worry over the effect that Trump has on Hispanic voters, and likened that effect to Barry Goldwater, a conservative Senator from Arizona that believed that the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional, and thus alienated Black voters from the Republican party. These effects can still be seen today, as Black votes tend to be Democratic, nearly 85% of those votes leaning left.
Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, also has had to deal with racial and ethnic issues, although she has dealt with them in a different way than Trump. Though her rhetoric has not been as thoughtless as Trump’s, Clinton still has had to deal with the issue of her past political history. For example, her relationship tied to a 1994 crime bill put into place by former President Bill Clinton, essentially increased the number of individuals in prison, namely minorities. The Black Lives Matter movement has given both her and Bill Clinton harsh criticism on this bill, namely noting Hillary Clinton’s quote about the bill. “They are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called “super-predators” No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we need to bring them to heel.” This kind of language, referring to young Black boys and men as “super-predators” is nothing new if you look at the racialization and hyper-masculinity of Black males that has taken place over the course of US history, but it is dangerous. Hillary has since then changed her stance on how crime should be dealt with, and has taken the same approach as many other politicians on the topic of mass incarceration and the “school to prison pipeline”, but the main point taken from this is that given the rising numbers of minority groups, legislation that affects these groups today and in the past will be something that is not forgotten in the future.
The number of minorities is rising, and there really isn’t anything that can be done about it. It seems like all this rhetoric concerning minorities and immigrants stems from an issue that the United States isn’t willing to face: change. While some may see the heterogeneous future of American demographics as a threat to what makes America, “America”, there are great things to look forward to when it comes to a more diverse version of the United States. The United States is on the cusp on great change, some may like the change, some may not, but it’s becomingly increasingly apparent that if the Republican and Democratic parties want to remain contenders in the future, they must adapt to the changing racial minorities and majorities that are occurring today and in the future.
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Website: https://www.hillaryclinton.com/issues/racial-justice/
Pew Research Center: http://www.people-press.org/2015/04/07/a-deep-dive-into-party-affiliation/
Curry, Tommy. “Michael Brown and the Need for a Genre Study of Black Male Death and Dying.” Theory and Event, Volume 17 Issue 3 (2014). Web. 2016.