October 28, 2008

Professors Analyze Role of Minorities in U.S. Elections

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Last night in Donlon Hall, Prof. N’Dri Assie-Lumumba, Africana studies, and Prof. Robert Odawi Porter, law at Syracuse University, presented international and indigenous perspectives on this year’s presidential election. The event, “Politics in Context: Who Came First?,” was part of the “Educate the Vote!” series.
Assie-Lumumba focused on how the American presidential election is viewed internationally.
According to Assie-Lumumba, one’s status as a minority arises from different social, economical and historical factors that must be questioned and challenged. In addition, although issues of welfare and poverty are often associated with the black population in America, these social issues concern all Americans, not only the minorities, she said.
In other countries, the election of minority leaders is nothing new. For example, India and Israel have both had women prime ministers in the past, Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir, respectively. Similarly, the current president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, has Jewish roots.
Assie-Lumumba compared Barack Obama to Princess Diana. Obama is perceived as a symbol of hope and aspiration not only in America, but also the world. One reason she referred to as a major contributor to this phenomenon is that in the eyes of the international community, Obama is in the process of breaking a myth of America’s having only white presidents, a reason why he is so popular and supported in the rest of the world.
Porter, a member of the Seneca Nation, provided an indigenous view of the upcoming election. His lecture centered on the concept of “civic engagement” by indigenous people in a historical context.
Native Americans have often resisted Western influences to incorporate them into society in an effort to preserve the sovereignty of their tribal nations.
During the 1990s, there was an ineffective movement to encourage Native Americans to vote. According to Porter, Native Americans believe that voting in United States elections is antagonistic to their own sense of sovereignty.Porter next emphasized the importance of the Native American community in American politics, referring specifically to high profits from tribal casinos. Although individuals and corporations are subject to limits when donating to political candidates, tribal nations are not.
“Politicians pretty much care are about two things: votes and money,” Porter said.
Porter pointed out that although John McCain understands the issues concerning Native Americans well, the presidential candidate has turned on the Native Americans over the last few years. Porter suggested that Native Americans should invest in political candidates as a way to protect their interests. In Porter’s view, Obama respects the sovereignty of Indian tribal nations.
Nevertheless, Porter argued, “I’m pretty supportive of the idea that Natives shouldn’t vote … A nation does not enter into politics with its own people.”
If all Natives voted, they would be integrated into the American political community, crippling the sovereignty of the tribal nations, he said.
The audience in general was pleased with the event and applauded the professors after it ended.
“The different perspectives on this election that the professors provided in this event were intellectually stimulating,” said Josh Liu ’12.