The Cornell Democrats hosted a discussion Thursday on the role of race and gender in a presidential election characterized by deep social tensions, highly polarized beliefs and the first female major party nominee.
Prof. Jamila Michener, government, began the discussion with a brief overview of the demographics of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s supporters in the 2016 election.
Michener used data from national polls to show that women overwhelmingly supported Clinton, while men generally supported Trump. The data also indicated that Clinton supporters were more likely to feel as if women and minorities have too little influence in the United States, while Trump supporters held more negative, anti-black views than Clinton’s.
These ideological differences “are not just about preferences for particular candidates, but rather betray a divergence in terms of an understanding of who has power in the United States and who should have power,” Michener said.
Michener also pointed out that black and Latino female turnout rates in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections were significantly higher than those of any other demographic group. Politicians have since increased efforts to reach these groups, she said, although their efforts often do not achieve sufficient change for minority groups, specifically black women.
The lecturer citing Clinton’s support of Black Lives Matter and Trump’s “New Deal for Black America” as superficial attempts to improve life for black citizens, moves often motivated by groups outside electoral politics.
Prof. Siba Grovogui, Africana studies, distinguished between antipathy — which he defined as anger at something that has been taken away — and racism.
“During election time, race becomes a foil for many things,” Grovogui said, cautioning against labeling all Trump supporters as racists.
Instead, Trump supporters may feel antipathy or a loss of power as a result of welfare and affirmative action policies, according to Grovogui. They then channel this animosity into institutional racism in political responses and public policies.
Michener and Grovogui also stressed the importance of speaking about race with empathy and creating an open environment to discuss “tough topics.”
After the discussion, Michener and Grovogui opened the forum to questions from the audience.
Responding to high turnout rates among minority women, a student in the audience asked if white politicians were simply race-pandering to minorities for purely political purposes.
“Any policy that a candidate is proposing, I assume they are proposing because they believe there is some form of electoral advantage associated with the policy. And that’s called politics,” Michener answered. “When you do it with economic policy, when you do it with foreign policy … is it pandering? No, that’s not pandering, that’s politics. But all of a sudden, when a candidate brings up policies related to gender or race, it’s pandering?”
Blaming politicians for “race baiting” would only hinder discussions on race, he added.
When asked about whether a post-racist society is achievable, both Michener and Grovogui responded negatively, saying it would be impossible to completely erase implicit and explicit bias, especially in a country with a history embedded with racism. However, Grovogui expressed hope that racial tensions may gradually ease over time.
“Generations change very fast,” he said. “Just look at young people’s views on gay marriage and then look at my generation’s. Institutions just take longer to change.”