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Changing Demographics: The 2016 Election in Black and Brown

The 2016 election in black and brown panel discussion held in 217 Perkins on Thursday evening, October 13 2016.
From left to right: Kerry Haynie, Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, Dorian Warren, and Mark Anthony Neal. Photo credit: Chris Hildreth, Duke Photography.

“There is a social crisis in white America,” said Dorian Warren, a political analyst and former host of MSNBC’s “Nerding Out.”

“All the dysfunctions that have historically plagued black people are now also affecting poor whites,” Warren said, referencing poverty, lack of education, higher death rates and the scourge of drug addiction, among other social ills.

“For the first time, they think their children are going to have a worse life than they did.”

Warren, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, was one of the panelists during a wide-ranging Thursday evening discussion hosted by the Duke Council on Race and Ethnicity (DCORE), “The 2016 Election in Black and Brown.”

The panel also included Duke alumna Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, Ph.D. ’07, an MSNBC and Telemundo contributor; and Duke political science and African and African American Studies associate professor Kerry Haynie.

Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of black popular culture and DCORE co-director, moderated the conversation about the political power of Latinos, blacks, women, working-class whites and other ethnic groups.

“It’s troubling to watch as a political scientist,” said Haynie, referring to the racism and xenophobia marking Donald Trump’s campaign that many scholars thought was a relic of the past.

He said the election results will have an enormous effect on people of color. Citing a Pew study, Haynie said there is an increase in voter diversity as the demographics of the U.S. change and there are more eligible Latino voters.

“I think this growth is the answer to what we see from Trump and his followers,” Haynie said, attributing the zeal, for example, to enact voter ID laws to anxiety some whites feel due to the country’s changing demographics. “Where poor whites are hurting the most, they’ve been governed by Republicans.”

Warren predicted that anger over police killings of unarmed citizens will mobilize voters and that social movements, such as Black Lives Matter, could help determine the White House’s social and economic agenda.

“Progressive folks need to think about the appropriate strategy to hold the president accountable,” Warren said.

“Trump talking about ‘law and order’ is a reaction,” to the Black Lives Matter movement, Haynie said. “It remains to be seen whether that movement will show up at the polls Nov. 8.”

Haynie described “linked fate,” the idea that black people, no matter their socioeconomic class, will suffer the same ramifications of structural inequality and racism. Therefore, they tend to vote similarly, supporting Democrats, he said.

DeFrancesco Soto said that, to understand the interests of ethnic Latinos and how they will vote, it’s important to understand why they immigrated to the U.S.

“Some come for economic reasons. Mexicans and Dominicans tend to have higher poverty rates. Cubans, Guatemalans came over for political reasons. Their interests are going to be different off the bat,” DeFrancesco Soto said. “It’s easier to cast Latinos in the immigration bucket.”

She said Republicans had made inroads with the Latino community in past elections, pushing through legislation they favored, such as No Child Left Behind.

“There was a time when the party was on the cusp of really laying down a foundation with the Latino electorate,” DeFrancesco Soto said. “I believe core Latino Republicans would be receptive to a born-again Republican Party.”

She added that a newly leaked email from the Democratic Party with “needy Latinos” in the subject line underscores Latino leaders’ mistrust of Hillary Clinton.

“Latinos have had questions about Clinton. They feel they are being taken for granted,” she said.

In regards to Clinton’s reputation in general, Haynie said she does have “high negatives,” but some of the things pinned on her are not her own doing.

“A critique of President Bill Clinton’s policies should be just that, a critique of his policy. I think this only happens to women in politics — you get saddled with something your husband did,” Haynie said.

Neal added that there is a subset of people who cannot accept a woman being the face of the “American empire.” The panelists said that other countries have been more accepting of female leaders and perhaps that is indicative of the fragility of the country.

“The identity politics happening in this election is around white men,” Warren said. “There is a real feeling of loss that is not going away. I just want to turn to them (white men) and say, ‘It’s going to be OK. You still live in an empire.’”

The event was co-sponsored by The Graduate School and the Department of Political Science.

DCORE is an interdisciplinary association of centers, working groups and scholars who research the cultural, political, legal and social dimensions and consequences of racial and ethnic identity.  For more information, visit sites.duke.edu/dcore.


Whose Village Are We Talking About

By Karla FC Holloway

HillaryI have noticed a prevailing and quiet discomfort amongst black women I know, who felt disconnected from the joyous celebration of the first woman to become a major party’s nominee for the presidency. This, despite our shared and deeply held pride in seeing the excellence and command from black women party leaders who stepped confidently into leadership roles, deftly managed state delegations, and who were clearly and absolutely major players in the Democratic National Party’s committees. We know that these women, each standing tall and accomplished, had earned their accolades.

But despite their presence, a quiet unease muted my own celebration and that of others I know in part because we intuitively recognized how those individual accomplishments are as stellar as they are individuated.

Our collective black bodies, the ones that mark our place were also on display at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. It’s important not to dismiss a critical distinction. When it comes to our anticipation, pride, and hope, it is not the cracks in the ceilings that matter as much as the crack in our communities.  It is not the exquisite accomplishment of some of us but the extraordinary vulnerability of most of us.

I see this play out in my own university when white women lead diversity initiatives that would not even have a name if it were not for the systemic biases practiced against black folk.  Joyful congratulations are attached to their ascensions to leadership and they are seen as exemplary. But when there is critique about diversity policy or inclusive procedures from experienced black voices who recognize the old patterns finding ways and means in the new ones, and who have known ceilings of our own, we are labeled as unreasonably discontented and unpleasantly cynical.

Clear-eyed and astutely analytic Black feminists foresaw this divide decades ago. It was apparent then that we would need a different word (womanism) to name our activism and that the language of intersectionality was a better descriptor of our project.  We watched as the women’s movement became a celebration of individual accomplishments. The gain was an evolving list of names on Fortune 500 lists or a mega-audience when these exceptional women shared lessons on how to move forward. Women need only to (…wait for it…) “lean in!”

We listened to women with the wherewithal or chutzpah to sense that a phrase about a village or the values our children might live by was available for the taking from black folk despite the fact that we did more than say the words, we lived in and through those experiences.

Back in the day, the conflict between the woman’s movement and the civil rights movement was deeply rooted in the bodies that occupied them. Some dreams of liberation would be empowered enough to name the quality of freedom others might want and even give name to the conditions of that gain. Our bodies were always and already consumable.

If you wonder at the story in a body, consider those daughters, Chelsea Clinton and Ivanka Trump. On their respective stages, they stood in absolute certainty that their personal and prettily told-stories about their mother and father would be enough to be named iconic. Iconic. Really? Their speeches were to be compelling enough to stand in the stead of each parent’s policies and practices (and although there are certainly achievements, there are also policies that led to decades-long incarceration, lowered wages, and punitive policing to the point of dangerous disregard and disrespect—recall “wilding” and “super predators”).

Nevertheless, the audience was told these two girls had words that simply by being spoken in their role as daughters of the privileged, could humanize their parent. Pardon my skepticism.  I have never been in a group that could, or would pretend there was excellence to be extracted from a rather common and nearly pedestrian performance.

We’ve demanded more. In fact, as an exemplary seeing and saying of words that matter and that had their origin in substantive acts, consider the remarks and the commanding presence of Reverend William Barber. That moment touched me deeply, not just because of its performative quality, but because he has lived the struggle expressed in his righteous moral reclamation.

Despite the smug assurance that lay behind these individuated symbolics, I know fully and well that my identity lies nestled within the parade of others—the Muslim father, the black “Mothers of the Movement,” the disabled girl, the transgender activist…all of whom stood in for communities of folk that public policies and public moralities render vulnerable. The only ones who got to celebrate individual accomplishments were singular white women who were so extraordinarily empowered by the moment tears streamed through twitter like a river.

I’m saving my tears.

But let me also be clear that I will work mightily to assure Hillary Clinton is elected. I’m a pragmatic progressive who knows that Supreme Court appointments will determine the fate of any president’s politics and any politicians’ legislative initiatives. These will matter to my community far more than the balloon filled, teary celebrations of a fractured glass ceiling, a father’s awkward embrace of his daughter, or a grateful mother hugging hers.

I will not be blinded by the optic. I know exactly where “we” stand, and I’m perfectly willing to find myself in that company.  That’s where my “we” finds its village. And that’s the place where our children will find their example.


Karla FC Holloway is James B. Duke Professor of English at Duke University, where she also holds appointments in the Law School, Women’s Studies, and African & African American Studies. Holloway is the author of BookMarks: Reading in Black and White and Codes of Conduct: Race, Ethics, and the Color of Our Character, as well as Private Bodies, Public Texts: Race, Gender, and a Cultural Bioethics andPassed On: African American Mourning Stories: A Memorial, both published by Duke University Press. Follow her on Twitter at @ProfHolloway.