Author: Emily Bell
Occidental hosted Dr. Mark Sawyer, the final speaker for the college’s 2012 election series, to serve as the last informational presentation before the election. The Politics Department organized the speaker series as a part of election programming to help educate and inform students about the different issues that are important this election year. Sawyer, a Professor of African-American Studies and Political Science at UCLA, spoke about the impact of race on the 2012 election.
The talk, entitled “Race and the Election 2012,” addressed racial resentment, African-American politics, Latino voters and the gender gap. Sawyer referenced a study which found that members of the Tea Party are more likely to harbor racial resentment, the view that non-white citizens have received undue advantage in the United States.
Similarly, he displayed a graph showing that American citizens tended to react more favorably to a policy attached to President Bill Clinton than when the policy is attached to President Barack Obama.
He also examined the belief that African–Americans only support Obama because of race and the possibilities a black president provides for them.
“Obama represents the fulfillment of the dream to African–Americans, you can see the similarities between him and Martin Luther King,” Sawyer said.
Obama uses the idea of fulfilling a dream as a way to appeal to racial minorities by including himself in a universal ‘we’ regarding African–American and minority issues. Sawyer argued that Obama can also be related to King in terms of fighting oppression, comparing the Occupy Wall Street Movement to the Civil Rights Movement.
Mitt Romney’s self-deportation comments swung much of the Latino support permanently to Obama, according to Sawyer. Sawyer showed the audience a variety of political ads directed at Latino voters from both of the candidates in which they speak in Spanish to show their support for Latino issues and culture. He described the ads as cringe-worthy attempts to gain support.
Sawyer also compared the gender gap to the racial gap to demonstrate the differences in candidate support. He described the coalitions that support the two candidates: African–Americans, Latinos, other minorities and women typically are in the Obama camp while southern whites, white men and married white women tend to support Romney. He concluded that this poses a strange dilemma for the future of American politics because the demographic of the country is changing so drastically. With the expansion of minority groups and an increasing difference in opinion between the younger and older generation, the white majority will lose much of its support base and influence.
“[The speaker] was really captivating. His video evidence helped show the real-world impact of racial differences,” Emma Woroch (first-year) said. “It definitely helped me learn more about the topic. I didn’t really know much to begin with and it sparked my interest.”
In order to create interest in political issues, the speaker series kicked off on Oct. 9 with Occidental’s own Professor Brandon Lehr of the economics department, who spoke about the economy and the election. The following week, Founder and President of VoteRiders, Kathleen Unger discussed and encouraged students to get involved in voter ID issues in the current election. New York Times writer Mark Leibovich was on campus two weeks ago to lecture on the relationship between media and politics.
“[We wanted] to bring scholars and activists to campus who could provide contextual analysis to help understand what is happening as it unfolds,” Politics Chair Caroline Heldman said.
The last event of the election series was a faculty panel on Election night where several of Occidental’s professors discussed the election.
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