Forum addresses race in Obama?s campaign

By Niccolo Barber, Staff Writer

It’s an issue that’s been almost unspeakable in this year’s presidential election8212;race.

On Wednesday, panelists at the Hinckley Institute of Politics tackled this often taboo topic in a forum titled “B(l)ack to the Future,” which examined the social and political significance of the candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama, the first black candidate on a major party presidential ticket.

Christopher Parker, a professor of political science at the University of Washington, Seattle, who spoke at the forum, said although discrimination against blacks has been highly reduced considering the history of black oppression in the United States, it is still a pertinent issue.

Citing a series of current ABC polls, Parker pointed out that one of the underlying issues of race in this election is that 45 percent of the black population place their identity in their race before their nationality, while 44 percent place their nationality first.

Another important factor in the election is that many black people look at themselves as a group, rather than individuals, Parker said.

Parker also said Obama will not be the only one affected by race in this campaign. The black community within the United States has a stake in this election as well.

“If Obama wins, black people will have more pride,” Parker said. “If he loses, it won’t be a surprise to any black person. People will be really disillusioned. If I sound overly pessimistic, that’s because I am.”

According to the polls Parker presented, Obama’s candidacy has had an impact on political involvement within the black community, which has seen a 24 percent increase in people closely following the election.

Parker stated that race will play a significant role in Obama’s ability to win the presidency.

“If Obama loses, race will have a role to play in that,” he said. “We can’t discount experience, of course, but it has been shown that racism depresses his chances by 6 percent.”

Benjamin Sondelski, a freshman in electrical engineering, said he doesn’t think race will dominate the election.

“I think experience will be the biggest issue, at least in the public forum, not just with Obama, but also with (Sarah) Palin,” he said. Parker, a fervent Obama supporter, said Obama will need to make his message clearer if he wants to win the election.

“Democrats try to make logical arguments, but they talk over peoples’ heads,” Parker said. “Bill Clinton didn’t talk above people; he went for the heart first. Obama needs to do the same.”

Another key factor in this election is the economy, which Parker said he believes will trump issues of Obama’s race in the eyes of voters.

“If the economy continues this way, I like Obama’s chances,” Parker said. “If voters are concerned about their pocket books, they’ll vote Democrat.”

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