How Democrats Contribute to the Ethnic Divide in the USA

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Skin colour plays a major role in the US presidential election campaign, also among democrats. Why this is so and why it is dangerous. An essay.

The presidential election campaign in the USA is not only getting dirty, it is also getting racist. This has been clear since this week, since Donald Trump called on four democratic congressmen to “go back” to their countries, four Americans, three of whom were born in America.

Ethnic origin and skin colour also play a major role in the Democrats’ pre-election campaign.

If Trump’s found something his core constituents like, he’ll move on. The fact that skin colour and ethnic origin will play a dominant role in this presidential election campaign, however, is not solely due to Donald Trump. The question of whether a candidate is a “person of color” also plays an important role among democrats. The bitter irony is that now of all times, when Donald Trump has brought open racism back onto the national political stage, the dark sides of the strong left-wing identity politics of recent years are also clearly evident. The American presidential election campaign of 2020 threatens to become an ethnic-demographic clash. And there is the threat of a crisis in the idea of representation.

At the end of June, during the first democratic presidential debate, there was a scene between the candidates Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, which is symptomatic of this development (the second debate will take place on 30 and 31 July). Both the black Californian politician Kamala Harris and Barack Obama’s vice president Joe Biden, a white man, are among the four favorites in the democratic primary. Joe Biden had told in the days before about his good cooperation with arch-conservative republican deputies from the southern states in the 1970s – this was intended as proof that he would be able to overcome the hardening of the political camps in Washington. Kamala Harris picked this up and accused Biden of working with these deputies to prevent busing. During busing in the 1970s, black children were driven in the morning to better schools in predominantly white neighborhoods to overcome segregation. Legally, racial segregation had been abolished in schools since the 1950s, but in fact there were still “black” and “white” schools. In her emotional reaction to Biden, Harris told her own story: “In California, there was a little girl who was taken to school by bus every day,” she said. And this girl was me.

Like other “people of color” among the democratic presidential candidates, Harris often emphasizes her blackness and talks about her personal experiences. She likes to say that she listens to the rap stars Snoop Dogg and Tupac and recently spoke to black women at a festival in New Orleans. In the front row there were members of “Alpha Kappa Alpha”, the first black student association in the USA to which Harris belonged.

Ethnically determined political identities have a long tradition – Trump’s racism reinforces them

The fact that skin colour and origin shape the political identity of black or Hispanic politicians is, of course, by no means new. In his recently published book “Fault Lines”, Princeton historian Kevin Kruse shows that the division of the country into different, ethnically determined political identities began with the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s. The legal end of segregation with the Civil Rights Act by no means led to a real end to the separation of ethnic groups in society. Rather, the legal separation was simply socially reproduced. On the one hand, this was due to the racist reaction of white Americans: They withdrew to the suburbs, to private schools and sports clubs in order not to have to meet the black population in everyday life. But even within the Afro-American population, a political consciousness of its own developed, also determined by demarcation. Black nationalists demanded not to adapt too strongly to the lifestyle of white Americans. When the civil rights movement was moved from the streets to Congress in the 1970s, the “Congressional Black Caucus” was founded there in 1971 and still exists today. As early as the 1970s, these deputies felt less like representatives of their constituencies alone, writes Kruse, but as representatives of black America as a whole.

Black voters are an important constituency for Democrats

More recently, these ethnically determined political identities have been reinforced by several factors. On the one hand there is the disappointment of many “people of color” about the ultimately meagre progress

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About Author

Mette Frederiksen is a The Washington Newsday correspondent. With her coverage of general science, NASA and the interface between technology and society, Frederiksen has been in the Science Desk's Technology Beat since joining Washington Newsday in 2018.

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