Panel Discusses Race, Gender, and 2008 Elections
by Megan Barnes


The mainstream media’s projection of how race and gender play into the upcoming presidential election was the topic of discussion at a MultiCultural Center Event last night titled, “Fitting Inside the Box: Identity Politics and the Presidential Candidacy.”

About 30 students and faculty attended the discussion, which was part of the MCC’s Race Matters Series. The discussion hosted a panel featuring Professor Pei-te Lien of the Political Science department, and Elizabeth Robinson, Associate Director for Media Services for Associated Students.

The discussion began with a film clip featuring a news anchor stating that race and gender seem to be big issues among voters when it comes to choosing between senators Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton for the democratic nomination. Rebekah Meredith, an MCC programmer, said attitudes and assumptions in this report and those like it inspired the event, which often opened the floor for audience discussion and interaction.

Lien and Robinson stressed that identity is a social construction and said that when the media highlights differences in race and gender between Obama and Clinton, these classifications suggest they are somehow abnormal. They also stressed the media’s tendency to narrow down each candidate’s identity to one characteristic; Clinton’s femininity, and Obama’s blackness.

“In this campaign, the preoccupation with race and gender is a misdirection,” said Robinson. “This kind of discussion reiterates stereotypes about gender and race, when that candidacy supposedly breaks them down.”

One audience member asked if the panelists felt the media’s highlighting of Obama and Clinton’s race and gender differences would be ultimately positive or negative. Robinson replied that she was not sure, but that “while it is great that a white woman and a black man are running for office, it would be great if they were moving for social change.”

Lien commented on why the media’s automatically prescribes each candidate to a one-dimensional identity. “Today’s media is profit driven, caters to a market, and speaks a language people can accept and identify,” said Lien. “For those of us in the higher education field, it is our responsibility to break these molds.”