Daniel B. Eisen earned his Ph.D. In sociology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He is currently an assistant professor of sociology at Pacific University. His research draws upon critical race theory to examine Filipino ethnic identity development, race and ethnic relations, and the ways in which parents interaction with children in regards to race. He also writes a monthly column on diversity and culture for the Fil-Am Courier in Honolulu, Hawaii. This article was origonally posted in the December issue of the Fil-Am Courier.
Election season is upon us, which brings increased hype and speculation about how a candidate will secure their party’s nomination. This often brings about discussions of how each candidate will secure the support of various racial and ethnic groups. For example, political pundits question how Bernie Sanders can secure the Black vote or how Donald Trump can secure the Latino vote.
While there are issues that disproportionately affect various racial or ethnic groups, constructing issues as “Black” issues or “Filipino” issues is overly simplistic. Every individual exists at the intersection of numerous social identities (e.g., race, social class, gender) and this combination of social statuses shapes the importance that one assigns to any given issue. I do not mean to suggest that race and ethnicity are not important in political decisions and debates, but that the reduction of race and ethnicity to single issues overly simplifies the within group differences and reinforces the stereotypes we hold about various racial or ethnic groups.
For example, research has shown that Filipinos continue to be underrepresented in higher education and managerial positions in Hawaii. Therefore, one might conclude that access to higher education and higher prestige jobs are “Filipino issues.” Framing these issues this way allows these issues to dominate political pundits’ discussions about how a candidate will win votes. When these issues become central to these discussions the fact that Filipinos may value a candidate’s opinion on many other issues is ignored. While many Filipinos care about access to higher education and more prestigious jobs, many other Filipinos care more about access to health care, positions on taxes, foreign policy, and the numerous other issues that shapes one’s political ideology. Thus, framing issues as “Filipino” reduces the complexity that characterizes the Filipino community and encourages others to believe that only two issues define the Filipino community as a voting bloc.
Furthermore, this simplistic reduction of community concerns racializes issues and differentiates racial and ethnic groups from one another. For example, access to higher education becomes a “Filipino issue,” police brutality becomes a “Black issue,” and immigration become a “Latino issue.” Racializing issues in this manner shapes the larger social narratives in a way that affirms stereotypical beliefs that associate Latinos with illegal immigration, Blacks with trouble with the law, and Filipinos with poor educational achievement. When framed as race-specific issues, the larger issue of racism goes unnoticed and rarely discussed.
Ultimately, this way of framing of issues prevents what sociologist Patricia Hill Collins calls ‘coalitions around common causes’ to develop. These coalitions can begin to form when racism is openly discussed, as empathy develops between racial and ethnic groups who see the specific issues as iterations of the larger, collective issue of racism. Through these types of discussions, individuals can connect over the shared experiences of marginalization and can recognize the need for multiracial coalition building. Ultimately, we must not allow the media and political pundits to frame issues in a simplistic, racialized manner, as this rhetoric reinforces racism by ignoring the complexity of racial and ethnic groups, reaffirming harmful stereotypes, and opposing the formation of multiethnic or multiracial coalitions that could promote meaningful social change.