Election Roundtable: Race Matters Gustavo Arellano of AskaMexican.net, diversity consultant Carmen Van Kerckhove and the controversial Frangela take on the topic of race in the election.
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Election Roundtable: Race Matters

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Election Roundtable: Race Matters

Election Roundtable: Race Matters

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From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand


I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, a conversation with the musician, Moby. His songs are in lots of TV commercials. You've heard them there, and now he's giving away some of his music to film makers. How do you value art when everything seems to have a price tag on it?

Mr. MOBY (Musician): If you are able to download something for free, it does potentially diminish the value of it. My only hope is that, I don't know, that music will transcend this. You know, a great song is a great song.

BRAND: Moby, coming up. Also on the program, the treasury secretary is proposing a sweeping overhaul of the nation's financial regulatory system. Henry Paulson outlined the plan in a 218 page document and NPR's Adam Davidson has been studying each and every page. We'll hear from him later in the program about what it all means for you.

CHADWICK: First, though, we're going to spend this part of the program talking about the presidential race with some unusual suspects. They represent minority groups, blacks, Latinos, and Asians, and we called them together to discuss publicly what a lot of people have been discussing in private within their own ethnic groups. And that is race.

BRAND: Gustavo Arellano is the man behind "AskaMexican.net," Carmen Van Kerckhove is of Asian decent, and she writes a blog called "Racialicious," she joins us from New York, and our regulars are here in the studio "Frangela" Francis Callier and Angela Shelton. And they also have their own talk radio show here in Los Angeles. Hello all of you.

Ms. FRANCIS CALLIER (Comedian, Frangela): Hello.

Ms. ANGELA SHELTON (Comedian, Frangela): Hello.

Mr. GUSTAVO ARELLANO (Creator, Askamexican.net): Hola.

Ms. CARMEN VAN KERCKHOVE (Writer, "Racialicious"): Hi.

BRAND: So we want to talk to all four of you about the kinds of conversations you've been having. And let's start with you, Gustavo. What questions are you getting from your readers about this election?

Mr. ARELLANO (Creator, Askamexican.net): The biggest question I am getting by dozens of people, why won't Mexicans vote for a black man? There is this assumption that somehow that the reason why Hillary Clinton is getting a lot of the Latino vote in states like Texas and California - there is this assumption that Mexicans are doing it, not so much because they like Hillary, but because they will vote for anyone except a black man, in this case Barack Obama.

BRAND: Who is asking these questions?

Mr. ARELLANO: Everybody. It seems - mostly its Obama supporters, but also people on the Republican side who are wishing that I would confirm their deepest, darkest conspiracies that Mexicans are really just evil and here to destroy all aspects of American life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARELLANO: No, seriously, it is that bad.

Ms. CALLIER: That's a little deep.

Mr. ARELLANO: It's true. Well, no, we're not going to destroy anything. No, we're nothing but good for the world.

BRAND: So what do you write back? What do you say?

Mr. ARELLANO: I responded back in a column that I did a couple of weeks ago where I said, well, first of all, Mexicans are voting for Obama. They are not voting in numbers that are getting Obama victories in California and Texas, but in the state of Illinois, which nobody ever mentions, Latinos actually voted for Obama more than they did for Hillary Clinton. Also, historically, Latinos have voted for, specifically Mexicans, have voted for black candidates. In Chicago, they voted for Harold Washington. In L.A., of course, they voted for Tom Bradley for 20 some years. And I also made the point that if Magic Johnson ran for mayor of L.A. tomorrow, he would beat Antonio Villaraigosa. He could be president of California if he wanted to. Mexicans love Magic. We love him.

BRAND: So, Frangela, do you ever get that? Do you ever hear that?

Ms. FRANCIS CALLIER (Comedian, "Frangela") Well, I think that we get the questions of, people assume that we're both for Obama, and Angela is clearly for Hillary Clinton. And we let people know that up front all the time.

Ms. SHELTON: And Francis is leaning towards Obama.

Ms. CALLIER: I'm leaning towards Obama, yes. We've had a lot of people calling our radio show, you know, white callers, who identify themselves as white, saying that - getting mad that we refer to Barack Obama as black.

BRAND: But, why? Because he refers to himself as black.

Ms. SHELTON: Well, that's why we do it, yes.

Ms. CALLIER: Thank you, thank you, girl, for knowing. Because what we get is "he's, he's part black and his mom was white and both of his parentage," and they just get really mad. And I go "sweetie, sweetie, calls himself black. That's why we do it." And then they go, "Oh."

Ms. SHELTON: But isn't it so funny how white people always want to claim the biracial people after they've made it, like Halle Berry when she won an Oscar, all of a sudden it was like, "but her mom is white." And yeah. I'm biracial myself, so I get that stuff a lot, too.

Ms. CALLIER: Girl, my sister is, too. I know, I know about your struggles.

BRAND: So Carmen - Carmen Van Kerckhove, Racialicious, tell us what you're getting from the readers that comment on your blog.

Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: Well, one of the questions that we've been discussing is why it is that the media seems really fixated on this idea that Asian-Americans are overwhelmingly for Clinton, and there is this whole generational gap that I don't think is getting analyzed at all. From as far as I can tell, younger Asian-Americans, people in their twenties and thirties, seem very overwhelmingly in favor, actually, of Obama. There is a lot of really active work being done there. But then, whenever the media covers it, which is almost never, I must add, what they do, like CNN did a couple of months ago, is they send a camera crew out to an Asian grocery store in Seattle, and, literally, talk to five different people with heavy Asian-Chinese-Japanese accents, and then they bring in one academic. His quote is cut down to, well, Asians are kind of racist, so maybe that's why they won't vote for a black person.

Ms. CALLIER: OK, that was their idea of science.

BRAND: So that is sort of the same thing, Gustavo, that you are also hearing, that Mexicans are racist?

Mr. ARELLANO: You know, what Carmen just said, mainstream media does the exact same things with Mexicans. Where they go to, in our case, instead of going to a supermarket, they'll go to a day-labor center, or they'll go to a rodeo, you know, stereotypically Mexican things. And same thing with young Asian-Americans, young Mexicans are also voting for Obama. In fact, most of the young Mexican-Americans that I know, we all voted for Obama.

Ms. SHELTON: I wanted to say, though, they're doing it to everybody but white men. The reality is that, if you're a white woman and you are supporting Hillary, it's she's a woman. If you are a black person, you are supporting Obama, it's because he's black. The only people who are clearly supporting candidates because of their policies are white guys... and older white guys. Young white kids are just - they're supporting Obama because he's young and hip.

Ms. CALLIER: It's a movement. It's not politics. It's a movement. None of us get to have a point of view that's based on, I don't know, like a rigorous examination of their policies? No, its candy dance, you know.

BRAND: What about John McCain? We're talking about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Is John McCain just out of the picture here? And I want to ask that question specifically to Carmen.

Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: Well, it certainly seems that way. I mean, I think, maybe, McCain is just a less interesting story at this point, but I would imagine that, when we finally figure out who the Democratic nominee is, then we'll hear about McCain. And, of course, McCain has this skeleton in his closet about, where he basically publicly referred to his - when he was a prisoner of war, he referred to the people holding him captive as - I'm not even sure I can use this racial word...

Ms. CALLIER: The G word, the G word.

Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: The G word.

BRAND: This was in the 2000 campaign?

Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: Right. And that, actually, a story about that recently was suddenly linked to all over the blogosphere. So I think that there is still some lingering distrust there about his possible racist views.

BRAND: I wonder if this is even the wrong conversation to be having. I mean, is it too simplistic to try to break it down along the lines of race, along the lines of ethnicity and to say, "well, blacks think this, Latinos think this, and Asians think that."

Ms. SHELTON: I think it's convenient. I think that the media, if you will - maybe you want to say the bourgeoisie or skull and bones, as Francis likes to refer to them. That it's more convenient for them to have us all pointing fingers at each other and calling each other racist and calling each other traitors rather than looking at the fact that really this is about class. And that poor white people have the same interests, generally speaking, if they look at it this way, as poor Black people, as poor Latinos, as poor Asians. Middle class people have the same sort of - they're interested in the same sort of things. And that's really the issue, but as long as we keep people distracted with race and ethnicity, and here we are all fighting with each other, calling each other names

Ms. CALLIER: And you know what? I have to add to that. That's why people are not critiquing John McCain. Because he has been put forth as this war hero, and that's something we cannot critique.

BRAND: Right.

Ms. CALLIER: We can't - does that mean that we don't get to critique his views on economy, on the war, or how the things...

Ms. SHELTON: Or his - we could call him racist?

Ms. CALLIER: Or call him racist.

Ms. SHELTON: When he uses slurs openly.

Ms. CALLIER: Exactly.

Ms. SHELTON: I have heard very liberal people say to me, but he was a prisoner of war.

Ms. CALLIER: Right.

Ms. SHELTON: So, doesn't he get to do that? I was like, well, my ancestors were slaves, can I just call you a cracker all day? I mean, it doesn't - I know I didn't go through it, but it just seems ridiculous.

BRAND: Gustavo, what do you think of that question? About whether we are even - whether we should be even asking these questions.

Mr. ARELLANO: We have to ask these questions because, as we've shown, the mainstream media, they have their own story of what each race, each ethnicity, each group has, how they feel, how they do it. So, we need to have stories like this to debunk those stereotypes that people have to show people, hey, look, there is a Mexican that voted for Obama. Hey, look, there is a - you know, Asian-American who voted for Obama. We have to have these conversations because, if we don't have these conversations, the mainstream media sure as hell isn't going to have it for us. Or they are going to have it for us, but they are going to do it in a way that completely skews the truth.

BRAND: So, we've been talking about the Asian vote, the black vote, the Latino vote, let's talk about the white vote.

Ms. COLLIER: I don't know what white people - white people are all over the place in this election.

Ms. SHELTON: Yeah, I can't get my finger on the white people.

Ms. COLLIER: They are like a chicken with their head cut off.

Ms. SHELTON: I think it's interesting to see how passionate...

Ms. COLLIER: Yeah.

Ms. SHELTON: I will say, you know, I have not seen my white fellow Americans be this angry.

Ms. COLLIER: Angry!

Ms. SHELTON: Passionate! I thought it had been worn out of us during the Reagan and Bush years, but they are like hopping 60s mad.

BRAND: So what is the white issue?

Ms. SHELTON: This is what I love about white America these days is that those that have embraced Obama as their candidate, they are down for him.

Ms. COLLIER: Oh! They are so on!

Ms. SHELTON: They are not going to let people attack him.

Ms. COLLIER: They are not half-stepping at all.

Ms. SHELTON: At all! I mean, you can hear the necks rolling on the phone. It's like, oh no, no, no. You just - don't talk - why do we have to talk about the church? Can't we talk about his politics and his platform? It's just amazing! You couldn't have told me, you know, two years ago we'd have an election where nobody cared what the white guy had to say at all.


Ms. SHELTON: I mean, McCain is over there saying crazy stuff like being in a war for over a century, and everybody is like, whatever. Nobody is paying attention. But they are so - I love that about it, and I feel like, right now, that I can say almost anything because I'm black. I feel like I can be like, this country is racist, and, for the first time in my lifetime, people are like, you are so right! Like, there is no debate. But it's gotten - remember, normally we'd get a, it's gotten better, that's not fair, racism doesn't really exist anymore. But now Obama got people talking about slavery.


Ms. SHELTON: I couldn't get a person to talk about slavery.

Ms. COLLIER: No, no, no!

Ms. SHELTON: Not if I had a slave in their face, couldn't get them to talk about it. But now it's like - I find that amazing.

Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: I also think that some Obama supporters are actually having to deal with race just in terms of just their everyday work. I know a woman who is working for the Obama campaign, and she's been, you know, out on the streets, not just in New York City, but then also she went to Pennsylvania and some other places. And she's a white woman, and, as she's campaigning for him, she's had people come up to her and call her an N-word lover.

Ms. COLLIER: Oh my goodness.

Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: And I would imagine that she's not alone in that experience. So I think maybe for some white supporters of Obama, just being out there and doing the work, they're really seeing racism up front and up close and seeing that it is still very much a reality in America.

Ms. COLLIER: Wow. I didn't know.

BRAND: Gustavo, you want to have the last word?

Mr. ARELLANO: Carmen made a really great point. I think a lot of times in this campaign, going out there on the streets and having to represent, whether it's black man, whether it's a white woman, or whether it's McCain, you are going to get bigots who are going to say, well, a white woman - or a woman shouldn't be in the White House. A black man shouldn't be in the White House. A Republican shouldn't be in the White House. So more power to all the volunteers who are going out there in the street and learning something about the reality that a lot of Americans have to face.

BRAND: Gustavo Arellano writes askamexican.net. Carmen Van Kerckhove, she writes a blog called "Racialicious," and is also a diversity consultant in New York, and our regulars, Francis Callier and Angela Shelton, Frangela, our comic duo. They also have a radio show. Thank you all very much.

Mr. ARELLANO: Gracias.

Ms. COLLIER: Thank you.

Ms. SHELTON: Thank you.

Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: Thank you.

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