Voters Discuss The Influence Of Race On Politics How does a person's experiences — or lack thereof — with people of other racial backgrounds affect the way they vote? NPR talks with two listeners of different races about their views on the issue of race and how it is playing out in the campaign.
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Voters Discuss The Influence Of Race On Politics

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Voters Discuss The Influence Of Race On Politics

Voters Discuss The Influence Of Race On Politics

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

We now turn to you for your thoughts on race and politics. In the past two months, many of you have posted videos and text on our Web site reflecting your views on race. Coming up, we'll hear from listener Raul Sanchez on the Latino vote. The 2008 presidential election comes at a time when Hispanics are the largest minority group in the country, more than 45 million. But first we're joined by another listener, Bruce Hanson of Augusta, Maine. Bruce has spent his life not having to deal with the issue of race. That's because he's a white man in a state where the population is nearly 97 percent white. Bruce, welcome to the program.

Mr. BRUCE HANSON (Caller): Well, thank you, Liane.

HANSEN: The title of your post on our Web site was "How can I tell if I'm a racist?" Explain to us why you asked that question?

Mr. HANSON: Well, it's because I haven't had any exposure to people other than my own race. So how can I tell... It's kind of like when you visit a doctor, and they ask you if you're allergic to something, you know. And if you've never had it, how do you know?

HANSEN: You told our producers that you consider yourself an independent. But in this election you're going to vote for John McCain. Did race have anything to do with your decision?

Mr. HANSON: No, no, no. With my eyes shut, I still wouldn't - I still probably wouldn't vote for Obama. I don't like the sound of what he's saying, you know. I like John McCain better, put it that way. It has nothing to do with race whatsoever.

HANSEN: Another one of our listeners, Raul Sanchez, is a Latino voter who feels that people like him are largely invisible in the presidential election process. He wants politicians to take Latino voters more seriously. And Raul joins us from Seattle, Washington. Welcome, Raul.

Mr. RAUL SANCHEZ (Caller): Thank you for having me.

HANSEN: My pleasure. Raul, why do you feel like Latinos are invisible to politicians?

Mr. SANCHEZ: Well, first of all because there comes this stigma with the prejudice and who they are, and that - the assumption that not too many are interested in politics, and also because they probably believe that - well, they can't vote. And it's just a bad assumption. So whenever the campaigns go on and they try to target the Latino population, they go to specific places where it has been prearranged. I would like them to see - just go out on the streets, say downtown L.A. on Main Street there, go to the small communities where they would actually develop the interest of the Latino people into their candidacies, whether Republican or Democrat.

HANSEN: Do you think a black president would make Latino issues more prominent, give more prominence to them?

Mr. SANCHEZ: For one, he is a Democrat. Secondly, he's a person of color. The common denominator among my friends, they are all Latino from whatever country of origin they might have been from, is that they're happy to see a person of color to be a president.

HANSEN: This is for both of you. Both of you have said that it's hard. Different races don't communicate very well with one another. And, actually, now you both have the floor. Raul, do you have a question for Bruce? Bruce, do you have something that you'd like to ask Raul?

Mr. HANSON: Oh, gee. Raul, I'm not sure what your neighborhood is like. It's - I'd just like to ask you what it's like to live in a multiracial neighborhood, because I've never done that.

Mr. SANCHEZ: Well, it is very interesting. Where I work, right here in this building, there is people from China, Korea, there's an Egyptian fellow. There is people from - one Japanese guy, a Hawaiian guy, a fellow from Chile, a lady from Bulgaria, a fellow from Ukraine. They are from all over the place. You can hear all of their accents. And the common denominator is that everybody speaks English the best that they can understand and be able to have the capability to work and cooperate and be productive.

Multiculturalism is one thing that has made this country, our country, what it is. It's interesting because I don't have to feel that I have to be watchful from the African-Americans on the street. Once you get to know people, and be surrounded by them, and eat with them, sit along in the same table and eat with them, it's incredible. It's beautiful.

HANSEN: Bruce, what do you think of the answer?

Mr. HANSON: Oh, it sounds wonderful, you know. You know, I've never really had the experience of living in a melting-pot-type culture. It's always - it's been sort of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant slash Catholic. Years and years and years ago when I was in the single digits of years old, this would be in the early '60s, our family went down to visit cousins that lived in Massachusetts. And we went to the Boston zoo. And while I was walking down the sidewalk, a black man was walking towards us. And the only experience that I'd ever had with black people at that time was watching on TV as they were rioting and, you know, seeing policemen who I'd always thought of as authority, you know, spraying them with hoses or whatever.

So for somehow in my eight-year-old brain, I assumed that there was something to be afraid of. And so as the black man approached, I crossed the sidewalk to the other side so that we wouldn't be on the same side of the sidewalk. And I think that's probably the most embarrassing thing I've ever done in my life. And if I ever get a chance to go back in time and undo something, it's probably the thing that I would want to undo most.

HANSEN: Listener Bruce Hanson of Augusta, Maine, and listener Raul Sanchez of Seattle, Washington. They sent comments in to NPR's "Get my Vote" and our blog "Sunday Soapbox" to let us know how race is affecting them in this election. Thank you both for joining us.

Mr. SANCHEZ: Thank you very much, Liane.

Mr. HANSON: You're welcome, Liane

HANSEN: Do you want to say goodbye to one another?

Mr. HANSON: Bye, Raul.

Mr. SANCHEZ: Bye, Bruce.

Mr. HANSON: Good luck out there.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Our series on race and politics has generated lots of comments from you. We've put some of them on the air, but you can read more and continue the discussion on our blog, npr.org/soapbox.

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