Arun Sood: A view from DC - The 2016 election and the future of US 'race' relations

Writing from the US, journalist and academic Arun Sood explores the role race has played in this week's election

IT is under 24 hours until one of the most controversial presidential elections in modern history, and tension is rising in Washington DC as polls draw the two candidates closer than previously anticipated.

As a Scottish ambassador for the Fulbright Commission, I was recently invited to a panel discussion at Washington’s Institute of International Education that comprised of state representatives, polling staff, policy analysts and political scientists. 

With a clear, if unsaid, political slant in favour of Hillary Clinton, the panel of experts and increasingly nervous participants (myself included) picked apart the feasibility and actual logistics of a Donald Trump victory. In short – it is certainly not impossible.

With a presidential candidate as inflammatory as Donald Trump, it is unsurprising that ethnicity is at the forefront of the election.

One of the most unsettling aspects of the discussion was the extent to which race and ethnicity will play – and has played – in determining the outcome of this election. 

Speaking candidly about voter demographics, the panel reflected on how best to "target" African-American voters; speculated on why "non-college educated whites" were predominantly voting Trump; and discussed campaign strategies that would influence other specific groups (usually defined by skin colour). 

With a presidential candidate as inflammatory as Donald Trump, it is unsurprising that ethnicity is at the forefront of the election. Taking a philosophical step back from the very real and important issues discussed above, however, is it not profoundly sad that analysts and campaign strategists face the necessity of herding groups together by skin colour? 

While this reality is admittedly complex, it also continues to elevate and conform to the very idea of "race" as a justifiable marker in society.

Of course, there is a blissfully naïve attachment to this realisation in its failure to address said complexities and offer solutions. But in an era of post-truth politics and in which Trump continues to push his rhetoric of separation ("I will build a wall"), perhaps the odd utopian consideration is useful. 

By the 2040s America is predicted to be a "minority-majority" country. This means that caucasians will be outnumbered by the total sum of non-caucasians, or "minorities".

Without fully divulging into the anthropological reasons for why humans might bind together by skin colour, then, we can only hope that future generations will see an evolution of behaviour (and consequently politics) that veers towards inclusivity. 

And for all its flaws and hardships, America has a strong record when it comes to internal civic progress.

As Robert Griffin – a senior policy analyst specialising in demographics and co-author of the States of Change project – highlighted at the Washington panel, by the 2040s America is predicted to be a "minority-majority" country. This means that caucasians will be outnumbered by the total sum of non-caucasians, or "minorities".

It also means that America continues to move towards diversity. People who speak different languages; worship different gods; and have different shades of skin will be in increasing contact with one another. 

A large part of Trumpism is, of course, a reaction to this. But as with any mass societal change (abolition and civil rights to name but two) there is bound to be loud resistance before the tide turns and begins to settle.

A large part of Trumpism is, of course, a reaction to this. But as with any mass societal change (abolition and civil rights to name but two) there is bound to be loud resistance before the tide turns and begins to settle.

Regardless of the outcome on Tuesday, it remains important to have faith in America’s capacity for civic progress. In the scenario of a Trump victory, simply castigating "dumb Americans" from afar – as was so often done in the Bush era – will be unhelpful as well as hypocritical given the racially-infused rise of the likes of Farage, Le Pen and Wilders on European shores. 

Rather, it is worth remembering that – even through periods of conservative governance – America has seen off the horrors of slavery; beat Jim Crow laws; given rise to civil rights movements; and remains fertile for grassroots campaigns like Black Lives Matters. 

Sure, many problems remain, but the history of 'race' relations charts a progressive evolution. 

Amid the hate, fear and nativist rhetoric, let’s hope and work to make sure this pattern continues.

Picture courtesy of Diego Cambiaso

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