Role of Race in Politics

Throughout the centuries, race has not only been a vital part of an individual’s identity, but also contributed to the identity of a nation. Most countries have a race that is more dominant than the others, and therefore that race is associated with that particular country or region. But race has also been the root to many issues, creating divide among people living under the shelter of the same country. It has made people distant from each other as this difference that people are born with is explicit and therefore people recognize that they are unalike. This unfortunately fosters sentiments of discomfort, fear, and potentially disdain from one group of people towards another. The existence of racial tension plays an important part in any nation’s politics because historically racial divide has contributed to the feeling of superiority for one group against the other, which lingers to this day. Also more often than not, people tend to form their political ideologies and stances based on race, even if it is subconsciously.

The concept of White Supremacy dates back to around the 17th century, or perhaps even earlier, when it was outright showcased by European colonizers that their race was superior and that they were entitled to politically and socially rule upon others. As we see and experience the present era in the United States, we know that this feeling is yet to be completely eradicated. The existence of the Ku Klux Klan is evidence enough, along with the sheer police brutality demonstrated in the streets against African-American civilians, as well as the fact that “Black Lives Matter” is a movement still necessary. Some would argue that the fact that Barack Obama was elected into office as the first African-American president after having had 43 white, male presidents is also proof that there is a long way for this country to go. And certainly this is not the case only in the United States, for sentiments of “white is better” also exists in other countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia. Recently we have seen this issue arise in Germany after public xenophobic demonstrations against Middle-Easterners. In Australia, we have seen attacks against Indian students for no apparent reason, perpetuated by white Australians, being purely a hate crime. These are not recent problems as they all go back to the era of colonization, if not earlier. African slaves were imported from their continent to South America by white colonizers to work for them. One’s position in Christopher Columbus’s colonies was also determined through race: “If their skin was not too dark, mulatos, people of partial African ancestry, might be admitted into higher socioeconomic positions” (Caramani 2011). All slaves in the past were either African Americans or the indigenous populace. Perhaps this was due to the fact that it was the Europeans who used the technology first to go out and conquer other lands, and since they happened to be white while the colonized people dark-skinned, they naturally saw themselves as superior. This soon escalated into an issue of skin color, as anyone who was white was the conqueror, and anyone with a darker skin tone was the colonized.

The division caused by race has also led to division in political ideologies. While race divides people, it also brings together in the sense that, people of one race connect more and like to be around other people within their race. When Barack Obama won the elections in 2008, 95% of the African-Americans voted for him versus a mere 5% for John McCain. In 2012 when Obama reran, 93% African Americans voted for him, along with 71% Hispanics and 73% Asians (Merica 2013). This is just one example. But it shows how when people identify themselves with an oppressed or a minority group, they are interested in seeing a leader who is also from their group.

The racial divide doesn’t exist only between “black people” and “white people”. Any country that has two or more ethnic groups are prone to political distress caused by race. Recently it has been in news that Japan has been struggling with this problem due to it being such a homogenous society, accepting someone from another race/ethnicity (any race/ethnicity) and fully integrating them into the society is often difficult for them. Other examples are of Singapore, where ethnic Indians face racism perpetrated by ethnic Chinese; in Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese group has been accused of being racist towards the Tamil Group. The racial issue in Sri Lanka escalated to a civil war a couple of years ago, between the government (which was predominantly Sinhalese) and an organization known as the LTTE (predominantly Tamil), which was later deemed as a terrorist group. This divide that people decide to recognize and continue, affects the politics of a nation on a large scale and only leads to more imbalance and chaos. While there is no huge solution that would end this issue altogether and at once, the least we can do is, as individuals, to stop following this divide and embrace the diversity instead.

Left: Example of outward racist demonstration. Right: Example of outward countering of racism.