The One Thing Republicans Can Learn From The Democratic Debate Is Black & White

On the eve of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the Democratic presidential candidates on the debate stage discussed something that seemed downright unfamiliar to any such forum: systemic racism. As a graduate of women's studies, my ears perked up when I heard candidate Hillary Clinton call it by name. So often, it seems that in major political debates, racism gets dressed up in other phrases — ones that are perhaps more familiar to voters. But Sunday night, something different happened. The candidates said, in turn, how their presidencies would tackle racism, a topic that should be discussed at every presidential debate.

Talking about issues pertinent to people of color should not be done merely to attract voters. In 2015, we saw the public's growing awareness of systematic racism, from fatal shootings of unarmed black individuals to xenophobic talk of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Our collective conscientiousness has risen, and because of this, now more than ever politicians should not use these incidents as mere talking points to pander to voters.

Amanda Terkel, The Huffington Post's senior political reporter, astutely marks a clear contrast between last week's GOP debate and Sunday's Democratic debate. The Republican candidates only mentioned the word "black" twice — once in reference to the "black market" and the other to "black lung." The Democratic debate, on the other hand, discussed the validity of the Black Lives Matter movement and racism in the criminal justice system.

Though this discussion should be based on the desire to eradicate racism, the GOP could at the very least look to the numbers and realize that their voting base is not all white. According to an analysis of party affiliation conducted by the Pew Research Center, the GOP does have some standing with minority voters. Twenty-three percent of Asians, 11 percent of black people, and 26 percent of Hispanics vote or lean Republican. It would seem that discussing racism at a conservative debate would not fall on deaf ears.

So these issues shouldn't be left to just the Democratic candidates. For starters, the pool of GOP candidates better reflects America today, despite their refusal to discuss racism. The presidential hopefuls on the right boast a somewhat diverse demographic, what with having a black man and two Cuban Americans. This alone would make you think that maybe Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, or Marco Rubio could find it in their hearts (or in their rehearsed speeches) to talk about the issues facing their communities. Instead, we're left seeing all three clamoring to both outdo one another and surpass Trump, whose outrageous claims have helped his numbers skyrocket. Rubio, for instance, has seen his views on immigration flip-flop, likely to keep along the party line.

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But here's the trouble with that — racism sees no party lines. It does not adhere to the right or left, and systemic racism affects individuals no matter who they vote for. To talk about systemic racism in a debate, whether Democratic or Republican, should not come as a shock to voters. The GOP owes it to its voters to thoroughly and without bias discuss these problems (hard to imagine, I know). Given the heinousness of racism, the lives of their voters may very well be at stake.