Within the context of Black History Month, thinking about race and ethnicity dynamically is not just important for the real-life implications of institutional and individual racism and ethnocentrism on minorities, but how applicable the historical and contemporary treatment of “others” can explain the issues that many voters prioritize over “race relations” such as the economy, immigration, and foreign policy. The politicization of groups of people is fundamental to our understanding of popular political issues, and racial and ethnic relations cannot be dismissed in conversations about any of those topics.
In a Pew Research Center poll, 63 percent of responders reported that treatment of racial and ethnic minorities was a very important issue to their vote in 2016. This percentage seems significant, but it should be higher because of how central racial and ethnic relations are. Other factors such as the economy and terrorism, for example, received 84 percent and 80 percent importance respectively. What is so interesting about race relations, however, is that it is not its own separate issue — but rather a way of looking at every other political issue from varying perspectives. The economy is certainly an important factor, but the economy cannot be divorced from the United States’ treatment of particular racial and ethnic groups because our entire history is predicated on the partition of labor how groups can be politicized to fill labor needs.
Terrorism is also relevant topic right now, and policies directly toward combatting terrorism will have a tremendous influence on how politicians and individuals perceive ethnic groups within and without of the United States; an executive order banning seven predominantly Muslims countries from entering the United States will correlate with negative ethnic relations for years internally and externally. This may seem obvious, but relations between races and ethnicities cannot be separated from more popular issues right now, such as the economy and terrorism, because they are at the foundation of both of those topics.
Unsurprisingly, the issue of race relations is an easy topic for many voters to dismiss by virtue of economic and social status. Disparities among races are extensive and encompass every facet of life, but are often only directly relevant to those on the losing end. Among many other factors, November’s election (as well as most elections) was particularly influenced by an ability for many voters to turn inward and primarily consider what suits their best interests: the macroscopic economy and macroscopic foreign relations. The racial and ethnic nuances of each topic are largely lost in the mix, which is why only 63 percent of voters reported racial relations as being very important to their vote.
Racial and ethnic relations are dynamics issues which encompass every other perceived political problem. Mitigating racism and ethnocentrism is not so much about how nicely people act towards other as much as it is an intersection of economic and social factors which predispose certain groups of people toward living poor or good quality lives. Economic, foreign and all social issues become much more informed if the racial and ethnic dynamics issues involved are considered, though they are popularly thought to be separate.
In the spirit Black History Month, this means not just considering the legacy of slavery, but how slavery translates to the status of our modern economy, or that foreign policy decisions right now will dictate how races and ethnicities coexist for years to come. Racial and ethnic relationships live at the foundation of many cornerstone issues in the United States, and cannot be overlooked as simply complementary pieces to a bigger picture.