November 7, 2008

History panel probes question of race after election

History doctoral students and a Chicago activist spoke at a roundtable discussion sponsored by the History Department and CAPS on Wednesday about the role that history played in this week’s election.

Panelists included two history graduate students, Timothy Stewart-Winter and Toussaint Losier, and Nizam Arain, a Chicago lawyer who worked for Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

Because of their common backgrounds in race relations, the speakers paid particular attention to how race was used in this election.

“In some ways, I think the idea that this marks the culmination of the fight for the Voting Rights Act is valid,” Stewart-Winter said.

But Arain was concerned that this message could be carried too far and could be used to argue that there was now no reason for affirmative action. Arain, a strong proponent of affirmative action, said that he vehemently disagreed with all who argue that “the election of Barack Obama marks a finish line for institutional racism.” He warned of the “continual effort to gloss over institutional racism.”

Losier suggested that some things, like racism, would not necessarily change right away.

“The Earth has kinda shifted, but I can’t feel it yet,” he said.

The panelists discussed other civil rights issues, including the rights of immigrants and gay Americans. Arain said that it was interesting that Obama’s constituents included many Americans who were in favor of immigration restrictions.

“Does the fact that the president-elect was the son of an immigrant even register?” he asked.

Stewart-Winter referred to the gay-marriage bans passed this week and called them “the black clouds on the silver lining” of Obama’s election.

Arain argued that their passage was a result of the Democrats’ “logically inconsistent tightrope-walking act between having sufficient gestures towards gay rights, while still not advocating for full marriage.”