The political news media has an unfortunate habit of believing people from ethnic minority groups care primarily about niche cultural issues and don’t care much about economic justice. I don’t know why this is, but it might be because they disproportionately come from elite schools and/or upper class backgrounds.
The problem with this construct is that it ignores all of the evidence on the topic.
Prior to the midterm elections, the African American Research Collaborative conducted exhaustive polling to try and figure out the issues animating black voters in 70 Battleground districts. What they found is that most black voters’ concerns are actually pretty similar to white voters’ concerns. The issues most voters ranked as most important were health care cost and access and improving the economy and creating jobs. Incoming inequality ranked above racism and discrimination.
Of course all of these topics interlap to some extent, and we shouldn’t read too much into the way the categories are segregated.
We should, however, take a good hard look at any reporter or outlet that claims that Latino, Asian, or African-American voters prize generalized condemnations of amorphous racism or praise for diversity over feeding their families or making sure their loved ones can receive cancer treatment. In general, when the media does this, they have not looked at the evidence (which can be found through survey data).
For instance, Mark Murray implies that Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders is saying that class “not race” is the “most important issue to tackle” in the excerpt below. If he means that Sanders is focused on the economy, he is literally defining the view that pollsters found is most prevalent among African American voters in some of America’s most competitive electoral districts.
Of course, we should put a caveat that this debate, when framed this way, doesn’t mean anything. What does it mean to say “class” is the most important issue to tackle? Class is just a category. What is tackling “race”? Race is a category. You tackle social problems with policy, which comes from ideas, which we can evaluate from their record. There is no evidence black voters revolted against Sanders because he talked about building multi-racial coalitions to achieve economic justice. There is no evidence black voters’ primary goal is electing more black representatives or a black president irrespective of what they stand for (does Hunt know Clinton was white?).
In this quotation, Sanders is simply saying that there is a class of political activists dedicated to electing people based on their immutable characteristics, and that this isn’t his view. His opponent in 2016, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, used a campaign slogan titled “I’m With Her” out of the belief that this would evoke the idea that elevating one woman to a very powerful position was equivalent to elevating 160 million American women to that status. But the President is just one person, and they can’t literally be every identity characteristic of all of the citizenry. What they can do is use their power to benefit the country, and there is no evidence that the skin color or gender or any other category like that is going to determine of how they use their power.