Racial Justice Forum Hosts Panel on Partisanship

According to the director of the Asian American Studies program, Min Song, there seems to be a consensus among Americans that political partisanship is greater this election cycle than ever before. Now, Song is wondering if that is even a bad thing.

“I want to ask, and this is a genuine question, is partisanship actually so bad?,” Song said. 

At a virtual event on Thursday titled “Racial Justice and Democratic Citizenship: A Pre-Election Conversation in Collaboration with the Forum on Racial Justice in America,” panelists wrestled with ideas of political partisanship, and they evaluated when ideas can be challenging and productive, and when they might be offensive. The event was part of the BC Forum on Racial Justice in America, which was established to facilitate conversations on race-related issues.

Boston College Law School Dean Vincent Rougeau said that in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic downturn, and heightened racial tensions, the strength of the American political system is in peril. The only way to escape the threat, he said, is to trust others and participate in honest conversations. 

“So in this context, this conversation tonight could not be more important,” Rougeau said. “Our democracy is our responsibility, and I think right now it’s not an overstatement to say that our democracy is threatened. So it’s critical that we build relationships of trust and honesty with one another.” 

Rougeau urged participants to be sensitive and understanding in conversations, especially ones on the topic of race. But he said that a voter’s responsibility to listen to varying opinions across the political spectrum does not necessarily mean listening to those with racist and prejudiced beliefs.

“I think it’s really impossible for us to think about our responsibilities as citizens outside of the context of understanding our nation’s distinct and troubled history with race, which continues to manifest itself in ways that are not only harmful, and sometimes even deadly to individuals, but also deeply destabilizing to our models,” he said.

Song added that conversing with those on the extreme fringes of politics may give a platform to hatred and extremist beliefs.

“We don’t want to say that those who advocate white supremacy are somehow equal partners in an earnest debate with those who reject racism,” he said. 

The panelists reflected on a CBS News piece titled “How Americans View Events through a Partisan Lens,” which compared Democrat and Republican reactions to clips of New York Police Department vehicles driving through a crowd of protesters and St. Louis homeowners Patricia and Mark McKloskey pointing guns at protesters passing through their property. 

Democrats viewed the acts of the NYPD and McCloskeys as out of line, while Republicans thought the protesters were the ones at fault for the confrontations. Song said that CBS’s comparison of the two perspectives as equals was erroneous.

“There is a danger in which the way the story presents this issue, and the danger is both side-ism—that is that both sides are equally skewed in their perception of the same incident, both sides are laden with their own uninterrogated biases,” he said.  

Song said that in the case of the video segment, there was a correct stance on the issues presented—that of the Democrats—and that the opposing conservative viewpoints hurt society and democracy. 

“An alternative perspective, maybe, is to say that one viewpoint is more accurate than the other,” he said. “Maybe one viewpoint champions democracy and one doesn’t.”

Featured Image by Leo Wang / Heights Staff

October 25, 2020

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