Observing that the current presidential campaign is becoming “hyper-racial,” a noted linguist and African American studies expert at Washington University in St. Louis suggests voters participate in a “linguistic thought experiment” to determine the extent that candidates are able to discuss race or gender on the campaign trail.
“My question is a simple one,” says John Baugh, Ph.D., the Margaret Bush Wilson Professor and director of the program in African and African American Studies in Arts & Sciences. “Do you think Clinton and Obama are equally free to speak with pride about becoming the first female or African American president? I’m not sure they are. I think there’s a double standard.”
Baugh analyzed a transcript of a recent interview with Hillary Clinton conducted Feb. 27 by Judy Woodruff for the Newshour broadcast on PBS. Clinton was asked how having a female president would change the country.
“If that interview had been conducted with Obama, he could not have commented about how having an African American president would be good for the nation without negative political consequences,” Baugh says. “He would run the risk of being accused of ‘playing the race card’ if he spoke with pride about being America’s first African American president.”
Baugh thinks it is an error to label this campaign as “post-racial,” but rather “hyper-racial.”
“Clinton should certainly be able to speak highly about how her presidency would change America,” Baugh says. “However, if Obama tried to openly tout his pride at being the first African American president it would create a perception of racial partiality that his campaign can’t afford.”
Because of his experience as a linguist and as director of the program in African and African American Studies, Baugh says he does not merely view Obama as an African American.
“He is a unique African American who happens to also be All-American,” Baugh says. “He has a commitment to help all Americans, not just African Americans. Instead of being post-racial, Obama has to be careful in how he speaks about race. I think the ‘race card’ is more of a hot-button issue than the ‘gender card.’ Or so it would seem in the wake of Geraldine Ferraro’s assertion that Obama would not be where he is today were he not black.”
Editor’s note: Professor Baugh is available for live or taped broadcast-quality interviews using Washington University’s free VYVX or ISDN lines. Please contact Neil Schoenherr at (314) 935-5202 or firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.