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Race, faith, social justice and politics

By Rebecca Anderson08/31/12 -  

In advance of the Democratic National Convention being held in Charlotte this week, a group of 75 students, faculty and guests gathered to look at the intersection of race, faith, social justice and politics during the current presidential campaign and those of the past.

The panel discussion was part of a two-day "Charlotte & the Convention" conference hosted by the Knight School of Communication.  Moderated by Dr. Zachary White, assistant professor of communication, the panelists included Dr. Norris Frederick, professor of philosophy and religion; Dr. Diane Mowrey, professor of philosophy and religion; and Dr. Daina Nathaniel, assistant professor of communication.

According to Dr. Mowrey, America has become one of the most religiously pluralistic countries in the world with, for example, more Muslims than Presbyterians, and more than four million Buddhists in Los Angeles alone. 

"The issue at hand is not whether religion and politics will intersect in this election, but how they will intersect, given our diversity," said Dr. Mowrey.

Dr. Nathaniel recalled watching the 2008 election night results with a group of her students.  Since she grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, the idea of a person of color in power was nothing new to her. But she was touched when an African American student called his grandmother and shouted in glee, "We did it!" 

"The question is now what?" said Dr. Nathaniel. "We can't ignore other significant communities of color, but at the same time we have to respect the centuries of history and discrimination that define the story of American race relations."

Both race and religion are complex issues, the panel said.  They can't be reduced to one factor or viewed through one lens.  To do that leads to simplification and stereotyping. 

"When we say 'we the people,' who's the 'we'?" asked Dr. Mowrey.  "We're being challenged at this point in our history to really think about that." 

During the discussion one student asked what the birther movement says about stereotypes and preconceptions of being an American.

The panelists reminded students of the anti-Catholic rhetoric that was used against John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential campaign. We've come a long way since then, but "Don't forget this is politics where the goal is to attack the character of your opponent," said Dr. Norris.

He added, "People need to find out the facts.  Maybe there's a lack of understanding because there's a lack of conversation. When you get the chance to have conversations with people who come from different backgrounds, take it. It's amazing how the simple act of talking can break down stereotypes. You can really learn some things."

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