US Politics

‘Blackness and criminality are not the same’: US Presidential debate criticised for narrow framing around issues of race

US President Donald Trump and Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden during the final US debate. Source: Getty Images

The US presidential debate has been criticised by some for having a narrow focus on race and criminal justice. African-Americans are disproportionately impacted in a number of ways from health outcomes, to wealth inequalities and the impact of COVID-19. So what did the debate miss?

The final US presidential debate prior to November 3 election has been criticised by journalists, academics, politicians, and the general public for the generalisations of America's black community.

The debate's major focus when it came to race was centred around the impacts of the US criminal justice system towards African-Americans. However, critics have called for a deeper look at inequalities when it comes to race in America.

US congresswoman Ilhan Umar tweeted a timely in the midst of the debate.

"PSA: Black voters aren't single issue voters and aren't monolithic," Umar wrote.

US President Donald Trump and Democrat nominee Joe Biden spoke at length about the criminal justice systems treatment of African Americans. This section of the debate prompted many online to ask the question of whether it's possible to talk about America's black community without talking about crime.

Biden was asked by Kristen Welker -- the second black woman to moderate a presidential debate -- about 'the talk' black parents give their children.

He responded by saying, "I never had to tell my daughter, if she's pulled over, make sure she puts — for a traffic stop — put both hands on top of the wheel and don't reach for the glove box, because someone may shoot you."

"But a Black parent, no matter how wealthy or how poor they are, has to teach their child: When you are walking down the street, don't have a hoodie on when you go across the street. Making sure that you in fact, if you get pulled over, just 'Yes sir,' 'no sir,' hands on top of the wheel."

"The fact of the matter is, there is institutional racism in America."

Trump in response, cited the 1994 crime law that disproportionately affected African-American and Hispanic communities in the US -- experts say it contributed to mass incarceration in the country. 

During the debate, Biden said the law was a mistake. 

He was then falsely accused by Trump for calling black people “super predators”, which was a term that emerged in the 1990s to describe a new type of teenage criminal. Hilliary Clinton used the term in 1996, which was in support of the 1994 crime law. 

Biden followed up by raising Trump’s history with the Central Park Five. In 1989, Trump took out a full-page ad in calling for the death penalty in the case. 

The five young men were later exonerated for the crime.

Phillip Atiba Goff is a Professor of African American Studies and Psychology, and tweeted in response to the conversation surrounding African-Americans and crime.

"Blackness and criminality are not the same. Would really love Black communities to be on the agenda outside of questions about punishment," he wrote.

African Americans make the highest proportion of any racial group that have died at the hands of the police in the US, according to data recorded by Mapping Police Violence.

However, inequalities in the US for African-Americans range much further than criminal justice. 


Stark inequalities for African-Americans

During the debate, neither candidate talked about the growing inequalities in terms of wealth, general health outcomes, or disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on communities of colour.

Research from Stanford University in 2015, revealed middle-class African-American families who earned similar income to middle-class white and Asian American families -- but still lived in lower socio-economic neighbourhoods. 

The inequalities according to experts, stem from the history of red-lining in the US, which was a system of denying mortgages to people of colour. The policy was formerly backed by the US government in 1938 and was eventually eliminated in 1968 with the Fair Housing Act. 

However, the impacts still exist today. 

In 2016, the Brookings Institute, a think tank whose major funders include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the BHP Foundation, looked into the racial wealth gap in the US. They found the average African-American family had a net worth ten times less than their white counterparts. 

The health outcomes for African-Americans are also a concern. 

According to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African-Americans have a lower life expectancy than white Americans. 

Black women in the US are much more likely to die during childbirth than any other racial group. 

And as the US is suffering a ‘third wave’ with rising COVID-19 cases in the last few weeks, neither Trump nor Biden commented about the disproportionate impacts of the virus on communities of colour. 

In August, the CDC revealed that African-Americans had a 2.1 higher death rate to COVID-19 compared to white Americans -- it was also the highest among all racial groups. 

One social media user didn’t hold back their disappointment about the debate’s conversations surrounding race. 

“I like that the race section of debate is treated like the side of peas the candidates don’t want to eat,” they tweeted.