In the wake of an historic presidential election, five University of Montana professors discussed the significance of a campaign season in which a black man and a woman fought for the Democratic Partys nomination and a woman was embraced by Republicans as a vice presidential running-mate.
In a panel titled Race, Sex and Politics, UM professors reflected on the meaning of President-elect Barack Obamas victory and how Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Hillary Clinton were perceived during the election season.
The panelists were Zac Gershberg, assistant professor of communication studies; Beth Hubble, assistant professor of liberal studies and co-director of the women studies department; Christopher Muste, assistant professor of political science; Richard Sattler, assistant professor of anthropology and Tobin Shearer, assistant professor of history and coordinator of the African-American Studies department. Honors College Dean James McKusick moderated the event.
Although the panelists acknowledged that other factors contributed to Obamas win such as the state of the economy and the prevalent anti-war sentiment in the nation, they agreed that his race was definitely a factor during the election season.
Sattler said Obama tried to play down his race through most of the campaign. He said because Obama was raised by a white mother in a way that is considered white, he was less likely to be viewed as profoundly different from whites.
If you listen to him on the TV, you cant tell hes black, he said.
Shearer said that Obama became blacker as soon as he was elected because, while he tried not to make his race an issue during the election, he is now occupying the groundbreaking role of first black president.
Shearer said that because black and white are defined in terms of each other, this shift in Obamas identity has affected whites.
We have all become blacker, he said. For that I am, of course, excited.
George Price, UM professor of African American and Native American studies, who attended the panel, said that, although it is significant to have a black man in the White House, it is necessary to have a successful black man in office to shift racist views.
African Americans dont just want to be represented, they want to be represented well, he said.
The panel also dedicated a large amount of the discussion to the role of gender during the election.
Muste said one interesting aspect of the Democratic primary was that Clintons campaign embodied traditionally masculine ideals such as strong leadership and a tougher approach, whereas Obamas campaign was more feminine in that it focused more on the idea of compassion and hope.
The differences in the way Clinton and Palin were portrayed were considered as well.
Gershberg said that while Clinton was not feminine enough in her campaign, Palin was able to simultaneously embody a traditional feminine role with her manner of dress and emphasis on family while pushing forth the idea that she was tough enough for office with her rural background.
However, Hubble said she was appalled by the sexist treatment Palin received, with undue attention paid to her glasses, clothing and hair.
Frankly, I dont care what Palins hairstyle is like anymore than I care what Obamas hairstyle is like or Joe Bidens hairstyle is like, he said.