One of the most poignant moments of the presidential primary debate season thus far happened last night in Miami. During the eighth meeting between Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, hosted by Univision and the Washington Post, a Guatemalan woman took the mic to ask what they were going to do about immigration and reuniting families who are being ripped apart due U.S. immigration policies.
In Spanish, the woman emotionally shared that she and her five children haven’t seen her “hardworking” husband since he was deported 3 years ago. As the candidates responded, Univision reporter Enrique Acevedo leaned in to whisper their translation in her ear.
— PolicyMic (@PolicyMic) March 10, 2016
What we saw last night was incredibly necessary as it provided a counter narrative to Republican candidate Donald Trump’s rhetoric that most immigrants like Lucia’s husband are either “rapists” or “criminals.” This was a rare political moment where the very same people that are often demonized, scapegoated or ignored by our politicians and media were finally humanized for millions to see.
Watching this transpire, I asked myself, “Even with Rubio and Cruz at the podium, would this have happened at a Fox News hosted debate?” Not without having a Spanish-speaking reporter in the crowd and moderators on deck to be firm on the issues and culturally competent with the audience.
This is precisely why diversity matters.
Having journalists of color in this national setting means that candidates will be confronted on their whiteness, their straightness and their bias as a means of addressing pertinent issues that impact people of color, women and LGBT Americans. Not to mention, how will their proposed policies improve the quality of our lives and lessen racial disparities? As voters, we are entitled to this information as it influences who we end up supporting not only in the primaries, but come November.
Clearly, we get why this transparency matters.
This isn’t 2008 and 2012 anymore, nor are we buying into the Post-Obama fantasy—if we ever did. We are currently living in a #BlackLivesMatter, #OscarsSoWhite, #NotMyAbuela America where politicians just mentioning these issues in passing isn’t going to cut it. Voters of color are clear that our lives, our citizenship, our access and even our drinking water are dangerously riding on this election. Therefore, we need moderators who will hold candidates accountable and ask the tough questions.
Thankfully this debate season, we’ve gotten a little bit of that—well at least the Democrats have.
On Sunday in Flint, Michigan, CNN’s Don Lemon, of all people, asked Democratic presidential contenders Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton a poignant question about white privilege and racial blind spots. At an earlier debate, Gwen Ifill asked the two to address how they would speak to the growing resentment among white Americans. Ifill’s question wasn’t out of left field: Studies show that more and more white Americans believe they are the real victims of current racism in this country.
Hopefully, these types of uncomfortable questions sparked by moderators of color will carry on when the Democratic and GOP nominee meet head-to-head for the general election presidential debates later this year, especially if Trump is the GOP nominee. Sadly, we know that isn’t guaranteed.
As The Grio pointed out in 2012, even with an incumbent Black president, there were no moderators of color when President Barack Obama met with Mitt Romney. And it wasn’t like the Commission on Presidential Debates (CDP) didn’t have a robust group of experienced journalists of color to choose from either. Even with the likes of Gwen Ifill, Soledad O’Brien, Lester Holt, Tamron Hall, Jorges Ramos or Ann Curry, the commission consistently selected all-white panels. (The commission blamed the lack of diversity among debate moderators on the lack of diversity in the industry.)
In 2004 and 2008, Gwen Ifill moderated both vice-presidential debates, but there have only been two journalists of color– Bernard Shaw in 1988 and Carol Simpson in 1992–who have ever moderated a debate involving two presidential candidates.
Maybe this time around the CPD will finally recognize that who they choose to challenge the future 45th U.S. president should reflect this country’s amazing diversity and our shifting priorities. And even with the current whitewashing of network and cable news, hopefully the CPD will do what’s right to ensure that the hashtag #DebatesSoWhite won’t become a reality in 2016.