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Guest Column: Identity impacts election decisions

`Voting choices may be based on policy – but our humanity matters, too.

williamsMr. Patrick Williams ’03
Assistant Director of Admissions and Diversity

First and foremost I think it is very important to vote.

As I have become more informed on our country’s history, specifically our country’s history of restricting who can and cannot vote, my opinion regarding voting and its importance has evolved and strengthened. The more I learned and understood how much my African American ancestors suffered and sacrificed for the ability to vote, the more strongly I felt about actively voting.

I voted for the first time in the 2008 Presidential Election. This was the second opportunity I had to vote for a presidential candidate. This was a very powerful and overwhelming experience for me. As a biracial man – the child of a white mother and a black father – to be able to cast a vote for a candidate who shared in my racial identity was something I never thought I would experience. Especially considering interracial marriage was only legalized in all 50 states in 1967 – six years after Barack Obama was born, and only 10 years before my parents were married.

My racial identity may lead many to assume that race was my only reason for voting. For the election of President Obama, it was not. Race was not the only driver in my election decision process, but it was certainly a catalyst in igniting my thirst for participating in the process.

Our multiple identities impact how we all prioritize, and this is why I think there is never an overwhelming consensus on who we elect as a country.

I try to make the most informed decisions possible when casting a vote. Unfortunately, despite the ease of access to information I find it more difficult to understand a politician’s or party’s position on some of the policies that will affect my family and myself the most. Some of the key policies I focus on are socioeconomic impact, human and civil rights, military, and any specific policies that could negatively impact the way in which my family and friends are able to freely enjoy their lives in the United States.

See, I come from a large family of very low socioeconomic status. Through my studies and research, I have seen how policies that attempt to disenfranchise specific groups based on their identities have impacted the socioeconomic disparity and gap between the dominant majority and the minority. While I am no longer living below the poverty line, I remain very conscious to the effect of policies on all people, especially those who are in the most dire socioeconomic conditions.

I acknowledge the impact that government had on creating the income gaps and disparities among various groups of people in our country. However, I don’t support or agree with the notion that issues created by the government over more than two hundred years of policy will be corrected without government intervention. I am of the mindset that we can’t possibly call ourselves the greatest country in the world if we have thousands of people living in third world conditions and turn a blind eye to it.

I also served my country proudly in the military, as did my mother and father. I served in the Air Force active and reserves for eight years as an Arabic linguist, fighting our country’s and the world’s war on terrorism.

I don’t assert to know more than the generals I worked under, but what I do know is that stereotyping an entire religion and ethnicity of over a billion people is very dangerous. It creates a slippery slope that jeopardizes and violates the constitutional rights of all American citizens.

In all, I attempt to allow policy to guide me in my election decisions, but I am human. The personal behavior of candidates, and personal feelings, can impact your willingness to focus on the issues. There has never been one candidate who I have ever aligned with 100% on policy, and personally, I think I am in the majority in saying that. For that reason, I feel we all prioritize policy and personal behavior differently when casting our vote.

Our multiple identities impact how we all prioritize, and that is why I think there is never an overwhelming consensus on who we elect as a country. That is not a bad thing necessarily, as it is our country’s rich diversity and the freedom to express our multiple identities that enables us to be a great country.

Times like this, I think it’s important that we are reminded of that fact.

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