Republicans and Race: Perspectives from African American, Asian American, and Hispanic American Politics

Endorsed by the Immigration and Ethnic History Society (IEHS)

Friday, April 16, 2021, 3:00 PM - 3:30 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Politics; Postwar; Race


Scholars are paying increasing attention to the politics of racial minorities, from the rise and fall of interracial civil rights coalitions to the struggle of Black Republicans to shape the GOP. Many questions remain unanswered, especially when comparing Republican approaches to diverse communities of color. How have conservative interpretations of race and ethnicity enabled the participation of some groups while erasing others? What policies have allowed minorities to build and to access political power within the GOP, and to what extent? How have American racial politics transcended national borders, and with what implications for local democratic participation? The papers on this panel examine how the Republican Party has approached African American, Asian American, and Hispanic American voters since the 1960s. Vivian Yan-Gonzalez explores the GOP’s strategic embrace of “ethnicity” as part of its foreign policy platform and its implications for Asian American political incorporation. Geraldo Cadava investigates the transformation of racial politics in the GOP through its turn against immigration and the complex responses of Hispanic Republicans. Finally, Devin Fergus analyzes the 2016 Russian election interference within the long history of racial voter suppression and its implications for an increasingly diverse electorate. By examining the Republican Party’s approach to these diverse communities together, this panel asks what we can learn about the histories of race and conservatism from a comparative perspective.

Papers Presented

“Ethnic Strategy”: Asian Americans, “Nationalities,” and the GOP

This paper examines the political work performed by ethnicity, as contrasted to race, by examining the Republican Party’s approach to whites and Asian Americans in the Cold War context. I argue that Cold War policies in East Asia helped make Chinese Americans a legible constituency to the Republican Party, while making Japanese Americans almost invisible except as a “neutral” minority. From the 1960s to the 1980s, the Republican National Committee attempted to woo various “nationalities” groups by appealing to their concerns with Cold War homeland politics, and by especially prioritizing people descended from “captive nations.” Although Nixon’s and Reagan’s presidential campaigns overwhelmingly targeted white ethnics like Italians and Poles in key swing states, the GOP’s approach also allowed Chinese Americans like Anna Chennault to become well-known ethnic leaders. In contrast, high-profile Japanese American Republicans like S.I. Hayakawa and William Marumoto functioned as “neutral” minorities, without foreign attachments or strong ethnic or racial identities, who could mediate between whites and those who were clearly identified as racial othersblack and brown communities.

Presented By
Vivian Yan-Gonzalez, Stanford University

Hispanic Republican Loyalty, Despite the Republican Party’s Right-Wing Turn

This paper is about is about the Republican Party’s shifting racial politics between the 1970s and the 1990s, when the GOP changed from being the open border, pro-immigration party, to becoming the closed border, anti-immigrant party. This transformation didn’t happen all at once, but it was near complete by the mid-nineties, following the passage of California’s Proposition 187 and the immigration legislation signed by President Bill Clinton, but driven through Congress by Newt Gingrich and other Republicans. I will examine some of the points along the way, including calls for border wall construction beginning in the late 1970s, debates over the Immigration Reform and Control Act (signed in 1986), and the emergence of the nativist Pat Buchanan as a powerful figure within the Republican Party. During George W. Bush’s presidency, it looked like the Republican Party would return to inclusiveness and “compassionate” conservatism, but 9/11 ushered in a new era of xenophobia. The most surprising fact about this transformation is that, throughout, Hispanic Republicans continued to give about a third of their votes to Republican candidates. Their ongoing support stemmed from the loyalty to the party they had developed in earlier decades, as well as their complex feelings about intra-ethnic solidarity and racial identity.

Presented By
Geraldo Luj Cadava, Northwestern University

The 2016 Election and Undoing Pathways to Democracy for Communities of Color

The consensus among the intelligence community, internet research firms, and election experts is that a foreign power interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign, potentially swinging the election to its preferred candidate, Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, and in the process violating U.S. law banning foreign nationals from making certain expenditures or financial disbursements for the purpose of influencing federal elections. Russian cyber interference took the form of various ruses, including hacking Democratic Party emails and attempting to hack state election infrastructures. Yet no Russian tactic to thwart American democracy was more widespread and consequential than the invention of fake racial social media sites and online racial stories by Kremlin-linked operatives. African Americans were particular targets of Russian-linked voter manipulation and dilutionas a result, election and cyber experts have argued that fake news campaigns were a salient factor in the first decline in black voter turnout in the last 20 years. How did Russia do it? What has been the cost to African Americans and other communities of color? How should it be understood historically within the context of other innovative electoral mechanisms, which have had a disparate racial impact by either diluting or suppressing black voter participation? And what are the very real material costs and consequences of these fake news stories in erecting barriers to electoral democracy while simultaneously eroding economic democracy in America, whose significance is informed, in no small measure, by the changing demographics that created the historical moment for the online campaign to sow social discord in the first place?

Presented By
Devin Fergus, University of Missouri

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Mark Robert Brilliant, University of California, Berkeley
Mark Brilliant is an Associate Professor of History and the Director of the Interdisciplinary American Studies Program at the University of California, Berkeley. He taught social studies at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, NY for four years, then went on to complete his Ph.D. in history at Stanford University in 2002. His first book, The Color of America Has Changed: How Racial Diversity Shaped Civil Rights Reform in California, 1941-1978 (2010), won the Cromwell Book Prize from the American Society for Legal History and received honorable mention from the Organization of American Historians for the Frederick Jackson Turner Award. He is currently working on a book tentatively entitled From School Bus to Google Bus: A New Politics, a New Economy, and the Rise of a New Gilded Age, which examines the relationship between the new (post-industrial, high technology) economy and the new (post-New Deal, post-Great Society, bipartisan neoliberal) politics from the late 1960s through the late 1980s and how they contributed to the rise of the New (or Second) Gilded Age, as it would come to be known.

Presenter: Geraldo Luj Cadava, Northwestern University
Geraldo Cadava is an Associate Professor of History and Latinx Studies at Northwestern University. His specializations are Latinx, borderlands, immigration, and American political history. He is the author of two books: Standing on Common Ground: The Making of a Sunbelt Borderland (Harvard, 2013), and The Hispanic Republican: The Shaping of an American Political Identity, from Nixon to Trump (Ecco, 2020). Currently he is working on an international history of Watergate, seen through the lens of the peculiar, longtime friendship between William F. Buckley Jr. and E. Howard Hunt.

Presenter: Devin Fergus, University of Missouri
Devin Fergus is the Arvarh E. Strickland Distinguished Professor of History, Black Studies, and Public Affairs at the University of Missouri. He is the author of Land of the Fee (Oxford, 2018), which examines the impact of four decades of financial deregulation on wealth and mobility, particularly its impact on historically vulnerable populations as well as the middle class in the US. His current research explores the interplay between white-collar crime and the racial wealth gap. He has written widely on policy, political economy, and inequality for the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Guardian. In addition to serving as an editor for the Columbia Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism book series published by Columbia University Press, Professor Fergus has worked with both national policy organizations and federal entities, including the US Treasury, US Department of Education, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. His first book Liberalism, Black Power, and the Making of American Politics (Georgia, 2010) was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title in 2010. In 2021, he has also been appointed a non-residential visiting professor at Northumbria University in Newcastle, UK.

Presenter: Vivian Yan-Gonzalez, Stanford University
Vivian Yan is a doctoral candidate at Stanford University. Her research examines the intersections of liberal and conservative thought, politics, and style in Asian American communities. She is the founder of the Critical Orientations to Race and Ethnicity workshop at the Stanford Humanities Center.