Focus Policy Blog


Joint Center at the Black and Brown Forum

Written by: Andrés Macías, Public Policy Fellow

The Iowa caucuses were held earlier this week.  In January, I traveled to Iowa on behalf of the Joint Center to attend the Brown & Black Presidential Candidates Forum, an event geared to the roughly 367,000 African American, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI), and Native American people living in Iowa.

Hosted by Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, this year’s presidential forum featured the three Democratic candidates—Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley. Republican candidates were supposed to hold their own B&B Forum, but their gathering was canceled due to unresolved scheduling conflicts.

Secretary Clinton, Senator Sanders, and Governor O’Malley answered questions about criminal justice, immigration, education, economic development, and health. The myriad of issues associated with these five topics has an extraordinary impact on the lives of the more than 95.7 million African Americans and Latinos living in the United States.

For the most part, the candidates endured each of the blunt, race-related questions with relative ease. They agreed on the need to address gun violence, protect women’s rights, and improve the relationship between communities of color and law enforcement.

Senator Sanders, who described his ideas as “radical,” suggested that by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, the federal government could decriminalize its use and decrease the number of black and Latino men incarcerated.

Governor O’Malley was asked about the lack of diversity in his campaign staff. O’Malley suggested that over 80 percent of his staff is white because he has the smallest team of any of the three presidential candidates.

The most provocative question of the night was directed at Secretary Clinton. The Secretary was asked to define and provide a life or career example in which she has benefited from white privilege. Unfortunately, her longwinded response left many in the audience unsatisfied, as she was unable to provide a concrete example.

As the nation’s oldest nonpartisan minority gathering, the B&B Forum serves as a unique platform to ask presidential candidates those questions rarely heard on the campaign trail. The gathering was especially important in light of similar sociological challenges faced by our communities (e.g., gun violence, mass incarceration, stagnant economic development, gaps in educational achievement, etc.).

As the demographic face of the nation continues to change, however, elected officials must discuss solutions to the array of issues affecting all communities of color. Regrettably, discussion of the issues affecting the AAPI and Native American communities (approximately 23.3 million people nationwide) were overlooked during this forum.

Thanks to Fusion for the invitation and to Wayne Ford and Mary Campos (co-founders of the B&B Forum) for organizing this important dialogue.