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History and Politics

Professor Nita Wiggins on the Black Vote and US Elections

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On Wednesday, October 21, 2020, AUP’s Black and Abroad club – a student-led organization working to educate, represent and advocate for Black students on campus – hosted, in partnership with the Office of the President, an online discussion on the importance of Black voters to the upcoming US elections and the struggles Black Americans have experienced and continue to experience when exercising their democratic rights. Professor Nita Wiggins from L’Ecole Supérieur de Journalisme de Paris was invited to be guest-speaker.

Wiggins is an award-winning American TV journalist and the author of Civil Rights Baby: My Story of Race, Sports, and Breaking Barriers in American Journalism. Her talk addressed both the historical and present-day challenges facing Black voters in the US. Wiggins began her talk with a quote from Rosa Parks, spoken during a 1988 TV interview that Wiggins conducted with the famous civil rights activist: “I hope that all of you here, as you become voting age, will reflect on the price that many of us — many who are not living today — had to pay just to be registered voters.” Wiggins laid out some of the many hurdles Parks faced when attempting to vote, including discriminatory literacy tests and unprecedented demands for back taxes from Black voters. She compared such policies to present-day laws either preventing formerly incarcerated voters from casting a ballot or making their democratic participation contingent on legal fee repayments.

Next, she discussed health care – another key issue impacting the democratic participation of people of color. “It’s not sensational or sexy to talk about prescriptions and payments,” she says. “But health care is a crucial racial dividing line.” Wiggins told the story of Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first Black woman to earn a medical degree in the US. In the 1860s, Crumpler proposed a federal health plan for America – yet the debate about universal health care provision still continues today. Wiggins noted that these issues are particular pressing given the Covid-19 pandemic, which has claimed the lives of people of color at a disproportionately high rate.

Wiggins concluded by reemphasizing the importance of exercising one’s democratic rights: “Following Mrs. Parks advice, I always vote – even when it is difficult, inconvenient and expensive.” She reminded attendees that these issues need attention beyond election day, and that they also affect many other minority groups. She highlighted the work of organizations such as APIAVote, who work to increase civic engagement among marginalized groups – in APIAVote’s case, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Following Wiggins’ talk, attending staff, students and faculty contributed questions and shared their own voting experiences. One key topic covered was the importance of voter education. “This was my first time voting and I was so confused,” says A’mari Bing-Way, founder of Black and Abroad and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Communications Intern for President Celeste M. Schenck. “There’s so many options on how to vote, and as well as the presidency there are local elections that affect your day-to-day life. There needs to be a class: it’s like a test, and you didn’t give me time to study!”

To find out more about Professor Wiggins work, you can follow her on Instagram @MsNitaWiggins or visit her website. A recording of the full discussion is available in the video below.