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Speaker to discuss politics, race and performance Thursday at WMU

Stanford University

A Stanford University Drama Professor will speak Thursday night at Western Michigan University. Harry Elam Jr. is also a Vice-Provost at the school in Palo Alto, California. He will speak at the Richmond Center Thursday night at 6:00. His address is part of the university’s events to honor Martin Luther King and also part of the Center for Humanities Power and Publics speaker series. 

Elam says politicians use performance in front of an audience and for mass-media. Since performance is about doing, he says race can also be enacted. The question Elam says is how does the spectacle and performance of race play out? He says race and performance shape how President Obama has been portrayed.

President Obama’s political rise and how we view race is complicated, according to Elam. He says the idea that we’ve become “post racial” since we elected a Black President doesn’t hold water. Elam says electing and re-electing the nation’s first Africa-American President has not made racial issues disappear. He says the vote in the last election showed that race still does matter. Elam says race is a factor in issues such as higher education, employment, income inequality. But he says the subject has changed, and younger people view race differently in part because of President Obama.

Extended interview with Harry Elam Jr.

Elam acknowledges that there has been progress on race, but he says the breakdown of last year’s vote shows that the President lost white men but won other ethnic groups. Elam says that shows divisions across race even though President Obama rarely discusses race in public statements or speeches. But Elam says the President still represents race to many people even though he has not talked about it very often in public statements.

As a drama professor, Elam watches for the stagecraft used in campaigns and debates. He says politics is great theater because it shows how power is played out in so many ways. Elam says in addition to what the campaigns try to show audiences bring their own baggage into any performance so political views also shape how a performance is perceived.

Gordon Evans became WMUK's Content Director in 2019 after more than 20 years as an anchor, host and reporter. A 1990 graduate of Michigan State, he began work at WMUK in 1996.