What Would a Black Debate Moderator Ask?

Gwen Ifill moderates the 2008vice presidential debate. (Getty Images)
Gwen Ifill moderates the 2008vice presidential debate. (Getty Images)

(The Root) — When it was recently announced that there would be female moderators at a presidential debate for the first time in two decades, many women cheered. But that cheering was short-lived among many women of color. The reason? Because while this year's presidential debates represent a giant step forward for women in terms of diversity, they represent a step back for people of color.


Four years ago, PBS host Gwen Ifill moderated the vice-presidential debate. This year, not a single journalist of color has been tapped to moderate any of the general election's scheduled debates. Some may ask why the race or gender of debate moderators matters, but we already saw, earlier this year, an example of why it does.

Though there were many forgettable moments during the Republican primary debates, one of the most memorable and controversial came courtesy of Fox News contributor Juan Williams. Williams, who is black, challenged former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich on his comments labeling President Obama "the food stamp president." More specifically, Williams asked Gingrich about criticisms that his comments were racially insensitive. Williams was booed, making the exchange one of the most newsworthy of the night.

Yes, it's possible that someone who is not black could have asked the question, but it's also possible that the subject of racial insensitivity might not have crossed his or her mind, or at least not in a substantive way. With that in mind, below is a list of some of the most important issues facing black Americans, issues that we are unlikely to ever hear mentioned in a presidential debate, as long as those doing the asking do not reflect the diversity of our country.

1. Racial Profiling

Though Americans remain divided on just how the Trayvon Martin tragedy unfolded, most have come to terms with the fact that profiling played some role in the events that transpired that night. Hoodies became a national symbol for the thousands of black men who are unjustly followed, stopped, frisked, searched and demeaned on a daily basis because of the color of their skin.

A national conversation about profiling and the policies that encourage it (such as New York's aggressive stop-and-frisk program) was long overdue, but the Trayvon Martin tragedy finally forced it to happen. Sadly, it's a conversation that we are unlikely to hear continued at a presidential debate, particularly with no people of color to steer the conversation there.

2. Gun Violence

This is an issue that is certainly not limited to the black community, but it does disproportionately affect our community. It can be hard to tell this, however, because of the disproportionate media coverage that gun tragedies affecting nonurban, nonblack communities receive. Though it is likely that the presidential debates will include a question on gun control, the question will likely invoke the recent tragedy in Colorado and focus on an issue such as an assault-weapon ban, not on the fact that gun violence remains a leading cause of death for young black men or on ways we can change that.



AIDS remains a leading cause of death of young black women, and rates are rapidly increasing among young black men who sleep with men. Yet while a great deal of time will likely be spent during the presidential debate discussing health care reform, it is unlikely that much time, if any, will be spent on the health crises facing the black community, with AIDS being at the top of the list.


Keli Goff is The Root's political correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter