As America’s first black president, Barack Obama’s responses on issues of race—particularly the racial inequities in the country’s criminal-justice system and the killings of unarmed black men by white police officers—has left his critics and allies alike unsatisfied.
Yet even though none of the serious contenders for the 2016 election is black, they will have their own reasons to amp up the conversation on race. Hillary Clinton, who will announce her candidacy this weekend, may campaign as the first female president, but will also rely just as much as Obama did on being seen as the better president for ethnic minorities. Republicans are expected to challenge that narrative, particularly if their nominee is Jeb Bush, who is married to a Mexican woman and “accidentally” listed himself as “Hispanic” on a voter registration form, or Marco Rubio, a lawmaker of Cuban descent who has fought for immigration reform.
It was surprising, then, to watch Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican, who also declared his candidacy this week. Paul has stressed his opposition to laws that disproportionately put minorities in jail. Yet when he happened to be in Charleston, South Carolina on the very day a white policeman shot a black man in the back and was charged with murder, he declined to discuss the issue. And when a reporter from the Guardian tried to pin him down on how his views on criminal justice diverge from the Republican party at large, Paul walked out of the interview.
Other issues will play a bigger part in this election—particularly jobs and health care. But non-white Americans are a growing voting bloc, and will be the majority within decades. Politically charged rhetoric on race won’t end with Obama, but it might bring closer the reforms to immigration, incarceration and education, where black and hispanic Americans are treated the most unequally.—Tim Fernholz
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
Why Vladimir Putin should watch his step. A look at Russian history, writes Nina Khruscheva, suggests that while the president may be trying to avoid an ignominious ouster in the manner of Khruschev and Gorbachev, he might prefer it to the far bloodier fate that has met other Russian leaders.
The fragility of home. Charleston, South Carolina, was simply “home” to Quartz’s Melvin Backman—until it became the place on the news, the place where Walter Scott became the latest unarmed black man to be shot dead by a cop. “That kind of proximity,” Backman writes, “taps you on the shoulder and says, ‘It could have been you.'”
The New York Times’ cat-and-mouse game with China. The newspaper’s English and Chinese-language websites have been mostly blocked in China since 2012, but it’s found more and more ways to reach its readers nonetheless. Heather Timmons reveals details of its subtle, surreptitious battle with the censors.
The US is bungling its biggest diplomatic challenge. Not the nuclear agreement with Iran, explains Tim Fernholz, but a more complicated, less sexy, and possibly far more important matter of trade agreements and international financial institutions, in which Washington’s political bickering is allowing China to outmaneuver the US.
Bangkok’s energy-profligate shopping malls. Some of them consume as much electrical power as entire provinces of the country, explains Adam Pasick, in a look at the sometimes absurd gaps that can result from breakneck economic development.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
The radical vision of Toni Morrison. Rachel Kaadzi Gansah in the New York Times magazine explains what makes the 84-year-old Nobel laureate so singular in an American publishing industry still overwhelmingly dominated by white editors: that rather than try to portray black life for non-black readers, ”she is an author who writes to tease and complicate her world, not to convince others it is valid.”
The rise of Xi Jinping, “China’s most authoritarian leader since Mao.” China’s president was born into a powerful family, but that never meant success was guaranteed. Evan Osnos in the New Yorker tells the story of Xi’s circuitous journey from a reeducation camp to the very top of the Communist Party.
On memes and our minds. What we call a “meme” today—funny cat videos, angry baby pictures—is far from its original meaning as an idea that evolves and replicates like a gene. But does that mean that the idea of the meme is itself a meme that has simply evolved? Abby Rabinowitz in Nautilus explores the troubling question of how ideas take over our minds to engineer their own survival.
The assistant economy. The overworked personal assistant to the martinet creative genius is a character type with its own literary genre. Francesca Mari in Dissent tracks the assistant’s hopeful, tragic trajectory from recruitment to advancement to the inevitable dropping out in search of a real career.
Oliver Sacks examines his liver. The effects of a novel treatment for his terminal cancer spur the famous neurologist to a reflection, in the New York Review of Books, on the remarkable ability of physical symptoms to affect someone’s personality and mental state. As always with Sacks, it’s lyrical, precise, and draws deep and simple truths out of the seemingly mundane.
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