Center to Study Race and Democracy Opening at Arizona State University

Posted By Mike Padgett

March 22, 2011


TEMPE, Ariz. – It’s been a long time since Arizona had a good inning.

Which is why a new organization at Arizona State University, the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, is a positive sign in the state’s decades of economic and political struggles.

The 1970s saw Arizona shamed with land fraud scams, complete with the murder of an accountant in a Phoenix parking garage the day before he was to offer critical information to a grand jury.

In the 1980s and the 1990s, Arizona became saddled with a real estate crash and a savings and loan scandal.

In the first few years after 2000, a new real estate thriller began. Property values started sliding, thanks to overbuilding, bulk buying by a variety of speculators, and “liar’s loans” perpetuated by greedy borrowers coached by unethical loan officers.

Today, some of this state’s leaders are pushing new anti-immigration laws that critics say are the responsibility of the federal government.

Other measures promoted by some of the same lawmakers could have negative effects on education and medical care for low-income families. Collectively, these groups lack political clout, which makes them safe targets in a quest to balance the state’s foundering budget.

Arizona’s struggles with its complicated economic and political histories are why I’m optimistic about the appearance of the new Center at ASU.

I attended the March 21 launching of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at ASU’s Lattie F. Coor Hall. I was early, so I had the opportunity to meet Matthew Whitaker, the Center’s founding director and an associate professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

Whitaker said the Center’s role is to study, expand and redefine our notions of race and participatory democracy.

In his opening remarks, Whitaker said, “Race has played a critical role, directly and indirectly, in our daily lives, particularly of late. Seemingly every day, there’s a different news story that on the surface may be about immigration. It may be about education. It may be about health care. But these topics are involved with racial overtones.”

Arizona’s reputation “with regard to race and participatory democracy has been battered and bruised,” Whitaker said.

Whitaker’s guest speaker at the Center’s opening was Arizona Congressman Ed Pastor, who told the audience of about 50 that because of today’s political tensions rooted in immigration issues, the Center “now more than ever is needed today.”

Pastor shared with the audience comments President Barack Obama said on the campaign trail several years ago.

“President Obama, when he was a candidate, said, ‘We all come with different stories, but we all have common hope,” Pastor said. “Here today, we all have different stories but here we are with one idea, one belief of common hope.”

“We all have different stories, but we have this common goal, this common hope to have a better life,” Pastor said.

The Center is sponsoring a conference March 24-25, called “Barack Obama and American Democracy.”

For more information about the Center’s upcoming conference, visit

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Mar 22nd, 2011

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