The Political Uses of Race and Ethnicity: Ethno-Racial References in the 2014 Toronto and 2015 Chicago Municipal Elections

This paper examines references to race and ethnicity in 791 campaign flyers, brochures, door hangers, and direct mail pieces that 227 candidates for city council distributed during the 2014 Toronto and 2015 Chicago municipal elections. The findings pinpoint electoral campaigning as a major source of ethno-racial meaning. Candidates engaged race and ethnicity in five ways. They invoked ethno-racial stratification or cultural symbols and practices, cited endorsements from ethno-racial leaders and organizations, used heritage languages, and visually represented members of ethno- racial groups. The use of these references in Chicago and Toronto was consistent with the cities’ reputations, and the paper illuminates how these reputations are produced and reproduced. Black and Latino candidates in Chicago primarily mobilized perceptions of exclusion, discrimination, and conflict to promise political leadership in fighting these injustices. In Toronto, candidates of all backgrounds portrayed immigrant ethnicities as a valued source of culture and symbolically included these groups in the political process. Implications for the study of ethno-racial politics, the “race and place” literature, and the political incorporation of immigrants are discussed.

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