Mark Halperin: Racism Now Extended to Political Interviews

Political candidates for the 2016 presidential election are no longer the only ones making headlines now, they are joined by the ones interviewing them.

An interview that occurred on April 30 has only now received media attention after an opinion piece, written by Hispanic journalist Ruben Navarrette, was featured in the Mercury News.

Last month, Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin interviewed Sen. Ted Cruz, who identifies as Cuban. Halperin’s questions raised eyebrows from the very beginning: “Your last name is Cruz and you’re from Texas. Just based on that, should you have appeal to Hispanic voters” But this was only the beginning.

Halperin went on to question Cruz about his Cuban heritage, which Cruz took as an opportunity to proudly share stories of his family and his father’s struggles coming from Cuba to the United States with no money to his name.

However, the interview quickly went from inquisitive to offensive.

Halperin proceeded to ask, “When you filled out your application to Princeton, to Harvard law school, did you list yourself as [a] Hispanic” When Cruz enthusiastically responded that he had, Halperin immediately fired back with more personal questions, asking, “[do] you have an affinity for or connection to anything part of your Cuban past, you got a favorite Cuban food” As Cruz began to once again reply in the affirmative, Halperin quickly interrupted to ask what food specifically Cruz preferred. This line of questioning continued when Halperin asked about Cruz’s preference in Cuban music.

In possibly the most offensive portion of the interview, Halperin asked Cruz to speak “en Espaol.” Cruz politely declined, jokingly referring to Halperin as “seor” in a possible attempt to bring humor to the clearly uncomfortable situation.

Halperin’s manner of questioning implies that Cruz must, in a sense, prove his Cuban heritage to America. If he cannot speak Spanish on the spot or name a Cuban singer on command, perhaps he does not deserve the vote of America’s Hispanic population. This also puts undue pressure on Hispanic voters: is Cruz Cuban enough to deserve their vote

Navarrette’s opinion piece gives unique insight into how he, both as a journalist and a Hispanic, felt after watching the interview:

As a journalist, I felt embarrassed for Halperin. As a Hispanic, I felt like I was watching a college fraternity have fun with racial stereotypes, like when staging a “border party” where people show up in serapes and fake mustaches. And as someone who doesn’t adhere to a party line to the point where I’ve been accused of being a “coconut” (white on the inside, brown on the outside), I was furious enough to — as Sarah Palin once said approvingly about Cruz — chew barbed wire and spit out rust.

Navarrette’s description is accurate. Rather than focus on Cruz’s presidential campaign, Halperin only showed interest in Cruz as a Hispanic not a political figure. This in itself would be considered inappropriate even without Halperin’s added quiz on Cuban food and music.

All voters may likely be interested in Cruz’s heritage. However, “how Cuban” Cruz is or his taste in music does not define who he is as a politician. All candidates should expect to answer questions about the issues and their positions on them, not be railroaded with rude questions about the “validity” of their ethnicity.

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