Troubling rise in racist views in the US

A new Associated Press poll finds a disturbing rise in anti-black sentiment in the US over the last four years.

In all, 51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election.

The poll finds that racial prejudice is not limited to one group of partisans. Although Republicans were more likely than Democrats to express racial prejudice in the questions measuring explicit racism (79 percent among Republicans compared with 32 percent among Democrats), the implicit test found little difference between the two parties. That test showed a majority of both Democrats and Republicans held anti-black feelings (55 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans), as did about half of political independents (49 percent).

Andra Gillespie, an Emory University political scientist who studies race-neutrality among black politicians, contrasted the situation to that faced by the first black mayors elected in major U.S. cities, the closest parallel to Obama’s first-black situation. Those mayors, she said, typically won about 20 percent of the white vote in their first races, but when seeking reelection they enjoyed greater white support presumably because “the whites who stayed in the cities … became more comfortable with a black executive.”

“President Obama’s election clearly didn’t change those who appear to be sort of hard-wired folks with racial resentment,” she said.

I suspect that the extreme rhetoric used by those to discredit Obama, to portray him as the ‘undeserving other’, has something to do with this rise, coupled with the attacks on the 47% and the ‘food stamp’ dog whistles. If he is re-elected and thus becomes ineligible to run again, I wonder if the rhetoric will die down or if the racism has become so pervasive that it will continue. I suspect the latter. After all, the right hated Bill Clinton with a passion too (even though he was, like Obama, a center-right politician) and the moves to impeach him came during his second term.


  1. Alverant says

    Honestly I’m less worried about trumped up impeachment charges as I am about rioting, assassination attempts, and his position being ignored.

  2. smrnda says

    I think to some extent, there is another element to racism, which is that the most racist white people are probably feeling as if they can no longer count on other white people to present a unified racist front. Their racism intensifies once they feel like it is no longer popular, and with right wing figures talking about how political correctness is ‘silencing’ them, they can see themselves as underdogs rather than as people with privilege upholding the status quo.

  3. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    I have my doubts about the “implicit” racism test. It’s called “experimental” and I don’t know how they developed it. Perhaps any unfamiliar face or object affects the test results. Did they test kittens, puppies and squid?

    Explicit – since Obama was elected, many formerly subdued racists have “come out of the closet”.

  4. AsqJames says

    Not that I doubt the concerted and consistent dog-whistling and otherisation of Obama has had some effect, but I think racism (and other forms of scapegoating) are always likely to rise in tough economic times. In 2008 the full effects of the financial collapse were not yet really felt by most people, and many who were affected at that time probably thought (or hoped) that things would improve more quickly than they since have.

    So even if we accept the findings are an accurate representation of the prevalence of racist attitudes, I don’t think we can say how much is due to having a black president (and the attacks against him) and how much is down to other factors.

  5. Dunc says

    Tsu Dho Nimh – implicit attitudes tests are a very well established part of the toolkit of modern psychology, and have been thoroughly validated in a wide range of areas. You can rest assured that the people who have spent decades developing these tools have already dealt with all of the obvious issues which might occur to a layman after a few minutes thought – and all of the non-obvious issues anybody’s been able to come up with too.

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