28 September 2008

White Americans And The Politics Of Race: A 4 Part Series


I am approximately six feet tall – a little taller than the average American male, but not tall enough to really tower over a gathering of other adults. Every once in awhile, though, I find myself in a social situation where I am standing on a riser or a step or an incline that lifts me just two or three inches higher than my normal height. From the vantage point that someone six-two or six-three would have, the world looks entirely different. The people look different, as if I am getting to see another angle of who they are. Just that slight shift in my perspective lets me see, at least for a little while, what tall guys see when they look at the rest of us.

This is what is missing from the debate on race and the affect it is having on the presidential election - a comprehensive look at the perspectives of white people, including those who, despite similar political beliefs or party affiliation, are having a problem voting for Barack Obama. The punditocracy gives the topic lip service, jumping from the question of why this is a problem straight to their favorite labels – Soccer Mom, Walmart Mom, NASCAR Dad, Joe Six Pack, Ma and Pa Kettle, Evangelical voters, Values voters, Rural voters, Bubba voters – before spouting off a pat answer that assumes these voters are either in love with the idea of a black president, or ready to kill the first black president. But if black people, as we have been asserting for some time, aren’t monolithic, why should we believe anything different about white Americans?

So I started doing some research, even before the polls started to record the phenomena of white Democrats who could not fathom voting for a black man last week, just to see what COULD be going on with my white brethren. I ran into a very good sources, including one whose findings anchor this series, The Black Rage In The White Mind, by Robert Entman and Andrew Rojecki. Their study categorized white racial thinking in four ways:

    Racial comity and understanding

    Multi-dimensional conceptual thinking – can hold positive and negative views and acknowledge that having varied interests do not make black and white interests mutually exclusive.

    Racial ambivalence

    A complicated combination of assumptions, misinformation, emotional needs, experiences and personality traits that all bear on a white person’s thinking about race. Can sometimes allow him to deny the existence of racism.

    Racial animosity

    Persistent pathological biases that include stereotyping, denial, political rejection, demonization and fearful, angry emotions. Can include the extent to which white people see themselves as having group interests that conflict with those of blacks.


    Believe blacks share such homogeneously negative characteristics that they must be an inferior rank of human against whom discrimination is inevitable and justifiable.

To really have a chance at understanding the origin and motivations of these four different points of view, we’ve got to back up a bit and look at how we process the information we receive. One thing that all of these states of mind have in common are the basic cognitive functions of perception - attention and emotion - which are functions essential to an individual's knowledge of the world and themselves.

Hopefully, this exploration of racial thinking can utilize the traditional building blocks of perception to provide a clearer picture of how white Americans tend to think when they think about race.

Why is this important? Because in these final days of this presidential campaign season, when the "Racial Polarization" game begins in earnest, you will need to remember who the good guys are if you support Barack Obama. Because I've found myself beginning to do what a lot of you might be thinking - railing against white Americans as a group instead of railing against the individuals, black or white, or the organizations who threaten my candidate's chances.

Because in the end, even though black voters will be very important, without the scores of white voters, white volunteers, and white donors, Barack Obama would not have gotten this far.

From The Archives: The Series

Click On The Links Below To Access Each Article

White Racial Thinking In The New Millennium

Can We All Just Get Along Already?: Racial Comity

The Tipping Point: Racial Ambivalence

Afraid Of The Dark: Racial Animosity

Negroes Smell Like Copper: Racist Behavior

1 comment:

  1. Not only are you thinking hard, but you're challenging the rest of us to do the same.


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