And While We’re On The Subject of Race…

Fabio Rojas has this visual to share comparing voting intents for Obama between 2008 and 2012:

Rojas argues that Obama could well lose the popular vote but it would be mostly because of the South, concluding:

“You’ll hear all kinds of post-hoc explanations of the election outcome in November. But they’re probably wrong unless they start with the fact that the South really, really, really hates Obama more than the rest of the country for some inexplicable reason.”

That is a bit snide, though, no? Yes, this would fit the rise in prejudiced thinking that I was blogging about this morning but I still have questions though that this visual does not answer.

1. Yes, obviously, the change between 2008 and 2012 is clear. However, was 2008 unusual and could 2012 not be a return to “normal” for the South? After all, Democratic presidential candidates have had issues with southern votes ever since the late 60s. In that case, it would not be so much that the South really, really, really, dislikes Obama in 2012 but that they disliked the Democratic candidate less than usual in 2008.

2. Is it fair to jump to the conclusion that Rojas jumps to right away? Might any other factor be involved beyond race?

3. How to explain the not-as-dramatic but still significant drop in the East? (Which goes back to my possible “the South was unusual in 2008″ above)

4. From what voter demographic comes the drop? Is it all white? If the 2008 turnout for African Americans was higher than usual, is there some African Americans drop in voting intention? In which case, it might be less a case of hate than disillusion.

Personally, I like my #1 best. I remember, a few years back, witnessing a lot of discussion from the Democratic side of the spectrum arguing in favor of whistling past Dixie precisely because the South seemed like an impossible nut to crack, but the 2008 election was unusual. Having the graph limited to 2 date points does not clarify that.

The Social Construction of Race

On the one hand, there is this:

“There’s never been good reason to believe that human beings are naturally racist. After all, in the environment of human evolution–which didn’t feature, for example, jet travel to other continents–there would have been virtually no encounters between groups that had different skin colors or other conspicuous physical differences. So it’s not as if the human lineage could have plausibly developed, by evolutionary adaptation, an instinctive reaction to members of different races.

Nonetheless, people who want to argue that racism is natural have tried to buttress their position with evidence that racism is in some sense biological. For example: studies have found that when whites see black faces there is increased activity in the amygdala, a brain structure associated with emotion and, specifically, with the detection of threats.

Well, whatever power that kind of argument ever had–which wasn’t much, since the fact that a psychological reaction has a biological correlate doesn’t tell you whether the reaction is innate–it has even less power now. In a paper that will be published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Eva Telzer of UCLA and three other researchers report that they’ve performed these amygdala studies–which had previously been done on adults–on children. And they found something interesting: the racial sensitivity of the amygdala doesn’t kick in until around age 14.

What’s more: once it kicks in, it doesn’t kick in equally for everybody. The more racially diverse your peer group, the less strong the amygdala effect. At really high levels of diversity, the effect disappeared entirely. The authors of the study write that ”these findings suggest that neural biases to race are not innate and that race is a social construction, learned over time.”

There’s a reason the previous sentence says “suggest” and not “prove.” As the authors note, it’s conceivable that “the increasing amygdala response to race [with age] may be driven by intrinsic factors of the child, such as puberty, rather than exposure to cultural messages.” For that matter, the correlation between peer group diversity and dampened amygdala response doesn’t mean the former causes the latter; it could work the other way around: maybe people with a mild response to racial difference wind up with more diverse peers.

But all of this is almost beside the point anyway, because there have always been plenty of reasons to believe that the amygdala response doesn’t reflect an instinctive aversion to the racial “other.” For example: The amygdala’s response to African-American faces had been observed not just in European-American adults but in African-American adults–who aren’t, in this case, the “other.” Apparently whatever cultural information was inculcating a particular response to blacks in whites was having a similar effect in blacks.”

And on the other hand, I am currently reading Laurent Dubois‘s excellent (so far!) Haiti: The Aftershocks of History and it contains this:

“In newly independent Haiti, these protected whites became Haitian citizens, and several of them even ended up serving in high-ranking military positions under the new regime. Officially, they also stopped being white: in his 1805 constitution, Dessalines decreed that all Haitians would “henceforth only be known generically as blacks.” In so doing, he made blackness not so much an issue of color as of allegiance to the project of freedom and independence. The same constitution, however, made it clear that while some approved whites could become part of Haitian society, new ones would face severe restrictions: “No white man, regardless of nationality, may set foot in this territory as a master or landowner, nor will he ever be able to acquire any property.” In a country where most of the population had once been the literal property of whites, this stipulation—maintained almost without exception until the U.S. occupation of the country in the early twentieth century—was meant as a shield against the return of the past.” (42)

There is nothing essential about race, folks. The essentialization of race comes as a product of culture, society and power.

We Can Now Officially Bury The Stupid “Post-Racial” Meme (Along with The !@#$ Post-Truth Meme)

So, this:

“Racial prejudice in America is more widespread now than when President Barack Obama became the country’s first black president in a historic 2008 vote, a new survey has shown.

In a poll of racial attitudes by the Associated Press news agency, researchers found that more Americans have attitudes that are both implicit and explicitly racist than when the same survey was conducted four years ago.

The news comes as Obama is deadlocked in a tight race for re-election against Republican challenger Mitt Romney and surveys have shown strong support for Obama among minorities while white voters favour Romney.

In all, 51% of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48% four years ago, the study showed.

When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56%, up from 49% during the last presidential election.


A majority of Americans expressed anti-Hispanic sentiments, too.

In an AP survey done in 2011, 52% of non-Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes. That figure had risen to 57% in the implicit test in 2012.”

We know that bad economies tend to increase racial prejudice against minorities from the dominant group (see: Greece, Golden Dawn) but in the case of the US, that is not the whole story. When looking for further explanations, this is what the article had to say:

“Though race has not been played an especially high profile in the election campaign so far America, like many societies, still struggles with racism.

During his four years in office Obama has repeatedly had to contend with untrue rumours that he is a Muslim or was not born in America – a phenomenon of fear of “the other” that some link to his being a black American.”

Wow. And that’s it. Who spread these rumors? Apparently, the Guardian has no idea and did not investigate. It was not just “untrue rumours”, it has been a non-stop barrage of racist bile carefully organized and structured, and cheer-led by right-wing media, steadily, for the past four years. And this torrent of racism has completely been part of the election campaign. It takes a solid amount of denial (maybe thought to be moderate, “objective” writing) to ignore all that.

From the creation of the Tea party, which was never a grassroot enterprise, to the Glenn Beck rallies, to the first posters of Obama as witch doctor (with bone across the nose) to Obama as The Joker, to death panel, to feature films, the right-wing, left moribund after the 2008 election, found its second life by tapping directly and explicitly into racist rhetoric, hiding behind the ironic justification that having a black president meant racism was no longer an issue in the US.

The story that needs to be told is that, not the “neutral” report of statistics showing an increase in racist views. Racism never went away, it just go bolder, better funded and promoted (the Tea Party is a Koch Brothers production, promoted by Fox News).

But the figures in the study should not let us forget the never-disappearing damage done by institutional racism, more invisible but just as devastating:

“Authorities in east Mississippi run a “school-to-prison pipeline” that locks up students for infractions like flatulence or wearing the wrong color socks, a policy that mainly affects black and disabled children, the U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday in a federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Jackson says officials in the city of Meridian and Lauderdale County have policies that allow students to be arrested and shipped 80 miles to a juvenile detention center without probable cause or legal representation.


The school district has about 6,000 students, with 86 percent being black and 12 percent being white. From 2006 to the first semester of the 2009-2010 school year, all the students referred to law enforcement or expelled were black and 96 percent of those suspended were black, the lawsuit said.”

Racism in the US is a deep, entrenched and multi-layered phenomenon. The increase in individual racism has social roots, be they historical and institutional racism, or as manufactured and funded phenomenon that benefit certain powerful segment of the population.

Also see my comrade-in-cranky-sociology Todd Krohn on this.