Racism Review: Seeing Racial Bias: Barry Dunham vs. Barack Obama

Racism Review

Seeing Racial Bias: Barry Dunham vs. Barack Obama

new studysuggests that names significantly change our perception of a person’s face and their racial identity.

Indeed, if Barack Obama had taken his mother’s last name, Dunham, and used the first name common in his earlier in life, Barry, people today might have a very different perception of him.   The study, called “Barack Obama or Barry Dunham?” and conducted by researchers at the University of New South Wales, set out to test the hypothesis that the presence of racially-suggestive names would influence participants’ perception of identical multiracial faces (image from here) .

Participants were shown a face and name for 3 seconds, then asked to rate the appearance of the face on a 9-point scale, where 1=”very Asian-looking” and 9=”very European-looking.”   The researchers found that the study participants rated multi-racial faces with European names as looking significantly “more European” than exactly the same faces when given Asian names.  In an interview, one of the researchers, Kirin Hilliar a UNSW PhD student, summarizes the study’s significance this way:

“The study reveals how socially derived expectations and stereotypes can influence face perception.  The result is consistent with other research findings suggesting that once people categorize a face into a racial group, they look for features consistent with that categorization.”

Nashville Post Politics: White Like Thee

Nashville Post Politics

White Like Thee

White voters respond differently to Barack Obama depending on where they reside:

Obama is outperforming any Democrat back to Jimmy Carter among white voters, getting 45 percent to McCain’s 52 percent. But in the South, it is a very different story. Obama fares worse among Southern whites than any Democrat since George McGovern in 1972.

Whites in the East and West tilt narrowly toward Obama (he’s up 8 and 7 points, respectively), and the two run about evenly among those in the Midwest. By contrast, Southern whites break more than 2 to 1 for McCain, 65 percent to 32 percent.

That stark divide is not simply a partisan difference. While white Democrats outside the South give Obama margins of 80 points or more, he leads by a more modest 65 points among white Southern Democrats. The Democrat is up 55 points among liberal whites in the region, far under his performance among those voters elsewhere, where he is up by 79 points.

Racism Review: Dynamic News: Whites Supporting Obama in Record Breaking Numbers

Racism Review

Dynamic News: Whites Supporting Obama in Record Breaking Numbers

A recent story onPolitico.com finds that Barack Obama is “poised to win the largest share of white voters of any Democrat in more than three decades.”The article reports that 44% of whites are supporting Obama. This means that Obama is poised to get more white voters than Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry—every white Democratic candidate except for Jimmy Carter, who had support from 47% of whites (image from Mr. Jincks).

I am profoundly encouraged by the number of whites who have been able to move far enough past white racial framing that says that Blacks are lazy, inferior, unqualified, etc. to vote for a black candidate, and would be enormously pleased if these numbers reflect Politico’s expectations on Nov. 4. If we keep going and continue rejecting white racist framing and begin dismantling the institutionalized racism that perpetuates unequal opportunity, think of what kind of country we could have. Whether it will happen or not is still to be determined, and America has an unfortunate history of following progress with regression. But for the time being, I’m hopeful that broad white support for a black man might be the kind of change we can believe in.

Michigan Messenger: Nate Silver: Bradley effect won’t hurt Obama

Michigan Messenger

Nate Silver: Bradley effect won’t hurt Obama

Nate Silver, the Michigan native who has effectively brought serious analysis of polling into the media in the current campaign, has an interesting article at Newsweek debunking the so-called Bradley effect.

The Bradley effect has received much attention over the last few months. It’s named for Tom Bradley, the former mayor of Los Angeles who lost a bid to become the governor of California after the polls showed him with a substantial lead. This led political scientists to surmise that white voters who would not vote for a black man were unwilling to say that to a pollster, thus skewing the pre-election poll results. Many observers have wondered whether that pattern would repeat itself this year.

Silver cites a study by Daniel Hopkins of Harvard, who studied campaigns involving African-American candidates from the 80s to the present day, comparing the results to the pre-election polls. That study found that while such an effect may have existed in the 80s and early 90s, more recent campaigns involving African-American candidates like Deval Patrick and Harold Ford showed no evidence of such a phenomenon. Then he points out that the Bradley effect did not show up during the Democratic primaries:

Then there are this year’s primaries. Everyone remembers New Hampshire, when nearly all polls predicted a big win for Obama, but Hillary Clinton emerged victorious. That was a bad day for the pollsters–and for Obama, who underperformed the Pollster.com composite average by 9 points. (Still, it is not clear that there was evidence of the Bradley effect at work here. Contributing factors to Obama’s loss may have included his “nice enough” comment, Senator Clinton’s teary moment in the diner–and a simultaneous GOP primary, which allowed McCain to pick off some Obama voters who thought their guy was safely ahead.) What fewer remember is what happened two weeks later in South Carolina. In that case, the Pollster projection had Obama winning by 15 points–but he won by 29. That 14-point error was actually of greater magnitude than the mistake in New Hampshire, if less noticeable because the polls hadn’t picked the wrong horse.

Comment from Left Field: Two Dog Whistles (UPDATE)

Comment from Left Field

Two Dog Whistles (UPDATE)

I say all of this because through the course of the day I let two potentially racial dog whistles blow right past me and I didn’t even notice.  From someone who claims to be hyper-sensitive to this kind of thing, I was a little ashamed.

The first is that of “socialism”.  If you’re going, “huh?” right now, don’t fret, I was also not too terribly long ago.  There’s no denying the fact that the latest and greatest tactic from the McCain campaign has to paint Obama as a socialist, or that he is prescribing socialism for this country, or that if he is elected we will ultimately become a socialist country.

I’ve never really thought much about this whole tactic in racial terms.  This seemed to me to be the usage of two different mechanisms at once; neither of which having much to do directly with race.  On one hand, it drudges up the old cold war anxieties that continue to plague this nation on all things socialist and communist.  As I’ve discussed with at least one old friend in the past (who will for now remain nameless), despite the belief outside of this country that socialism in some form or another is acceptable, inside this country due to lingering cold war apprehensions, generations will come and go before any kind of meaningful socialism movement could take root here in earnest (caveats: I am myself a capitalist, and there is the possibility that the current economic crisis could hasten socialisms progress towards acceptability in this country).

But as I would come to find out, the label, “socialist” actually does have a more direct racial implication.

J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972, used the term liberally to describe African Americans who spent their lives fighting for equality.

Those freedom fighters included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who led the Civil Rights Movement; W.E.B. Du Bois, who in 1909 helped found the NAACP which is still the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization; Paul Robeson, a famous singer, actor and political activist who in the 1930s became involved in national and international movements for better labor relations, peace and racial justice; and A. Philip Randolph, who founded and was the longtime head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and a leading advocate for civil rights for African Americans.

Now this is direct historical context that takes my second approach to the socialist label, the indirect racial relation to otherize Obama, and sort of flips the concept on its head.  It’s been done directly in the past specifically in a racial context.

Still, I am initially unwilling to go as far as the author of the post excerpted above in condemning the usage of the label as a definitive dog whistle on the merits of his historical argument alone.  After all, if I didn’t know that socialism could be a racial dog whistle until today, then there are going to be plenty of people out there that still don’t know.

But there is a crack in this wall of logic that begins with one aspect of the Republican ticket, namely that while I’m not old enough to have personally experienced this specific dog whistle, McCain is.  I’m still not completely sold at this point in the argument, but there is a far greater probability for McCain to understand the full context than there is for me.

What makes this a credible candidate as an honest to goodness racial dog whistle is that it ends up dovetailing with another term that has been used an awful lot on the trail, “welfare.”

Now, I really am ashamed at not having my racist alarm going off once the McCain camp started dialing up the welfare rhetoric specifically because I know that welfare is a racial dog whistle.  It’s used stereotypically, for instance in the term “Welfare Queen,” just as that stereotype can be used to generate racial tension among white people who feel that these so-called welfare queens are leaches on hard working taxpayers.

The message that this sends to voters for whom race will play a larger factor is also pretty easy to pick up on: You think black people are getting a free ride now?  Just wait until they elect a black president.

But to see how these two dog whistles work in concert, I’m going to turn things over to Rachel Maddow who shows how “socialist” and “welfare” dovetail with a possible attempt to manually instigate a Bradley Effect.

(ed note: I’m having a difficult time getting the player to run properly, so please go watch the video here)

Democratic Strategist: Whither the Bradley Effect?

Democratic Strategist

Whither the Bradley Effect?

Some nervous Democrats, watching as Barack Obama’s lead in the polls slowly grows, may be concerned that a lead of five points or so may not be enough, thanks to the notorious “Bradley Effect”–the phenomenon, named for Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley’s losing gubernatorial campaign in 1982, whereby white voters lie to pollsters about their willingness to vote for an African-American candidate.

They should probably relax. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, who’s long argued that the Bradley Effect seems to have expired in recent years, offers a recapitulation of his arguments (nowreinforced by Bradley’s own pollster from 1982), along with speculation about why this has happened.

All along, Silver’s argument has been very simply that during the primary season, Barack Obama generally outperformed his poll standings, which shouldn’t have happened if the Bradley Effect was operating. In retrospect, it’s clear that much of the talk about the Bradley Effect was spurred by the one primary state, New Hampshire, where Obama narrowly lost despite pollster predictions that he was ahead. Absent any fresh evidence–and the ability of pollsters to “push” respondents for honest answers should have produced some by now if it existed–it’s time for Democrats to stop worrying that racist voters will revert to type in the privacy of the voting booth. Racism, of course, still exists, and may be hurting Obama, but not in the sort of secretive, poll-refuting manner that is suggested by the Bradley Effect. As Silver points out, there are plenty of more socially acceptable reasons voters could offer for deciding to vote against Barack Obama, no matter what’s actually going on in their hearts and minds.

Talking Points Memo: Fox Poll: Nearly Two-Thirds Say Ayers Makes No Difference To Their Vote

Talking Points Memo

Fox Poll: Nearly Two-Thirds Say Ayers Makes No Difference To Their Vote

These numbers, buried in the internals of a new Fox News poll out today, are the first time a national poll has tried to gauge the impact of Barack Obama’s association with William Ayers. And the numbers are pretty bad for McCain:

Strikingly, the numbers are worse for McCain among independents: Only 29% say the Ayers association makes them less likely to vote for Obama, and more than twice as many — 64% — say it makes no difference. The data suggests that the vast majority of the respondents saying it makes them less likely to vote for Obama are Republicans, who probably wouldn’t have supported him anyway.

There has been some discussion of Barack Obama’s relationship with the former radical activist William Ayers. Because Ayers is linked to plots to bomb the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol in the 1970s, and because Ayres recently said he wished he had done more, some people say Obama’s association with Ayers calls into question his judgment. Does Obama’s connection with Ayers make you less likely to vote for him for president or does it not really make a difference to your vote?

Less Likely 32%

No Difference 61%

A quick additional point on this. Obviously this attack isn’t really about Ayers; it’s about sowing vague doubts about Obama’s patriotism and background. Whether that dimension of the attack is working is harder to measure, and may not be perfectly reflected in the answers to direct pollster questions about Ayers. Still, the above numbers are striking.


Newsweek: The Moderate Voice: Gallup Poll: Pluses May Slightly Outweigh Minuses In Obama Race Issue Impact

Newsweek: The Moderate Voice

Gallup Poll: Pluses May Slightly Outweigh Minuses In Obama Race Issue Impact

A new Gallup poll suggests that the issue may be a double edged sword for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama one that could actually turn out to be a plus in terms of votes: While 6% of voters say they are less likely to vote for Barack Obama because of his race, 9% say they are more likely to vote for him, making the impact of his race a neutral to slightly positive factor when all voters’ self-reported attitudes are taken into account. The question that will be argued is whether voters attitudes can be trusted when it comes to answering pollsters’ questions At the same time, 6% of voters say John McCain’s race will make them less likely to vote for him, with 7% saying it makes them more likely to vote for him,…

RacismReview: As Economic Crisis Worsens, is Racism a “Luxury” Whites Can No Longer Afford?


As Economic Crisis Worsens, is Racism a “Luxury” Whites Can No Longer Afford?

As the economic crisis worsens (and the forecasts look pretty gloomy), some people are speculating thatundecided racists may no longer be able to afford the “luxury” of racism (image source).

I wish I could share Coates’ (and others’) optimism.  However, there’s lots of evidence that the McCain/Palin campaign is pandering to the lowest (racist) common denominator in ways that are both overt and intentional, as well as in ways that are practically subconscious they’re so automatic.   For example, at last night’s presidential debate, John McCain referred to Barack Obama as “that one” and at the close of the debate refused to shake his hand (opens video link).  I doubt seriously that McCain or his handlers planned either of these. Rather, McCain’s rhetorical choices and his body language suggest a deep disgust for Obama.  This may be merely personal disdain and might have been directed at any political opponent of McCain’s, but one suspects that it reflects a deep well of racism (recall, McCain for years opposed the King holiday in Arizona and until very recently publicly used the term “gook” to refer to just about any one of Asian descent).

The verbal and non-verbal cues coming from McCain are easy-to-latch-on-to forms of symbolic racism for those inclined to interpret them in that way.  And, once again, it’s clear that the campaign’s strategy is to leave the more overt signaling of this racism to Palin.  For instance,  witness the kinds of vocal responses from crowds at a recent Palin rally when supporters shouted “terrorist” and “kill him” at the mention of Obama’s name.  This kind of irrationality is a powerful reminder that historically whites have voted (and acted) in ways that were not in their economic interest in order to maintain white privilege (and not only working-class whites).  Choosing a political leader (indeed, choosing a team) based on who is best equipped to deal with the economic disaster at hand makes logical, rational sense.  Unfortunately, for many whites, this may well be the last luxury they learn to do without.

The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse.

According to Stanford University law professor Richard Thompson Ford, America’s conversation about race is often overwhelmed by distractions.


With Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy, Ford discusses his newest book, The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse. Milloy moderates a lively Q and A session – The Aspen Institute.