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Post Partisan
Posted at 01:53 PM ET, 10/30/2012

Hysterical reactions to race


Nothing guarantees hysterical reader reaction like a piece on race. Not ha-ha hysterical, but unhinged, defensive and vitriolic hysterical that ends up proving the column’s disheartening conclusion. “The rise of hate in the age of Obama,” which I posted yesterday, now follows that pattern.

To recap: A poll from the Associated Press found that anti-African American views ticked up from 48 percent in 2008 to 51 percent today. And when you factor in implicit racial attitudes, that number spiked to 56 percent.

My inbox filled with angry e-mails from aggrieved whites. Some wanted to know why they were always to blame for racism. Some wanted to know when blacks would stop playing the victim. And some put the blame for the rise in anti-black attitudes square at the feet of President Obama. For instance, one person wrote, “Racism has not diminished with the first black president because he demonizes anyone and everyone who opposes his proposals.”

To read these e-mails, you’d think the poll was only of white Americans. And you’d be wrong.

The AP worked on the poll with NORC at the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan and Stanford University. According to the data, non-Hispanic whites made up 67 percent of respondents. Non-Hispanic blacks were 12 percent. Hispanics were 14 percent. That means the increase in anti-black views, particularly the implicit negative views held by 56 percent of respondents, might be fueled by an increase in such feelings by non-whites, including among blacks themselves.

Josh Pasek (University of Michigan), Jon A. Krosnick (Stanford University) and Trevor Tompson (NORC at the University of Chicago) gauged implicit anti-black feelings using the Affect Misattribution Procedure. Basically, a respondent is shown a series of Chinese ideographs, each of which is assigned to a “more pleasant” or “less pleasant” category. The next part of the test involves showing participants those ideographs again, but before each ideograph is shown there is “a quick flash of a photograph of the face of either an African American male or a white male.”

When a face precedes an ideograph, people’s affective reactions to the face influence their later assessments of the ideograph (Payne, Cheng, Govorun, & Stewart, 2005). People who have favorable feelings toward the face are more likely to label the ideograph as pleasant, and people who have unfavorable feelings toward the face are more likely to label the ideograph as unpleasant.

Given the image of black men and the burden of carrying the heavy weight of other people’s suspicions, it is easy to how anti-black sentiments can be harbored by anyone.

In an e-mail to me yesterday, Christina M. described herself as “multi-raced” and lowered the boom on the president.

Obama is the worst President in the history of the United States he gave black people a bad name – he fell into the black man stereo type – it’s been a disgrace and he has been an embarrassment to America.

Now, consider this quote: “There is nothing more painful to me . . . than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery, then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.” That wasn’t from John Sununu. That was Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1993. But as the AP poll on racial attitudes shows, Jackson’s wince-worthy remark continues to resonate today. Would that we could talk about this sensitive issue without some whites getting hysterical about it.

By  |  01:53 PM ET, 10/30/2012

Tags:  Race

 
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