While folks were obsessing over polls that showed their preferred presidential candidate being up or down, I obsessed over a poll that revealed a troubling rise in hatred among the American people. According to a poll for the Associated Press, anti-African American and anti-Hispanic attitudes have grown since the election of the nation’s first black president.
I’m not one of those people who thought sending Barack Obama to the White House would exorcise the nation’s racial demons, that centuries of strife and tribulation would simply melt away with one historic election. But I did hope that some remnants of the the wave of good feeling that swept over the United States between Election Day 2008 and Inauguration Day two months later would remain. How silly of me.
In 2008, anti-black attitudes were held by 48 percent of Americans surveyed. Today, that number is 51 percent. When implicit racial attitudes are measured, that statistic jumps to 56 percent. The viewpoint is even worse for Hispanics: A poll done last year showed that anti-Latino attitudes were held by 52 percent of non-Hispanic whites. On the implicit racial attitudes test, the negative views of Hispanics goes to 57 percent. (The AP worked on the poll with NORC at the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan and Stanford University.)
Explaining these disheartening results, Fredrick Harris, director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University, told the AP, “Part of it is growing polarization within American society. . . . It will take more generations, I suspect, before we eliminate these deep feelings.”
Part of Harris’s argument is that it is difficult to eliminate those deep feelings when the nation’s first black president won’t explicitly talk about race. While I understand the desire for Obama to be more vocal, I also understand the president is walking a politically perilous high wire, as The Post’s Peter Wallsten excellently detailed in the paper today.
Harris penned an op-ed for the New York Times on Sunday that argued, “The Obama presidency has already marked the decline, rather than the pinnacle, of a political vision centered on challenging racial inequality.” And he charged that black elites and intellectuals have traded the substance of what might be achieved for the symbolism of having a black man in the Oval Office.
The substance of what Harris writes is better argued than his previous attempt at questioning the president’s concern for the continuing struggles of African Americans. “Still waiting for the first black president” in The Post in June earned my considerable scorn.
By searching for marquee moments, Harris and others appear not to care about the myriad actions Obama has undertaken that affect the lives of all Americans, yes, but also of African Americans more directly. And I certainly don’t advocate for Obama to burst into the East Room clad in Kente cloth and brandishing a definable “black agenda”or whatever else so many blacks seem to want from him to prove that he cares.
In that piece, I argued that blacks should stop waiting for the first black president and start paying attention to our first black president. But given the troubling results of the AP poll, another thought comes to mind. If more Americans hold anti-black views with a black president who doesn’t talk about race, imagine what it would be if Obama acted as explicitly as his critics demand. The racial inequality Harris and others rightly decry would be much, much worse.