The most recent Associated Press-Yahoo News poll indicates:
Deep-seated racial misgivings could cost Barack Obama the White House if the election is close, according to an AP-Yahoo News poll that found one-third of white Democrats harbor negative views toward blacks — many calling them “lazy,” “violent,” responsible for their own troubles. The poll, conducted with Stanford University, suggests that the percentage of voters who may turn away from Obama because of his race could easily be larger than the final difference between the candidates in 2004 — about two and one-half percentage points… More than a third of all white Democrats and independents — voters Obama can’t win the White House without — agreed with at least one negative adjective about blacks, according to the survey, and they are significantly less likely to vote for Obama than those who don’t have such views.
In related coverage, Brent Staples writes a NY Times op-ed on Barack Obama, John McCain and the Language of Race. Staples highlights the parallels between “uppity” blacks and the recent use of “uppity” about Obama by a Georgia Republican. He concludes:
Mr. Obama seems to understand that he is always an utterance away from a statement — or a phrase — that could transform him in a campaign ad from the affable, rational and racially ambiguous candidate into the archetypical angry black man who scares off the white vote. His caution is evident from the way he sifts and searches the language as he speaks, stepping around words that might push him into the danger zone. These maneuvers are often painful to watch. The troubling part is that they are necessary.
Nicholas Kristof recently argued that the repeated questioning of Obama’s Christian faith (isn’t he a Muslim?) represent another way to “otherize” Obama:
What is happening, I think, is this: religious prejudice is becoming a proxy for racial prejudice. In public at least, it’s not acceptable to express reservations about a candidate’s skin color, so discomfort about race is sublimated into concerns about whether Mr. Obama is sufficiently Christian. The result is this campaign to “otherize” Mr. Obama. Nobody needs to point out that he is black, but there’s a persistent effort to exaggerate other differences, to de-Americanize him.
As I argued recently in David Brooks and the Social Animal, the Republican party is about “one culture,” portraying itself as the most American, and avoiding the inherent complexity and even relativity that the anthropological notion of culture entails. A lot of that, historically, comes back to race, including the Southern strategy of the Republican party that has proven successful over the last three decades.
I lectured on race last week in my Introduction to Anthropology class. In lieu of that, you might check out the American Anthropological Association’s outstanding project Understanding Race. The site focuses on three main areas: (1) history, complete with an online video; (2) human variation, with online graphics and text exploring topics like the human spectrum (a basic intro to thinking about human variation), race and human variation, and the variation in human skin color; and (3) lived experience, exploring topics like sports and beauty.
PBS has a documentary series on Race: The Power of an Illusion. Here’s one clip that I used from it:
I also played the first part of this video to get them to think about how the black vs. white dichotomy doesn’t capture our variation today, and also to think more about the assumptions they make when they see someone. And while I think overall the lecture helped do that, still at the end there were statements being made like “those Asians” or “white kids,” showing just how powerful our “racial” categorization is here in the United States.