Academic journal article Michigan Sociological Review

Blacks' and Whites' Attitudes toward Race-Based Policies: Is There an Obama Effect?

Academic journal article Michigan Sociological Review

Blacks' and Whites' Attitudes toward Race-Based Policies: Is There an Obama Effect?

Article excerpt


The United States has come a long way from the blatant racism that existed throughout its history. The United States has replaced its old-fashioned racism with general support toward racial equality (Schuman, Steeh, and Bobo 1985). Despite this belief, there is not only a continuation of racial disparities in income, wealth, housing, incarceration, education, and health in the United States (Dawson 2011), but also a relatively high amount of resistance to the implementation of policies that promote racial equality (Dixon, Durrheim, and Tredoux 2007). For example, affirmative action programs, which are aimed at reducing discriminatory practices within hiring procedures and encouraging diversity within the workplace, are opposed more by whites than African Americans and Hispanics (Bobo 1998). Understanding this racial paradox that exists within a "post-racial America" is important because it may provide support toward theories that suggest that the United States has dumped its old racist beliefs of biological inferiority and replaced it with new, subtler forms of racism. If these theories are true, they may help explain how race and racism impact whites' support toward government policies that seek to improve the lives of African Americans and reduce disparities between blacks and whites.

This study examines whether there are differences between the attitudes of whites and blacks toward government assistance programs that are aimed to improve the lives of African Americans. This study will also analyze the attitudes of these two groups between the administration of the first African American President of the United States, President Barack Obama, and the administration of President George W. Bush.


The election of the first African American President, President Barack Obama, in 2008, brought many questions about what was to come of race relations and political behavior in the United States. Parker (2016) describes what has been referred to as the "Obama effect" as the perception that the United States had finally moved beyond race and that racial comity had been achieved. The election of Obama as the first African American president of the United States may be thought to have undermined the stereotypes of blacks as lazy, unintelligent, unpatriotic, and violent (Bobo and Kluegel 1997), which seems to be an improvement toward racial attitudes; but Obama's effect on race and prejudice is far more complicated than that.


Researchers distinguish between explicit and implicit racism throughout their studies of whites' perception of blacks. Explicit racism is simply the conscious negative attitudes and beliefs one has about another race. Implicit racism, on the other hand, is a bit more complex. Amodio and Mendoza (2010) describe implicit biases as "associations stored in memory." These associations can then influence the behaviors and judgments a person has. For example, implicit associations have been used to explain differential evaluations of the same curriculum vitae whose only difference was race, indicated by the name at the top. Applicants who had a name that was perceived to be one of an African American or Hispanic were less likely than applicants who had a "white name" to be selected for an interview (Dovidio and Gaertner 2000). Most people, even those who declare egalitarian positions, or are a part of the targeted group, hold implicit biases (Sullivan-Bisset 2015).

Obama's effect on explicit racism provides mixed results. For example, one study says that whites' exposure to Obama's presidential campaign decreased whites' prejudice toward blacks (Goldman and Mutz 2014), while another found no effect on whites' prejudice toward blacks (Bernstein et al. 2010). An additional study even found an increase of whites' prejudice toward blacks as whites compared Obama's presidency to the rest of the black population, claiming that "ordinary" blacks could be just as successful as the President if they worked just as hard (Lybarger and Monteith 2010). …

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