Framing the Black Experience: A Discourse Analysis of President Barack Obama's Speeches

By McDougal, Serie,, III | Journal of Pan African Studies, September 15, 2013 | Go to article overview

Framing the Black Experience: A Discourse Analysis of President Barack Obama's Speeches


McDougal, Serie,, III, Journal of Pan African Studies


The impact of personal characteristics and social environmental factors on human behavior is and has been the subject of study for social scientists of various disciplines including demographers, sociologists, social workers, economists, and political scientists. The factors affecting human behavior are of great importance because they inform efforts to improve the delivery of critical services to society. Studying primarily unseen personal characteristics such as attitudes, beliefs, and values is an important endeavor for human society because it provides insight on how different people respond to social environmental conditions. Knowledge of attitudes, beliefs, and values also provides context for understanding how people go about shaping the society they live in.

Conversely, the study of the social institutions and neighborhoods in which people live helps social scientists understand how people are also shaped by their environment. Ultimately, through a process called mutual constitution people both shape and are shaped by their environments (Stephens, Markus, and Fryberg, 2012). How different people frame or make sense of human behavior varies as some may privilege environmental factors over personal factors or vice-versa.

Framing refers to how people view, identify, or make sense of the problems and challenges that different communities face. The way social problems related to crime, education, and economics are addressed is influenced by how people and their problems are framed. Political framing, more specifically, is about how politicians make arguments about the way issues such as poverty should be addressed (Wilson, 2009). The logic of political framing suggests that decisions about how to design policies and pass legislation (such as the extension of social services) is influenced by whether or not problems are framed as being the consequence of personal\individual characteristics or social\environmental factors. One of the most influential voices in the United States is the President's. President Barack Obama has had an influence on the political orientation, racial identity attitudes, and racial perceptions of people in the United States and African Americans in particular (Fuller-Rowell, Burrow, and Ong, 2011, Racial Politics, 2012, Staples, 2010). Through his many methods of addressing American citizens, the President also engages in the political framing of social problems and legislation. How the President frames social problems may influence how politicians and Americans in general view those problems. The President's framing of social problems may also influence how people view themselves and their environments. This study seeks to explore how President Barack Obama frames social problems confronted by African Americans relative to how he frames problems and challenges confronted by Women, Latino\Latinas, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and the LGBTQ. This study will also explore the plausible implications of the President's political framings of policy making and how African Americans perceive themselves and are perceived by Americans. This study is not intended to be an analysis of the President's policies as such an approach is beyond the scope of this investigation. However, present methods of framing African American life are informed by historic approaches. The African American experienced has been studied through several Eurocentric lenses in the western social sciences: the inferiority paradigm, the cultural deficit paradigm, and the cultural difference paradigm.

Existing Literature

Inferiority Paradigm

According to Parham and Ajamu, (2011), the inferiority paradigm typifies a framework of analysis that characterizes Black people as inferior based on inadequate genetics and\or heredity. The inferiority paradigm asserts that the substandard social behavior and mental conditions of people of African descent can be explained by their inferior genetic inheritance. …

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