Conversation Of The Week Fall 2012 XXXIII: Race IS A Factor In The Race

October 1, 2012
Written by Judith H. Katz Ed.D. Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group Inc. in
Latest News, National Collegiate Dialogue
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Judith Katz, Ed.D. Photo Credit: The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, Inc.

According to some polls, one in five Americans believes President Obama was born outside the United States, despite evidence to the contrary.   One-third of conservative Republicans think he is a Muslim, despite his clear and consistent assertions of his Christian faith.  Some adversaries of the President speak of him with an intensity that comes dangerously close to hatred.

What is happening here?

To be sure, U.S. politics and discourse have been polarized for more than a decade. But since Barack Obama became President, the angry rhetoric has taken on a dimension that can be explained principally by a more sinister motivation — and that includes racism.

Consider:  We have now had nearly four years to become acquainted with this President, plenty of time to discredit fringe beliefs about his loyalties and character. In addition, the release of his long-form birth certificate should have closed the door on the “birther” controversy. Yet the percentage of birthers is roughly the same as before the release. Similarly, the President’s history and demonstration of his Christian faith should have dissolved the misconception that he is a Muslim — but the percentage of conservative Republicans who believe otherwise has actually doubled since 2008.

Clearly, this is not about facts. Taken together, however, these trends fit seamlessly into a deeper pattern: a fear of people who are different. Different, in the minds of too many, means foreign, and foreign is to be feared, even despised.

This is not, of course, how people who believe these misconceptions frame the issues. Birthers see themselves as defending the Constitution and even the nation as a whole. Some who see Obama as a Muslim claim an interest in defending the nation against the spreading influence of Islamic terrorists and strict sharia law. Most of these people would categorically reject the label of racism for themselves and their beliefs.

But that misunderstands racism itself. Many white Americans, in particular, equate racism with its historical expressions, including overt name calling, discrimination, and (at times in our history) cross burnings and separate drinking fountains for African Americans. Because these overt forms of racism do not show up in today’s mass media — and because more people of African American descent occupy high-level positions, like the U.S. presidency — people believe we live in a post-racial society.

The subtle, and sometimes not so subtle,  racism of the attacks on Obama escapes their notice, even though they might dismiss the accuracy of the attacks themselves.

Whatever else may contribute to this dynamic, I believe race is a factor in the Presidential race — we cannot ignore that dimension of the reality we live in. Would you agree? Disagree? Where have you seen instances of subtle racism in U.S. culture? What could you do about it?

About the Author
For more than 40 years, Judith H. Katz, Ed.D., has worked with Fortune 50 companies to address systemic barriers, foster inclusive interactions, leverage diversity, and promote strategic culture change. She has authored or co-authored five books, including the landmark White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training, the first systematic training program to address racism from a white perspective.
 

Adam Berinsky, “The Birthers Are (Still) Back,” YouGov, 11 July 2012, http://today.yougov.com/news/2012/07/11/birthers-are-still-back (accessed 10 September 2012).  

“Little Voter Discomfort with Romney’s Mormon Religion,” The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 26 July 2012, http://www.pewforum.org/Politics-and-Elections/Little-Voter-Discomfort-with-Romney%E2%80%99s-Mormon-Religion.aspx (accessed 10 September 2012).  

Paul Waldman, “Have Republicans Ever Hated a President More Than Barack Obama?”The American Prospect, 27 July 2012, http://prospect.org/article/have-republicans-ever-hated-President-more-barack-obama (accessed 14 September 2012). 
 

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Comments

Race IS A Factor

Submitted by CSUSM-8F2012 on

There are many controversies about President Obama including debate about his ethnic background. The Conservative Republican Party has mainly pin pointed issues that could potentially knock the president out of office such as: his “fake” birth certificate, as well as participating in Muslim practices. They have mentioned the idea of President Obama being born in another country, forging his birth certificate. I personally believe that the government would look in great detail whether or not the president was actually born in the United States. I don’t think that they would just let anyone run for office without an extensive background check. This also raises the issue that if he was not born here, and he did practice Muslim traditions, that he was in fact a terrorist. This is the basis of the debate that heavily weighed on the re-election of the president. There are two necessary sides to this dilemma: whether or not the president is in fact a citizen, and the racism behind it. Which side is the right thing to do? They are both concerns of society. From what I have seen, there are more responses to addressing the concern of citizenship than racism. Because he is of African decent and he has failed to provide a birth certificate for American citizens to see , he is put under the stereotype and criticism that he is not from the United States. Personally, I cannot take a side because there is not enough information to prove that he is not a citizen. I think, that for there to be any more debate on this topic, there needs to be hard evidence showing in fact that he is not a citizen.

Race IS A Factor

Submitted by CSUSM-15F2012 on

Ever since President Obama took office, he has not only been attacked for his policies and decisions, but also has been attacked personally. People will say that by being president, it comes with the territory. I am all for freedom of speech, but some of the things people say about him are not true at all and quite offending. People are entitled to say things, but people need facts to back up what they say. To make matters worse, conservative media (liberal media also) will twist facts and the scary part is people will listen to them. President Obama, as the article says, has shown that he was in fact born in America and that he is not a Muslim. Yet some people still don’t believe him. I think people should focus more on the issues facing America instead of the president’s personal issues. When it comes down to it, I think some people just don’t like President Obama because he’s black regardless of his politics. I read somewhere that people are actually getting sick of the personal attacks on President Obama. The “birther movement” or similar groups are actually hurting themselves, because it is showing how ignorant some people can be.

Racism is still here

Submitted by CSUSM-6F2012 on

I completely agree that race is playing a part in this election. There is no truth to the claims about Obama, but they haven’t gone away. President Obama is no different than other presidents in the past except for his race – and that is the one thing that he is constantly ridiculed for. I don’t agree that racism is just fringe. The public violence and societal acceptance of racism is not as overt, but it still exists. Racial slurs play on radio stations and racist “jokes” air on the television. Instead of public lynchings, young black children like Treyvon Martin are shot while walking home. Instead of racist groups like the KKK, racism has permeated through our society so it doesn’t even seem like it is there anymore. African Americans are no longer segregated, but stories of success are fewer in comparison to whites and the opportunities facing them are not at the same level. When you look at it this way, eyes open to the reality of the state of racism in today’s world, these racist movements don’t seem that surprising. That doesn’t make it any less unsettling though. President Obama has achieved something that only 44 Americans have achieved – becoming president, but he is still seen as “different.” He is judged based on the color of his skin rather than the accomplishments and policies he supports. Whether you agree with his specific policies or not, President Obama deserves to be evaluated based on what he does – not what he looks like. Race is part of this election – and unfortunately, that probably won’t change. It doesn’t mean that it has to determine the way that we behave.

Race is a Factor

Submitted by CSUSM-16F2012 on

I think, what is happening here is we "the People of U.S." are getting uncomfortable seeing a different face, meaning different race, different ethnicity and may be or maybe not different religion leading us. We are so caught up in our habit of generalization, that we don't see when we are doing it but we do. We generalize based on the origin of their ethnicity, race, religion and so on. So, if a person is African American, we assume they are trouble makers, Asian are slow drivers and Muslims are terrorist. It is all these assumptions and paranoia that makes us want to react to a person, who is not our normal and traditional choice of a leader. If our traditional choices have done things that almost about distorted our land, we are still okay picking the next one like them but if a different person is elected we find ways and things to show the he/she is not capable or that he/she will destroy our land and what we stand for, or that he/she will favor our enemy more than us. This happened in the case of Alfred Smith in 1928 and is happening in the case of President Obama and Meth Romney. President Obama is more severer because of the color of his skin. So, yes racism is a factor. I could personally try to educate those whose close minded might affect the future of our country and our life.

Race is a Factor

Submitted by CSUSM-16F2012 on

I think, what is happening here is we "the People of U.S." are getting uncomfortable seeing a different face, meaning different race, different ethnicity and may be or maybe not different religion leading us. We are so caught up in our habit of generalization, that we don't see when we are doing it but we do. We generalize based on the origin of their ethnicity, race, religion and so on. So, if a person is African American, we assume they are trouble makers, Asian are slow drivers and Muslims are terrorist. It is all these assumptions and paranoia that makes us want to react to a person, who is not our normal and traditional choice of a leader. If our traditional choices have done things that almost about distorted our land, we are still okay picking the next one like them but if a different person is elected we find ways and things to show the he/she is not capable or that he/she will destroy our land and what we stand for, or that he/she will favor our enemy more than us. This happened in the case of Alfred Smith in 1928 and is happening in the case of President Obama and Meth Romney. President Obama is more severer because of the color of his skin. So, yes racism is a factor. I could personally try to educate those whose close minded might affect the future of our country and our life.

The fact that race is a

Submitted by CSULB-10F2012 on

The fact that race is a factor in this election saddens me deeply. We have to remember that it was not always, because remember that Barack Obama won with roughly 360 electoral college votes. It seems like people return to racial prejudices when they start getting mad at the outside situation, like the economy. People think the days of MLK were so long ago but they actually were not. We still have a lot of work to do but I hope to believe, the idealist that I am that we will recognize this pattern of thinking, talk about it, and change the situation.

Race is a factor in the race

Submitted by CSULB-19F2012 on

The fact that race has anything to do with the election saddens me. Yes, I understand that in order to become a president of US, one has to be an American born citizen, but honestly, so what if the candidate is not white, or was born in a different place, as long as he or she has the capabilities to make the country a better one? US citizens are always talking about how the economy is so bad nowadays, how the education system got to get better, and so on, but in the end, it seems and feels like the race of the candidate is more of an important factor than anything else.

Fear

Submitted by CSULB-8F2012 on

.

Sad

Submitted by CSULB-5F2012 on

It is sad how much race still plays a part of our nation's history. Due to the fact that we have an African- American president may upset many people but I think that it shouldn't matter if he is the one who can direct our country in a thriving way. We have come over major degrees of segregation and racism in our country but I feel that it will always be apparent. It is sad how we can just easily judge people and say such hurtful things about them due to the color of their skin, especially in such an important decision like the President of the United States. It is sad how much race plays a factor in our country still given our history.

If anyone is going to say

Submitted by CSULB-15F2012 on

If anyone is going to say that race isn't a factor in this election or the election from 2008 you are crazy. But...you must also tell the other side of the story...it is just as racist to vote for Obama because he is black as it is to not vote for Obama because he is black.

People only like to see things with one perspective because they know they might be wrong.

From what I have heard though, the hospital that Obama was supposedly born in in Hawaii was named something completely different back when he was supposedly born there. The birth certificate he showed everyone had the new name of the hospital on it...that wouldn't be the case if it were real.