In the runup to Tuesday’s election, one recently released study is sparking discussion on how President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign affected racism across the country.
Seth Goldman, a George Gerbner Post-doctoral Fellow at the Annenberg School for Communication, conducted research that was published in October on Public Opinion Quarterly’s website.
Goldman’s research concluded that, because of Obama, there has been a decrease in the amount of negative categorization of black citizens by whites.
In his article, Goldman wrote that the “2008 campaign featured months of wall-to-wall coverage of Obama and his family that firmly contradicted negative stereotypes associating blacks with laziness, crime and fatherless families.”
Goldman asked whites from July 2008 through January 2009 to rate whites and blacks on issues such as work ethic, intelligence and trustworthiness. He found that as the 2008 campaign progressed, white voters held blacks in an overall higher regard.
Goldman directed all questions about his research to his publication in Public Opinion Quarterly.
Professors and students across campus have weighed in on Goldman’s findings.
“It is indeed plausible to think that learning about Barack Obama and his family has eroded some whites’ beliefs in negative racial stereotypes,” Political Science professor Rogers Smith said in an email.
Smith, however, added that Americans still differ on how to address continuing racial inequalities.
“Much more is needed for racial progress,” he said.
Similarly, Penn Democrats President and College junior Andrew Brown said in an email that “it is conceivable that a very competent black president like Obama could lead to a decline in racial prejudice.”
He added, though, that racism is difficult to quantify because “there are so many aspects to racial prejudice, not to mention different ways for it to manifest.”
Goldman’s findings notwithstanding, some Penn community members have not noticed a decline in racism in their own lives.
Teaching Performing Art for Cross-Cultural Education instructor Ty Furman said in an email that the country is still seeing “a good bit of prejudice” via social media. While he acknowledged that there may be less racism today, he believes it is impossible to tell because of its appearance on social media.
Furman added that while Goldman’s study is important, he hopes nobody takes it as a sign that racism has ended.
“I certainly know from friends and students that is not the case,” he said.
While Goldman’s article measured how white racism changed during the last presidential campaign, some have not noticed this same trend during the current campaign.
“It seems like, even if there has been a decline of racial incidents, I would say in day-to-day interactions there are situations where race comes into play,” College senior and United Minorities Council Co-Chair Lucia Xiong said. “It doesn’t seem like there is a decrease.”
Goldman’s article has one possible explanation for this. He found that the sharpest decrease in white racism came from people on the right side of the political spectrum. A recent Daily Pennsylvanian political poll found that a majority of registered Penn voters — about 59 percent — are Democrats.
Nonetheless, Xiong believes Obama and his family “definitely set a strong image. President Obama is a good role model for people to identify as a minority figure.”
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