Lecture | David C. Wilson | The Continuing Significance of Race in American Politics: Racial Resentment and the Pain of Progress
Why does race serve as the most polarizing feature of American politics? Presumably, Americans have a stake in proclaiming America’s greatness, particularly touting pride in democratic governance, protecting civil rights and liberties, and making progress in areas that serve as ugly scars in its history. Yet research suggests the effects of racial bias now surpass the typical partisan and ideological predispositions that drive political decision making and judgments. This phenomenon is highlighted by public opinion data collected over the past 10 years covering Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy and subsequent administrations. As the prototypically racially neutral African American politician, Barack Obama was expected to inhibit the activation of negative racial appraisals and threat. Contrary to such expectations, a number of studies show this did not happen, as perceptions of Obama and his policies are linked strongly to negative racial attitudes. But negative racial attitudes are not limited to Obama; they also continue to have significant effects on ostensibly non-racial issues like voting rights and even the purity of the election process itself. Most surprisingly, some of the strongest effects of racial attitudes are found among Democrats and liberals. Essentially, Obama’s ascendancy created a space for political discourse about the relevance of, and resentment toward, race in nearly every aspect of American politics. As a result, explicit and implicit racial information cues promote ideas and emotions that make racialization both easy and effective. Summarily, scholars, and the public alike, are left with questions about the permanency of racial thinking (and racism) in America.