This So-Called Post-Post-Racial Life

March 5, 2009

“Some of my best friends voted for Obama…”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — pprscribe @ 10:27 am

Via The Situationist comes this fascinating bit of scholarly discovery–Like some sort of post-post-racial Double-Oh-Seven, voting for Barack Obama seems to have given some people license to (racially) ill:

…Stanford psychologists are focusing on an irony they’ve found at the expense of those widespread feelings of racial harmony. In three experiments conducted before the November election, they found that expressing support for Obama makes some people feel justified in favoring whites over blacks.

“This is the psychological equivalent of when people in casual conversation say something like ‘many of my best friends are black,’” said Daniel Effron, who conducted the studies with fellow graduate student Jessica Cameron and Benoît Monin, an associate professor of psychology. Their findings are slated for publication in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

“They say that because they’re about to say something else that they’re concerned might be construed as prejudiced,” Effron said.

Those people are trying to build what the psychologists call “moral credentials”—the license they feel is needed to express their true feelings about race that may upset or offend others.

…”Our results suggest that people with more positive attitudes toward blacks are less likely to seize on moral credentials as an excuse to favor whites,” Effron said. “It’s encouraging to know that endorsing Obama will not always result in the expression of views that are unfavorable to blacks. It’s only when moral credentials combine with negative racial attitudes that we have cause for concern.”

The findings leave Effron and his colleagues with two takes on how Obama’s election influences how people talk about race.

“On one hand, there’s concern that people may use their support for Obama as a pass, or license, to express views that are harmful to African Americans,” Effron said. “But to the extent that expressing support for Obama reduces concerns about being perceived as prejudiced, it could also lead to the kind of open discussions about race that the president himself has encouraged.”

Journal of Experimental Psychology is an American Psychological Association (APA) journal, so you can read the whole article when it comes out. If you are into that sort of thing. I think the important points, however, can be gleaned from the full Stanford News Service blurb linked to above.

I am not sure I am buying the second conclusion the researchers put forth. Rarely in the past–at least in my experience–has reduction in concern of being perceived as prejudiced resulted in any kind of meaningful discussion about race. It just usually results in someone feeling quite free to say to my face whatever fool thing they’ve decided to take as gospel truth about Black or other folks.

Really the only thing that results in meaningful conversations about race is the ability to take a chance at feeling uncomfortable, at making a “mistake,” at being perceived as racist. And a willingness to admit that, yes, perhaps you are and that, further, you may be open to change.

I know that from my end, any obvious effort at showing me how non-racist someone is, usually just results in me being prepared to hear something that is just the opposite. I am usually proved correct. Long before that proof, however, I have neatly folded and put away my let’s-have-an-honest-discussion-about-race magical cloak.

But that may just be me. At any rate–I am so appropriating the term “moral credentials.”

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