Tesler’s body of research suggests that instead of delivering what many suggested would be a post-racial presidency, Obama will have polarized corners of American politics previously untouched by race.During Barack Obama's first presidential campaign my mother and I would talk about his future prospects. Like many black folks of a certain generation she went from disbelief that he even had a chance of winning, to worry about his safety from assassination, to tears on election night, and disappointment at his tenure to date. These conversations are undoubtedly quite common among many Americans who voted for Barack Obama in 2008. She, like me, still supports the President. In 2012, he is the best of a horrible set of alternatives. Ultimately, while he is not a "Black" President, Obama is still a President who happens to be black...for what that is worth.
Not only have racial considerations affected whether voters will support Obama, but they are beginning to renovate the entire architecture of public opinion...
A respondent’s views on discrimination (on a spectrum of “very common” to “very rare”) was three times more influential on his support for Sotomayor among those who heard Obama’s name compared to those who didn’t.
Tesler started looking for “issues that people don’t have strong feelings about, and issues that weren’t already folded into the current partisan alignment,” as he put it. Obama started feeding plenty of them—the stimulus, health care reform, cap-and-trade, all relatively new issues without firmly established loyalties. Tesler began working with the polling outfit YouGov to match how voters’ changing views on them matched up to their answers to the racial-resentment questions.
He found a “spillover of racialization” into health care reform: Voters who heard descriptions of the contrasting components of the 1993 Clinton and 2009 Obama proposals were more likely to grow disapproving of Obama’s when they heard the presidents’ names—as long as they demonstrated racial resentment elsewhere in the survey.
And there lies the sad truth of his predicament, does it not?
Those progressives who dreamed that Obama would combine the cool pose of Shaft, and the anger of the Incredible Hulk, in the form of a black Lyndon B Johnson, are predictably quite disappointed. Obama is a Right leaning centrist. Despite his efforts to compromise with the Republican Party at any cost, Barack is tarred as a Socialist-Communist-Authoritarian-Anti-American by the conservative mouth breathing troglodyte classes and their masters at Fox News. In total, President Obama is a bound man incapable of pleasing anyone.
Some of the opposition to the President is rooted in "principled" partisanship--the common good be damned. Other opponents cannot stand Obama because he is not "progressive" enough, having to their eyes abandoned the "radical" potential of his candidacy. In these examples, hostility to Barack Obama is conscious and intentional. By comparison, there are others whose opposition to Obama is rooted in the deep subconscious.
For these people, President Obama is damned both because of his policy orientations and his race. Serious political observers immediately identified the notion of a "post-racial" America as a lie and chimera. White supremacy is one of America's greatest inventions: it was refined and perfected here. One election cycle will not vanquish such a powerful social force. As my mother keenly observed, there are white people who hate Obama because he is black, breathing, and in the White House.
Recent research on race and political psychology reinforces this point. As demonstrated by Brown University's Michael Tesler, white respondents who score high on measures of "racial resentment" are much more likely to change their basic opinions about political matters when Barack Obama is mentioned.
I am not surprised by these findings. White supremacy is a type of mental sickness. That many white folks would reflexively reverse their support of a given issue based on a frame that introduces Obama into the equation is expected. Why? Because white privilege, white racism, and the white racial frame are social pathologies that orient and ground people in a given reality. Race trumps reason and becomes a decision rule in a racially perverse cognitive schema.
Nevertheless, I remain fascinated by one aspect of Tesler's research:
Even presidential pets were viewed through the same lens. Tesler showed 1,000 YouGov respondents a picture of a Portuguese water dog and asked how favorably they felt toward it. Half saw the dog introduced as Bo Obama, and half as Ted Kennedy’s dog, Splash. (Both political dogs are the same breed, but the picture was of Obama’s.) Those with negative feelings toward blacks thought less of Obama’s dog.I love dogs. Tesler's finding that white racial resentment extends to Bo, a canine, is a sign of how damaging white racism is to those who afflicted with it. The social science suggests that the activation of white racial animus and hostility is a halo effect which extends to anyone associated with President Obama.
I understand the methodology and argument: But yet, I am still left asking how can you dislike a dog based only on his owner?
Redd Foxx, the legendary African American comedian, had a running joke about "black habits." This was his way of deconstructing the ugliness of racism and its arbitrary rules. He goofed on the idea that there are stereotypes about black folks, where if you don't fit those tropes one had best catch up in order to validate the white gaze.
By implication, are there "black ways" of acting, seeing, knowing, behaving, and thinking? Does this extend to our pets?
I have two dogs. In my mind both are still with us. Luke and Leia were part of the same litter. She passed away from cancer last November. He is still here, being difficult, charming, loyal, and funny. After 16 years--alive both in the flesh and spirit--they are indulged their eccentricities.
Dogs are humankind's original Frankenstein monsters: we made them. They also take on our attributes and traits over the years. And yes, our animal friends do begin to look and act like their human parents as the years advance (any pet owner will support that observation).
Are there "black" dogs? Do they have "black" ways?
Let's work through some anecdotes as we try to arrive at an answer.
Luke and Leia (and my many doggie family members--as well as bearded dragons--that have blessed me over these years) gave my family many wonderful memories. I suspect that these pets may have "black" habits. Could racially resentful white folks who hate Bo, the First Family's dog, be sensitive to these cues?
When Luke was younger he would stand at the top of the stairs in the duplex where we lived. He was always waiting for the downstairs door to open so that he could escape to "freedom." Luke always had a bit of wanderlust in his eyes. Inevitably, he would see sunlight and make a break for it. He would have his adventure, come back home, cry and howl to be let back inside, and then proceed to get yelled at for being so reckless. Is this a case of doggie drapetomania?
Leia is very lady like. She could also be pushy and direct when she wanted her way. Leia would sit next to a person while they ate and then take her paw and hold down your arm until she got her taste. Leia was also very refined. She learned how to eat off of a fork at an early age and would carefully nibble her yummies when served. Leia was also very clean and well behaved. In fact, she helped to potty train her brother. Is forceful grace a black habit?
Luke and Leia both loved Chinese food. They would go crazy when I brought home boneless bbq pork, chicken wings, egg rolls and pork fried rice. Are these black foods?
I have many vices. Two of them involve good beer and cans of Coca-Cola. Luke hated beer with a passion. He would smell it, turn his nose up and have a disgusted look on his face. However, he loved Coke. One can, two cans, three cans, he would demand his ambrosia to the point that he would follow you around the house until he got his fix. Leia craved beer. The silver Sapporo can was her favorite. Leia would drink the beer out of the can, tail wagging, and tongue licking her lips. Are these black drinks?
Luke was the muscle of the operation. Leia was the brains. My mother locked herself out of the house one day. In the same instance, she had left the gas oven on in the kitchen. The fire department was called. My mother, who was ashamed and embarrassed that she was locked out while only wearing a housecoat and nightgown, had to let the fire department pick open the door to our apartment. Fearing a lawsuit, my mother explained that Luke could be pretty aggressive if he felt threatened, and that she did not want him to bite anyone.
The young fireman explained that he was wearing a heavily insulated uniform. If bitten, he wouldn't feel it anyway. Like a script, the firefighter opens the door and Luke would not let him in the house. As my mother explained he looked up at this guy with an ax, a mask, wearing all these strange clothes, and decided to protect his home. Leia was standing behind Luke. She was ready to run away and hide under the bed for safety. My mother yelled at Luke to stop and that she was okay. He stood down after working through his doggie calculus. Luke watched and followed the firefighter around the house ready to pounce. But he let the man leave and even licked his hand on the way out. Are these protective traits towards family and home black habits?
At the end of his life my father was quite ill. He had retired from working at Yale and had gone down hill very fast. As I warned him, retirement would be his undoing. Unfortunately, I was proven correct. My mother and I worried that if he got into trouble at home that the paramedics would not be able to help him if Luke and Leia were present. Our fears were misplaced.
My father called 911 because he thought that he was having a heart attack. My father had the good sense to leave the front door open before he laid down on the couch in distress. My mother came home and called me. She was upset but not panicked. I asked what happened and she explained the details. We also wondered what Luke and Leia did during all of this. The paramedics left a note on the door explaining what hospital my father had been brought to; they also detailed how Luke and Leia let them in the house, and how the two dogs simply watched the paramedics attend to my father.
He passed away a few months later. During the last weeks of his life my mother would bring home my father's clothes from hospice and throw them on the floor in a pile before putting them in the washing machine. Forlorn, Leia would just sit on the floor and look at the clothes. Luke would go up to my father's clothes and move them around with his paws, smelling them, and eventually laying on top of the clothes for a while. Is this type of loyalty and friendship a uniquely black habit?
This act of remembering--while an exercise in nostalgia and reminiscing about events both good and bad, but one rooted in love--is a reminder that racism is absurd. Bo is a dog who loves his human family. Luke and Leia are dogs who love their family too.
That white racial resentment would cloud such basic judgments speaks to a bigger issue. If white racial conservatives are moved to alter basic attitudes by their hatred of President Obama--and even his dog--what does that mean for the rest of us? What are their secret, private, and (perhaps even) subconscious feelings about regular, run of the mill, black and brown folks?