Attention James Carville: Blacks Don't Need A Study to Tell Them What Racism Looks Like. We Know It When We See It.
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A recent study by the James Carville group Democracy Corps has proclaimed that race was not a factor driving anti-Obama sentiment. Somehow they concluded that racism was not involved in the vitriol directed towards the first Black President.  Some would like us to believe that the increased level of hatred & animosity towards this President (as compared to previous Presidents) is simply a coincidence....that race is not an underlying factor. Frankly, as a Black American, I don’t need a study to tell me what racism looks like. I know it when I see it. But if someone decides to do a study to identify racist attitudes, it should at least reflect reality.
So what’s wrong with the Democracy Corps study? It’s grossly flawed. The main problem with the study has to do with the way that researchers gathered their information. When I learned about how authors of the report reached their conclusion about racial attitudes toward Obama, I hit the ceiling. Why a so-called Progressive organization would want to provide credibility to Fox News and Conservative Talk show talking points is beyond me. Why they would want to do it with a flawed report is even more of a mystery.
So how did Democracy Corps come to the conclusion that race is not playing a role in anti-Obama sentiment? Because the subjects of the study told them so. That’s right! Democracy Corps researchers (in association with Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research) essentially gathered a group of older whites together for focus groups and took their word for it. This report apparently relied heavily on self-reporting - as if the participants were really going to call themselves racists. Here is a summary of the methods used (taken from the report): 
"The Cleveland groups comprised of white, non-college weak partisans or independents – defined as self identifying ‘weak’ Democrats or Republicans, Democratic- or Republican-leaning independents, and non-partisan independents (those who do not affiliate closer with either party). Additionally, we examined combined data from Democracy Corps surveys conducted over the last four months that show Republicans enjoy a 17-point partisan identification advantage with this group. These voters also self-report to have voted for John McCain by a 20-point margin in the 2008 election.
These voters are white, "strong" or "weak" Republicans who ideologically self-identify as conservative or moderate and who voted for John McCain AND the Republican congressional candidate in 2008. The groups, conducted in Atlanta, Georgia, were comprised of voters aged 45-60, with one group of women and one of men. Our combined survey data reveals that the Georgia group definition fits more than three-quarters (77 percent) of conservative strong or weak Republicans of the 45-60 age group, and an even higher proportion – 85 percent – of white strong Republicans of the same age.
However, any good social scientist or anyone remotely familiar with research, particularly studies pertaining to race and prejudice, understands the problems associated with relying on self-reporting. Self-reporting is a notoriously poor method, particularly for obtaining accurate information about a persons racial attitudes.
Commenting on a study published earlier this year in the Journal Science about unconscious racial bias, Professor Anthony Greenwald of the University of Washington stated:
The study is consistent with decades of psychology research pointing to the same thing: People are really bad at predicting their own actions in socially sensitive situations.
"That point is getting renewed attention as researchers develop more extensive evidence establishing reasons to distrust self-report measures concerning racial attitudes," said Anthony Greenwald, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, who was not involved with the study. 
Researchers have known for a long time that respondents are much less likely to come clean about their prejudices and racial attitudes in self reporting surveys, interviews, or in settings where they are dealing with researchers face to face. Settings such as focus groups, where other participants may be present during the process, may create even more embarrassment and an even greater reluctance on the part of participants to come clean about personal prejudices.
This is why scientists - who recognize the problems regarding self-reporting on racial attitudes and prejudice - have been working on better methodologies. One methodology that tends to garner more accurate results in such studies is the Implicit Association Test or IAT, which is well designed to detect prejudiced attitudes without necessarily tipping off respondents about the information being sought.    There are other methods as well that involve observation. The point is, other methodologies should be employed when attempting to objectively gauge racial prejudice. Single-blind studies tend to be much better for determining what is really in the minds of individuals. Some people are not even aware of the extent of their own prejudice, which is another reason why we should not draw conclusions or make definitive pronouncements based on what someone tells you through self-reporting.  Taking their word for it just doesn’t fly. Take the Louisiana Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell for example - the bigot who recently refused to grant a marriage license to an interracial couple. He swears he’s not a racist, so I guess we should take his word for it, right? I don’t think so. He’s giving the response that they almost always give when under scrutiny. This is why you have to observe people in their normal settings, when they’re comfortable, and when they don’t believe that anyone is watching, in order to gain good insight on what their prejudices might be. Self-reporting in this instance is a joke.
Another problem with the Democracy Corps report is that the sampling appeared to be small. It wasn’t clear from the study exactly where all of the respondents came from or how many were involved. But it appears that many or the participants came from areas in and around Atlanta Georgia and Cleveland Ohio. Urban and Suburban Atlanta and Cleveland, both with a large number of Black Americans, may not have provided a sufficient sample of attitudes across the nation, considering the divergent politics between rural & urban Americans and the fact that different parts of the Country often illicit different responses based on social and cultural differences.
This new "study" does not match up with realities on the ground. It does not explain the rise in racial incidents surrounding the 2008 election campaign. Nor does it explain the dramatic rise in the number of threats made against President Obama (compared to his predecessors), or the recent growth of hate groups. 
In fact, a recent report highlights the strain that the Secret Service is feeling due to the unprecedented number of threats being made against President Obama. 
Threats against President Obama have risen 400% over his predecessor according to journalist Ronald Kessler, who mentions the horrific figure in his book In the President's Secret Service. Obama faces 30 death threats a day. 
There are various other observable events that point to another conclusion, and raises doubts about the findings of this study. I am skeptical about the validity of the study.... It just doesn’t seem valid to me. Are we to believe that all of these things that we can see with our own eyes are simply coincidences...that none of it has to do with President Obama’s ethnicity? Take the inverse.... If you believe this study, you would also have to believe that all of the incidents surrounding Obama’s Presidency - the birthers, the lashing out from Right wing Talk Radio and Fox News, the racial incidents, the efforts to de-legitimize the President, the disrespect shown by other government officials, the increased xenophobia, etc would have all occurred had the man elected on Nov. 4th, 2008 been white and male. When you think of it that way you can see how ridiculous this logic is (the idea that race isn’t involved and in some cases playing a significant role in today’s political discourse particularly as it relates to President Obama). Of course race is playing a role....and of course most of the nonsense we are seeing....most of the anger, would not have manifested the way that it has if the President were white and male. If you believe this study you would also have to believe that cows are blue and that elephants can fly.
Now I will agree that most white critics of Obama are not primarily motivated by racism. It would be foolish & shortsighted for me to believe that and I don’t believe that anyone on the Progressive side has ever made that claim. However, for the hardcore base of the Republican Party, which now appears to include some parts of the Right wing fringe, like the birthers for example, race does play a significant factor. Race does play a more than marginal role for a significant number of those on the Right. Some White independents (emphasis on some), particularly Conservative independents, are also influenced in some ways by race. Race is certainly playing more of a role in how people feel towards this President than it has for previous Presidents. This cannot be denied, I don’t care how many flawed studies attempt to paint another picture of the reality. Xenophobia has been a common and steady thread throughout the last year and a half, since Obama gained national prominence and since Americans actually realized that he had a real shot at the Presidency. And I believe that buzz words like "Socialism" have become stand-ins for "Black", or perhaps a slur. Think about that for a minute. Could the use of these other buzz words be a safe way for some Whites in this Country to express their prejudice? What do we usually think about when we think of "Socialism" or a dictator? Typically a White political leader from the West isn’t going to come to mind right away...although there have been plenty of White European dictators. Instead what tends to come to mind is the Third World, Africa, The Middle East, Central and South America.... Where more often than not, there is a leader of color, or someone in charge who is non-European white. This is what "Socialism" and dictatorship has become almost synonymous with over the past 20-30 years or so. Xenophobia, as it has been used against Obama, is a form of racism and prejudice.
This is more than just coincidence. The reactions that we see are driven by more than Obama’s policies. The idea that race is not playing a much bigger role than usual or is playing no real role at all is laughable. It simply does not match all of the other available facts.
- Democracy Corps. (2009) The Very Separate World of Conservative Republicans. Washington, DC: Greenberg, S.B.; Carville, J.; Agne, K.; & Gerstein, J.
- Landau, E. (2009) You May Be More Racist Than You Think. CNN online.
- "Mispredicting Affective and Behavioral Responses to Racism.
Kerry Kawakami, Elizabeth Dunn, Francine Karmali, and John F. Dovidio.
Science Vol. 323. no. 5911, pp. 276 - 278; Published online 9 January 2009.
- Southern Methodist University Research. Taboo prejudices can't hide from psychological testing tool
- Schwarz, J. (2009). Study Supports Validity of Test That Indicates Widespread Unconcious Bias. University of Washington News. http://uwnews.org/...
- Implicit Association Test from Harvard University.
- Bender, B. (2009) Secret Service Strained as Leaders Face More Threats. Boston Globe.
- Harnden, T (2009) Barack Obama Faces 30 Death Threats A Day, Stretching U.S. Secret Service. Telegraph.
- Harnden, T (2009) Barack Obama Faces 30 Death Threats A Day, Stretching U.S. Secret Service. Telegraph.