Brandon, a 9-year-old black kid, attended a campaign rally hosted by Michelle Obama. A cameraman interviewed Brandon, who was there with his dad. “Why does (Obama) need to win?” he was asked. “Because if Mitt Romney wins,” he replied, “we’ll be going back to the crop fields. We’ll be picking crops.” Off-screen, his father could be heard laughing.
From whom does a 9-year-old hear that Obama’s opponent is a racist who, to quote the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, wants “to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws”?
Brandon’s father might alert his son to a recent column by Douglas Wilder, the black ex-governor of Virginia and himself a former presidential candidate. Although former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s re-endorsement of President Obama got more attention, a far bigger deal is the refusal by Wilder to endorse Barack Obama for re-election. Wrote Wilder: “The classic question, ‘Are we better off than we were four years ago,’ leaves a mixed answer for many people I meet when traveling around Virginia and the country.”
Artur Davis, a black former Alabama congressman and co-chair of Obama 2008, switched his support to Romney. An opponent of Obamacare, Davis said, “A comprehensive, 2,000 page, near $1 trillion dollar overhaul of the health-care system is just too cumbersome and too costly in a time of trillion-dollar deficits.” When he was first criticized for his stance against Obamacare, Davis said, “I vigorously reject the insinuation that there is a uniquely ‘black’ way of understanding an issue.”
The Associated Press, however, wants people like little Brandon to know that, yes, had Obama lost, it was racism that did him in. Indeed, the AP says its online survey shows that many Americans possess negative “racial attitudes” toward blacks – enough to hurt Obama’s re-election.
How does the AP uncover negative “racial attitudes”?
In addition to extensive questions about the presidential candidates and political attitudes, the AP asked “overt” questions. These include things like, well, certain words or phrases – “friendly,” “law abiding,” “intelligent at school,” “lazy” and “complaining” – to describe blacks, whites, Hispanics and so on.
The AP also used “subtler techniques” because “some (people) may not be aware of their own biases.” And employing “affect misattribution,” the survey showed “faces of people of different races quickly on a screen before displaying a neutral image that people were asked to rate as pleasant or unpleasant.”
Then after applying what sounds like a small universe of “mathematical formulas” to the survey answers (to account for “likelihoods” and “attitudes” and “characteristics,” and “models … to estimate the impact each factor has,” while “controlling for other factors”), the AP announced its findings: A majority (51 percent) of Americans possess “negative views” of blacks.
Case closed, right? Wrong.
What happens when these questions are asked of blacks about blacks? How do blacks answer these negative assertions about blacks? In 1991, researchers for the National Race and Politics Survey asked the same questions of both blacks and whites. Blacks, for example, were also asked if they considered blacks “aggressive or violent,” “boastful,” “complaining,” “lazy” or “irresponsible.”
While 52 percent of whites agreed with the statement “blacks are aggressive or violent,” 59 percent of blacks also agreed. On the question of blacks being boastful, more blacks than whites agreed, at 57 percent and 45 percent, respectively. On “blacks are complaining,” 51 percent of blacks agreed, while fewer whites, at 41 percent, agreed with that statement. Fewer whites (34 percent) than blacks (39 percent) agreed that “blacks are lazy.”
Stanford University’s political scientist Paul M. Sniderman and survey research specialist Thomas Piazza examined the 1991 survey. They write: “In every case, blacks are at least as likely as whites to hold a negative view of blacks. … Indeed, when it comes to judgments of whether blacks as a group exhibit socially undesirable characteristics, where there is a statistically significant difference between the views of blacks and whites, it always takes the form of blacks expressing a more negative evaluation of other blacks than do whites.” Are blacks, who consistently score higher than whites on self-esteem tests, racist against themselves? According to the National Race and Politics Survey, apparently so – thus the absurdity of branding someone racist merely for holding “negative” racial views.
I was about Brandon’s age when my mother and I watched the 1960 convention, when John Kennedy was nominated. In my new book, “Dear Father, Dear Son,” I write about my Democratic mother and Republican father. Neither of them accused Richard Nixon of seeking to re-impose Jim Crow. They talked about issues, policy differences. During vigorous political arguments over the kitchen table, neither my mother nor father played victim. Neither thought the opposing party was “out to get them.” Mom and Dad considered America an imperfect country in a constant – mostly successful – struggle to live up to her ideals.
Man, was I fortunate.