Apr 27, 2011

It's 'cause he's black.

There's no longer any doubt. The reason people oppose Obama on such unreasonable grounds is his race. He's black, and people just can't wrap their minds around a black man being the president of the United States.

Those screams you hear are my Facebook friends from the South, where I spent most of my adult life. They aren't reading this sentence, as they just switched to Facebook to defriend me. Whatev. For those of you willing to read on, here's what makes me certain:

When I was earning a master's degree in communication, I had to write a paper about framing, priming and schema. These are topics in mass comm studies about the relationship between media presentation of stories and our interpretation of them.

While doing research for the paper, I ran across a 2008 study in the journal Political Psychology by Dr. Kimberly Gross of George Washington University on the effects of media framing on emotion and public opinion (you can read it here if you wish).

The study conducted an experiment. One group of students received a packet of materials about mandatory minimum sentencing that included an initial 550-word article about a "single, white mother in her 20s" sentenced to a 25-year, no-parole, mandatory minimum sentence for conspiring to assist her abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend in his cocaine trade.

A second group received a packet identical to the first with one exception: The initial article described the woman in the story as a "single, black mother in her 20s."

One word out of thousands. Only the initial article in each packet referred to race and only in the one sentence.

The result?

Students in the first group felt sympathy for the white woman. Because her circumstances were so harsh, they felt she was treated unjustly. So much so that their opposition to mandatory minimum sentencing significantly increased.

Students in the second group felt no sympathy for the black woman. She was responsible for her circumstances, so justice was served. Their views on mandatory minimum sentencing remained unchanged.

Wow. This study was published in 2008, not 1958. And these were college students — hardly a group of ultra-right crypto-racists. Clearly, some storyline way, way deep in our mental "schema" — to use the positivist parlance of quantitative communication studies — tells us that blacks get what they deserve. And they don't deserve a break.

Enter the birthers. Obama doesn't deserve one jot or tittle of trust. Born in Hawaii? Prove it. Released your birth certificate? Probably a fake. Your social security number? It's a problem. You went to Harvard? You didn't deserve it. You get no break from us, buster. You're black.

Rings true to me, unfortunately. And you?

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