America may have a Black president, but the country’s racial inequalities, in relation to education, health, incarceration, and wealth, remain rife. In two new studies, psychologists have documented effects that suggest the election of President Obama could, ironically, exacerbate this racial inequality rather than help eradicate it.
Daniel Effron and colleagues presented dozens of predominantly White undergrad students with one of two scenarios that would reveal their favouritism towards White people: one was a hiring decision, the other related to the allocation of funds to communities. Crucially, the students were asked to make their choices about the hiring or funding either before or after they had declared whether they planned to vote for Barack Obama, in what was then the upcoming Presidential election.
Students who declared their intention to vote for Obama before making the hiring/funding decisions subsequently showed more favouritism towards White people than did students who made their decisions first. A third study showed this effect was particularly apparent among more racially prejudiced students.
“Our findings raise the possibility that the opportunity to vote for an African-American for President could have reduced some voters’ concerns about appearing prejudiced, thereby ironically increasing the likelihood that they would favour Whites in subsequent decisions,” the researchers said.
In a separate study, Cheryl Kaiser and colleagues compared the support of dozens of predominantly White undergrad students for anti-racist social policies ten days prior to, and one week after, the election of President Obama. They found that support for anti-racist social policies – for example, encouraging diversity in business – was lower after Obama’s election compared with before. The students also stated that America had made more progress towards racial progress, and they expressed more support for meritocracy, when asked after Obama’s election compared with when they were asked before.
“Barack Obama’s presidential victory may have ironic and unintended consequences for remedying racial injustice in the United States,” Kaiser’s team said. “Specifically, construing President Barack Obama’s victory as an achievement in race relations may hinder efforts to eliminate the racial disparities that continue to plague and divide the United States.”
Kaiser, C., Drury, B., Spalding, K., Cheryan, S., & O’Brien, L. (2009). The ironic consequences of Obama’s election: Decreased support for social justice. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45 (3), 556-559 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.01.006
Effron, D., Cameron, J., & Monin, B. (2009). Endorsing Obama licenses favoring Whites. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45 (3), 590-593 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.02.001