Tope, D. et al. 2014. “Othering Obama: Racial Attitudes and Dubious Beliefs about the Nation’s First Black President.”

Tope, Daniel, Justin T. Pickett, Ryon J. Cobb, and Jonathan Dirlam. 2014. “Othering Obama: Racial Attitudes and Dubious Beliefs about the Nation’s First Black President.” Sociological Perspectives VOL(X): 1-20.


Measuring white racial attitudes and likelihood of othering B. Obama as Muslim/non-citizen. Symbolic racial resentment, traditional racial attitudes à Othering.  Demonstrates role of both symbolic and overt racism in political sphere.


*** Use figures 1 and 2 on page 6.***

Racial resentment: mostly mediated by emotionally-based “non-racist frames”/negative expectations for Obama presidency.

Anti-black stereotypes: did not use justificatory framework (plain old racism, without filter)


Distinctions between symbolic and overt prejudice reviewed by Huddy and Feldman (2009) — movement from Jim Crow to post-civil rights marks a change in racial language, becoming more subtle, covert (Bobo, Kluegel, and Smith 1997; Bonilla-Silva 2010). Although symbolic forms of racism grow (such as racial resentment) (Sears and Henry 2005), we cannot totally ignore the continuation of overt racism (Huddy and Feldman 2009). Evolving racial norms discourage expressions of overt racism, whites have turned to more subtle methods of expressing the same (Kinder and Sanders 1996; Sears and Henry 2005; Sears et al 2000). Whites less likely to voice blatant racist stereotypes, compared to the past (Schuman et al 1997), but many still host traditional prejudices, labeled “old fashioned racism” (see Tesler 2013).

  • Racial resentment: “white contempt toward black calls for social change as well as policies that may serve to ameliorate racial inequality” (4, see also Bobo et al 1997; Henry and Sears 2002) —- “a refined form of prejudice that merges whites’ belief in traditional values such as the protestant work ethic with whites’ negative feelings about blacks” (4) – fear, unease, dislike — othering because of racial resentment acts in response to negative emotions or expectations.
    • Blacks do not try hard enough – thus, do not merit support of affirmative action, social spending, school busing (see also Pickett, Chiricos, and Gertz 2014; Sears et al 2000). Expounds: actions in black interests are perceived as racist, penalizing whites — portrayal of “white innocence” of Bonilla-Silva.
    • Racial policy resistance more associated with symbolic racism than traditional racism (Krysan 2000; Sears et al 2000) – ending up with same discriminatory outcomes as traditional racism, but more covert – presenting itself as “race-neutral”
    • Symbolic prejudice “allows individuals to justify – both to themselves and to others – their support/opposition to policies that have clear racial consequences without ever openly endorsing a racist ideology” (4, see also Kinder and Sanders 1996; Sears et al 2000) —– racial language as subtle, observably nonracial (Hill 2008; Myers 2005) – whites frequently use nonracist rhetorical frames/narratives to “sanitized” their racist beliefs (Bonilla-Silva 2010)
      • “[…] to abide by discursive racial norms, whites should often use seemingly nonracist justifications or stories to buttress views that could be perceived as racially biased – such as othering a member of a racial/ethnic group” (5).


Though election gave rise to discourse of postracial eras (see also Thernstrom 2008), it also served to encourage racial fears/tensions. Whites less likely to view minority politicians with “Americanness” (Devos and Banaji 2005); antiblack attitudes predict whites’ policy opinions (Hutchings and Valentino 2004; Krysan 2000).


Othering: “the general process of demarcating an out-group and thereby reaffirming in-group membership” (2, see also Schwalbe et al 2000). Frequently involves out-group labeling, present in all systems of inequality  (r/c/g) – not always rooted in ethnocentrism.  However, here “othering seems to be a symbolic expression of ethnocentrism likely shaped in part by contemporary implicit and explicit racial discourse” (2, see also Bonilla-Silva 2010). Othering themes can exist as part of broader ethnocentrism in a culture (see Kinder and Kam 2010, Kam and Kinder 2012). When subordinate groups are perceived to gain power (or actually do so), they are viewed as political threat to dominant group and its members (Blalock 1967; Blumer 1958).


Despite othering in politics being a traditional means of disparagement, this observed othering is interesting: Obama not merely as RACIAL threat, but RACIST threat – “a menance to the racial order” (2, see also Barreto et al 2011; Enck-Wanzer 2011: 26).  Marked the de-racialization in high-performing black politicians who hold moderate race-neutral positions (see Hajnal 2007).


Findings: subtle racial resentment linked to mediating, nonracist frames; traditional racisms were much, more overt – directly othering Obama without use of non-racist frames.

Strengths: Large N of Survey data (1000+ on reputable collection tool).

DQ/Limitations: Other types of Othering – beyond negative emotions, expectations?   Literature review focused a lot on the political dimensions of othering, but not the concept in and of itself.

Demonstrates that “this is not over.”




Barreto, Matt, Betsy Cooper, Benjamin Gonzalez, Christopher Parker, and Christopher Towler. 2011. “The Tea Party in the Age of Obama: Mainstream Conservatism or Out-Group Anxiety?” Political Power and Social Theory 22:105–37

Blalock, Hubert. 1967. Toward a Theory of Minority-Group Relations. New York: Wiley.

Blumer, Herbert. 1958. “Race Prejudice as a Sense of Group Position.” The Pacific Sociological Review 1:3–7.

Bobo, Lawrence, James Kluegal, and Ryan Smith. 1997. “Laissez-Faire Racism: The Crystallization of a Kinder, Gentler, Antiblack Ideology.” Pp. 15–42 in Racial Attitudes in the 1990s: Continuity and Change, edited by Steven A. Tuch and Jack K. Martin. Westport, CT: Praeger

Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. 2010. Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and Racial Inequality in Contemporary America. 3rd ed. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Devos, Thierry and Mahzarin Banaji. 2005. “American = White?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 88:447–66.

Enck-Wanzer, Darrel. 2011. “Barack Obama, the Tea Party, and the Threat of Race: On Racial Neoliberalism and Born Again Racism.” Communication, Culture & Critique 4:23–30.

Hajnal, Zoltan. 2007. Changing White Attitudes toward Black Political Leadership. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Henry, P. J. and David Sears. 2002. “The Symbolic Racism 2000 Scale.” Political Psychology 23:253–83.

Hill, Jane H. 2008. The Everyday Language of White Racism. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

Huddy, Leonie and Stanley Feldman. 2009. “On Assessing the Political Effects of Racial Prejudice.” Annual Review of Political Science 12:423–47.

Hutchings, Vincent and Nicholas Valentino. 2004. “The Centrality of Race in American Politics.” Annual Review of Political Science 7:383–408.

Kam, Cindy and Donald Kinder. 2012. “Ethnocentrism as a Short-Term Force in the 2008 American Presidential Election.” American Journal of Political Science 56:326–40.

Kinder, Donald R. and Cindy D. Kam. 2010. Us against Them: Ethnocentric Foundations of American Opinion. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Kinder, Donald R. and Lynn Sanders. 1996. Divided by Color: Racial Politics and Democratic Ideals. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Krysan, Maria. 2000. “Prejudice, Politics and Public Opinion: Understanding the Sources of Racial Policy Attitudes.” Annual Review of Sociology 26:135–68.

Myers, Kristen. 2005. Racetalk. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield

Pickett, Justin T., Ted Chiricos, and Marc Gertz. 2014. “The Racial Foundations of Whites’ Support for Child Saving.” Social Science Research 44:44–59.

Schuman, Howard, Charlotte Steeh, Lawrence Bobo, and Maria Krysan. 1997. Racial Attitudes in America: Trends and Interpretations. Rev. ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Schwalbe, Michael, Sandra Godwin, Daphne Holden, Douglas Schrock, Shealy Thompson, and Michele Wolkomir. 2000. “Generic Processes in the Reproduction of Inequality: An Interactionist Analysis.” Social Forces 79:419–52

Sears, David and P. J. Henry. 2005. “Over Thirty Years Later: A Contemporary Look at Symbolic Racism and Its Critics.” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 37:95–150

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Tesler, Michael. 2013. “The Return of Old Fashioned Racism to White Americans’ Partisan Preferences in the Early Obama Era.” Journal of Politics 75(1):110–23.

Thernstrom, Abagail. 2008. “Great Black Hope? The Reality of President-Elect Obama.” National Review Online, November 6.


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