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Across the Land, Race Stays Front and Center after Obama Reelection

As the presidential election post-mortems continue, scholars are finding that the fear-mongering and vitriol engendered by the fierce campaigning had a galvanizing effect on voters of color, but also has created some lingering aftereffects.

Stacey Patton reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education that of the 717 sessions scheduled at the American Anthropological Society meeting in San Francisco last week, 118 dealt with the issue of race and much of it was discussed through the prism of the election.

Patton reported that many scholars at the conference expressed concern that Obama’s win “has amped up racial hatred. They cite racialized exit polls, a surge in gun sales, racist tweets, calls for Mr. Obama’s assassination on social media, the effigies of the president hung from trees on Halloween night, and the secession petitions filed in 30 states.”

But the scholars also said there was an opportunity to look at the shift in political power seen in the election and reelection of President Obama and put it in a more rational context, instead of merely reacting to the remarks of the emotional backlash following the presidential race.

The day after the election, conservative pundit and former GOP presidential contender Pat Buchanan said Obama’s reelection “killed white America.”

On the G. Gordon Liddy Show, a conservative radio program, Buchanan said life for white people would never be the same.

“White America died last night. Obama’s reelection killed it,” Buchanan said, “Our 200 plus year history as a Western nation is over. We’re a Socialist Latin American country now. Venezuela without the oil.”

Mitt Romney, in a conference call with donors, said that Obama won because he gave “generous gifts” to minorities and young people, which spurred a higher turnout at the polls.

Much of the chatter, of course, is a bit of sour grapes for those who supported the losing side, but it takes on a deeper meaning because of the racial overtones and undertones that encourage some people to express fear, anger and hatred in subtle and not-so-subtle way.

Patton wrote that scholars were being asked to look at “recent social transformations,” including demographic shifts and the legalization of gay marriage, for example, and their impact on societal mores and policies.

The academics at the conference, Patton wrote, said it was important to reach out to diverse communities to explain how America is “navigating change.”

The association hosted its first ever opening plenary session, “Why We Can’t Just All Get Along: Race, Language, and Meaning in the 2012 Presidential Election.”

H. Samy Alim, an associate professor of linguistics at Stanford University and a co-author of

“Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S.” (Oxford University Press, 2012), talked about the reaction to the way Obama speaks and what that means in terms of language, race and power.

“The assumption is still that articulateness and intelligence belong only to whites,” Alim said, according to The Chronicle story.

Alim also said the fear mongering that led to references during the campaign to “The ’47 percent,’ ‘illegal aliens,’ ‘legitimate rape,’ the ‘food-stamps president,’ aggressive anti-China discourse that Asians saw as a threat to their Americanness,” and rhetoric against same-sex marriage spurred those groups to organize and form the base that drove Obama to victory.

Rogers Smith, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania and co-author of “Still a House Divided: Race and Politics in Obama’s America” (Princeton University Press, 2011), told the audience that Obama’s election shifted the racial paradigm and offered hope for change.

“Before the election of Barack Obama, he said, the political landscape was governed by a conservative vision hostile to diversity,” Patton wrote. “’Now there are multiple versions of what kind of nation we will be. After this election there may be an opportunity for Obama to govern with greater unity,’ Mr. Smith said. ‘There are new opportunities and things are up for grabs.’”



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