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Obama’s win didn’t end racial stereotyping

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 12/22/2008, 9:46 a.m.

There are two troubling implications in these studies. One is that Obama’s victory was just that — a personal triumph for him. It did not radically remap racial perceptions, let alone end racial stereotyping.

A significant percent of whites voted for him and were passionate about him because they were fed up with George W. Bush’s policies and believed that he would reverse those policies. The vote for him was race-neutral. His victory was a tribute to his personal political organization and savvy, as well as public fear and frustration about Bush.

The second implication is even more troubling. If a large share of the public still views crime and poverty through a narrow racial lens, that public will continue to clamor for lawmakers, police and prosecutors to clean the streets of violent criminals — who are almost always seen as African Americans. This could mean even more gang sweeps, court injunctions, stiff adult prison terms, “three strikes” laws and the indefinite holding of accused teens in juvenile jail detention.

Ironically, Obama inadvertently fed the negative perceptions of blacks.

In several much-publicized talks on the black family, the president-elect blasted black men for being missing in action on the home front and for shirking their family responsibility. It was a well-meaning effort to call attention to the chronic problems of black males and families, but it also gave the impression that black males are dysfunctional. It was a short step from that to the conclusion that these same men are more likely to be involved in crime than whites.

Obama’s win was a double-edged sword. It was, as billed, a profound historic win, but it also fanned the illusion that racial stereotypes are dead. Now we know better.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a syndicated columnist, author, political analyst and social issues commentator.