Obama Using White Racial Frame to Further Campaign?

Tensions increased this week as Bill O’Reilly and Fox News publicized Jesse Jackson’s comments about Obama, “talking down to black people.” Some may argue that this criticism along with Jackson’s other comments will hurt Obama’s popularity and harm his campaign for the presidency. However, in his recent article entitled “Jackson’s ‘Crude’ Remarks May Give Boost to Obama,” John Salant argues just the opposite. As the title implies, Salant believes this divide with Jackson will help Obama in November. In the article, Salant quotes public policy professor Mark Rozell of George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia concerning Obama’s speech to members of a large black church in Chicago on Father’s day in which he condemned black fathers:

Obama’s effort to present himself as an advocate of responsible personal behavior, a position that Republican candidates like to secure as uniquely their own.

This embodies the common stereotype long entrenched in the white racial frame and replicated for hundreds of years in this country that portrays whites as having “family values” and depicts blacks in a very negative and immoral light. In addition to illustrating Obama as being strong on responsible personal behavior and family values, this incident distances Jackson, a longtime black leader in politics, from Obama. Jackson has been portrayed for decades as a “dangerous black man,” another common feature of the white racial frame (see Systemic Racism and Two-Faced Racism ). In distancing himself from Jackson, Obama lessens the chance of also being portrayed using this common archetype. Salant goes on in the article to quote social science professor Steffen Schmidt from Iowa State University, who comments:

Cynics are asking if Jackson made this comment on purpose to help Obama.

This incident and the reactions of the media and general public suggest that when Obama’s behavior and comments come from the white racial frame, his popularity increases. Does this mean that in order to win the white vote, Obama will have to distance himself from black voters? It does, according to David Schultz of Hamline University who is also quoted in the article, saying:

Obama should give Jackson and O’Reilly an award for helping his campaign.

The theme of pitting white voters against black voters is a common one in American politics. And, during this election it puts Obama in a difficult position. It also reveals the extent to which white-on-black racism still occurrs. The outcome in November will reveal, among many other things, whether Obama’s embodiment of the highly treasured ideals of the white racial frame did in fact benefit his campaign.

~ Hannah is an advanced undergraduate student at Texas A&M University doing a major research project on the numerous racial aspects of the current U.S. presidential campaign–with a special focus on the unique reality and impacts of having the first Black candidate for a major political party in the campaign. She will be guest blogging with us on some of her research findings over the next few months. ~ Joe