Media Denials of Racism: Sad Reactions to a Great Victory

Well, as predicted numerous white and other pundits in the mass media are using this election to do what they do best–that is to deny that there is still significant U.S. racism. The Wall Street Journal even calls on Obama to lead this effort:

While Mr. Obama lost among white voters, as most modern Democrats do, his success is due in part to the fact that he also muted any politics of racial grievance. We have had in recent years two black Secretaries of State, black CEOs of our largest corporations, black Governors and Generals — and now we will have a President. One promise of his victory is that perhaps we can put to rest the myth of racism as a barrier to achievement in this splendid country. Mr. Obama has a special obligation to help do so.

The intensity of this white denial should be a dead giveaway that there is something going on just beneath the surface, like the continuing white-racist framing of society and discriminatory actions. (And the irony is lost on the writer too, as he/she admits that whites did not vote in the majority for Obama.) Even as African Americans are collectively celebrating a great victory against U.S. racism—one they can best understand and feel–only a minority of whites are also celebrating the victory (and usually with a different historical experience to bring to that celebration) and numerous whites in media are denying now that there is any significant racism left.

However, against this backdrop, a summer 2008 USA Today/Gallup poll of nearly 2000 adults finds that even a bare majority (51 percent) of white Americans still admit there is widespread racial discrimination targeting African Americans. The proportions among Americans of color agreeing there is widespread discrimination against African Americans are substantially higher– some 59 percent of Latinos and 78 percent of black Americans. The report notes

Americans also see racial discrimination as a major or minor factor in four specific problems facing the black community — lower average education levels for U.S. blacks, lower average income levels for U.S. blacks, lower average life expectancies for blacks, and a higher percentage of blacks serving time in U.S. prisons.

Not surprisingly, thus,

On all four issues, blacks are more likely than whites and Hispanics to see racial discrimination as a major factor. In fact, a majority of blacks say racial discrimination is a major reason each problem is occurring. Whites are more inclined to view racial discrimination as a minor reason in three of the four areas, but a plurality of 44% of whites believe it is a major factor in higher prison rates for blacks.

Assessing the implications, Gallup can only manage to add this:

As on most issues involving race in the United States, blacks are much more likely to see racism as a problem than are whites.

Could it be because they are daily targets of subtle, blatant, and covert racial discrimination? How quaint and feeble is this Gallup analysis? And Gallup finishes up, like most such assessments, with an optimistic and also quaint note:

However, other questions in the poll showed that Americans remain optimistic that race relations could improve, if Americans could hold an open national dialogue on race and if Barack Obama were elected as the first black president. (I blogged on some of these optimism items this summer.)

At least the latter happened. Now is there any chance for a national dialogue on race? Probably not. And it is indeed time for the media pundits like those at the WSJ to start paying attention to the empirical data like the large Gallup poll: Even a bare majority of whites think racial discrimination is still a serious problem in the United States.