a1 Department of Psychology, Northwestern University
a2 Department of Psychology, Northwestern University
The issue of race has followed Barack Obama since he emerged on the national political scene, continuing unabated throughout his successful 2008 presidential campaign. Although the issue of race is not always explicitly acknowledged or discussed by Obama himself, the implications of his successful candidacy for U.S. politics and the ways people in the United States think about race more generally have been of great interest to media pundits, social scientists, and laypersons alike. Race has been considered a substantial barrier to the electoral success of previous non-White political candidates; therefore Obama's success requires reconsideration of how race can be expected to influence political outcomes in the future. In addition, his biracial identity also raises questions about how his role as a prominent cultural figure will affect existing racial categories in the United States. A review of social psychological evidence highlights the importance of understanding the ambivalence that characterizes contemporary racial attitudes, as well as the ways in which definitions of race and racial categories may be changing, in order to understand the impact that Obama could have on the future of racial politics. We conclude that Obama's victory represents a large step in the direction of increasingly positive racial attitudes and more sophisticated public conceptualizations of race, but steady progress in the coming years is not guaranteed. We consider some of the opportunities and obstacles that may affect the trajectory of future gains in the struggle for racial equality in the Obama era.
Destiny Peery is a PhD/JD candidate in the Department of Psychology and School of Law at Northwestern University. She earned her BA in psychology from the University of Minnesota and her MA in social psychology from Northwestern University. Her primary line of research addresses how people perceive and categorize ambiguous targets (e.g., racially ambiguous or multiracial people) and the implications of initial categorization processes on subsequent reactions to the targets. She is broadly interested in social cognition and racial stereotyping and prejudice.
Galen V. Bodenhausen is Lawyer Taylor Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Northwestern University, where he also serves as codirector of the Center on the Science of Diversity. He earned his PhD in social psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research addresses the cognitive functions of social attitudes and stereotypes, particularly their roles in influencing attention, perception, memory, judgment, and behavior. A frequent focus of his recent research is on the relatively automatic and implicit aspects of prejudice and stereotyping. Bodenhausen is a fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, the American Psychological Association, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. He currently serves as editor in chief of Personality and Social Psychology Review.