After the simultaneous parades on campus and downtown concluded, the taste of Barack Obama’s victory was sweet. Some deemed his election as the end of racism, prompting New York Times science editor John Tierney to write, “Where have all the bigots gone?”
The answer: nowhere.
Professor emeritus of social psychology Thomas Pettigrew will give a lecture on Thursday entitled “Post-Racism? Putting President Obama’s Victory in Perspective,” which warns against the dangers of believing in the end of contemporary racism.
His lecture promises to be a sobering, if not critical look at the 2008 election. Todd Wipke, head of the UC Santa Cruz Emeriti Group, said in an e-mail that the upcoming lecture “will be stimulating.”
Notions of post-racism, according to Pettigrew, both ignore the factors in the 2008 presidential election and the continuing structural injustices that oppress minorities and other disadvantaged groups.
In his upcoming lecture, Pettigrew will contend that then-candidate Obama ran a “largely deracialized campaign.” He said that Obama did not use race primarily in his campaign until controversy surrounded Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Pettigrew reconciles these racist acts and Obama’s victory by citing other factors involved in the election. He hypothesizes that with the downturn of the economy, Americans looked to the presidential candidates for reassurance and guidance with a strong economic plan. Therefore, Pettigrew believes that while they might hold to prejudices, their votes were not determined solely upon race.
“Racist views do not exist in a psychological vacuum,” Pettigrew said. “They compete with other values — such as keeping your job and home.”
Crossing party ideologies was another major factor in Obama’s victory. New research conducted by Pettigrew, who specializes in polls and intergroup relations, indicates Obama received 3 percent more moderate and conservative votes than Kerry did in 2004. The trend, Pettigrew believed, is good for the Democratic Party, but should not be claimed as a victory against racism.
However, Pettigrew is quick to say that his conclusions should in no way lessen President Obama’s election. He acknowledges Obama’s eloquence and efforts to register and mobilize voters.
Pettigrew points to the future. He believes that Obama’s election portends a brighter future for race relations. Pettigrew joked that people of different races could agree and say, “Ain’t it great about Obama?”