The Uninsured Has a Black Face -- White Ambivalence Is Obama's Struggle

Yale University Professor of Psychology, and a highly recognized and award winning research expert on racism, John Dovidio does not feel the ongoing protests, yelling, name calling and Hitler labels by white protesters are hate. Instead, what he sees is a fight by whites desperately struggling to defend and maintain their position and status in America before it goes down the tubes to blacks and other colored people. "I don't think we are at the point of hate yet," Says the author of more than 250 academic research articles on racial discrimination. "I see it as a kind of threat. People are sensitive to being threatened and it makes them passionate. I don't think most whites articulate it as hate."

A co-author of several books, over the last 30-years, Dovidio has delved into areas of stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination towards Blacks and other disadvantaged groups. He has analyzed social power and nonverbal communication. "There is a very real increase in hate crimes and hate group activity that has been going on for a long time, but we have to distinguish between an extremist engaged in a hate crime versus people who are so argumentative in terms of issues like health," points out Prof. Dovidio.

Dovidio admits even if he does not see the screamers and gun posers as hate mongers at-this-point, they are heading in this direction - the swastikas and defamed Rosa Parks' poster are hateful acts and bridges between hateful act and feeling threatened. The threat he says however is primarily rooted in racism. "Race permeates so much of our politics and is a part of our history; even if people say race has nothing to do with it. Healthcare is one of those examples," states the Prof. "We're obsessed with race. One drop of black blood will determine someone's destiny in America. Code words for whites are welfare, unemployment and now health care reform - race is one of the main elements in health. While the majority of the people in poverty in America are white, when we talk about welfare, race is what begins to dominate it." On the other side words and phrases such as, "I have a right to carry a weapon in public at an Obama speech," sends a bloody coded message in response to his Presidency.

Dovidio says those with the resources want to have a superior position over those who don't have resources. Talking about poverty is talking about black folks. The uninsured has a black face with a public option. "A shifting of resources is not only wealth, but health to make it "more equitable" is threatening...the extreme response is why should we give up our privileges?"

Viewing racism as functional, Dovidio argues it benefits whites by providing them with more opportunities, resources, and power to shape their lives and the country, if not immediately than in the long run. He also says with what is going on right now since President Obama has been elected is a pulling back and feelings of uncertainty and insecurity about where white people sit on the totem pole in this health care debate, economic recession and immigration issue (which is more perplexing to many whites because of so many more cultures are now involved) - hence the notion of the redistribution of wealth, socialism and other words related to equality received such a negative response. When African Americans tout that the new Civil Rights movement is about health care reform and education for all, it may now be seen by a growing number of whites as a warning that they will lose what they have been privileged to since the Pilgrims.

"Our research shows that a small group of people in America who are openly hateful to blacks," says Dovidio. "There is also a small group of white people who are not prejudice. However, the majority of whites have ambivalence. On the one hand we believe in fairness, justice and equality. We think all of the right thoughts, but on the other hand our socialization experiences and our history, whites have negative feelings about blacks; this creates ambivalence for potentially strong feelings one way or the other. Whites who supported Obama for President, supported him more passionately than they have any Democratic candidate. That energy was channeled in a positive direction. Everything was fine." Many of these voters were the Independents MSNBC's Chris Matthews constantly yaps about. The polls show Obama support is eroding fast. The question is how does he get them back to feeling good about their decision to support him in the first place?

Dovidio is brave enough to admit that a black person walks a very thin because it is easier for whites to fall back on stereotypes or what he calls "the unconscious negative feelings," but he still refuses to call it "hatred" by whites. Actually Dovidio admits that he runs away from saying there is hatred, but it seems ironic that he however believes many opponents of healthcare reform who are white have racially based feelings, but to call them haters only stops the discussion.

Whites are very uncomfortable with Obama at the moment and while Dovidio believes Obama has the capability to shift the negative energy around him, the President's biggest challenge is changing the perception that the Government (despite the majority being white) is black because of a his Black Presidency; and it is the Black Government echoed by Glenn Beck that is the problem -- Obama hates whites, health care if a form of reparations, etc. Government is out to get the whites and according to Dovidio, "does not take whites much to jump to that conclusion."

Dovidio makes a third rail statement when he says what Obama might need to help him come out of this malaise of white discomfort and uncertainty is a "Great White Hope?" During the campaign when President Obama talked about issues of "race," it was in the context of unity and everyone being treated well -it was only talk. Now, Dovidio says, he is in a real decision making position that directly impacts the lives of white people; thus bringing more white people into the conversation who are "credible" and "comfortable" for whites to get things back on track. Dovidio says there needs to be a "calming down." Beyond that, he calls on Faith based and community leaders from all racial and ethnic backgrounds to make a definitive statement about these issues so that the reset button is hit; Obama can't do it alone.

If what Prof. Dovidio is saying is accurate about what white people need, and he would know since he is white, it is more than quite troubling that an African American President who has the best boot strap story in history; words many white folks like to use as well as the word "articulate" would need whites to rescue him. While it is realistic that a harsh reality surrounds this suggestion, it also points an even more insidious problem involving liberal racism which maintains the system the way it is - which in some ways is much worse than what the right wing who are at least open about how they feel. Here's to the Post Racial Society. Yeah Right! We've got such a longer way to go.