Political empowerment fading for black Americans in the Age of Obama​

October 16th, 2012 in Other Sciences / Social Sciences
Political empowerment fading for black Americans in the Age of Obama​

Hailed by some as the "end of race as we know it" and the beginning of a "post-racial" America, the 2008 election of Barack Obama sparked a measurable bump in feelings of political empowerment among black Americans.

But those sentiments have faded considerably over the last year or so, according to a new analysis of political , with the sharpest declines in perceived political power coming among blacks who identify themselves as conservatives or "born again" Christians.

"The election of a black American to the U.S. presidency did seem to empower African Americans, causing an increase in levels of perceived freedom," writes James L. Gibson, PhD, the Sidney W. Souers Professor of Government and professor of African and African-American studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

"But that increase seems to have been epiphenomenal, with perceived levels of freedom after 2009 soon reverting to their prior level. The boost in empowerment that earlier research has documented may be of little long-term consequence. Instead, ideology and are now fairly strongly connected to perceptions of freedom among black Americans."

Gibson's findings, based on national surveys conducted between 2005-2011, suggests many black Americans still feel less free than whites when it come to engaging in political activities, including such icons of American democracy as the right to assemble and speak out on sensitive political issues.

His analysis, titled "Being Free in Obama's America: in Perceptions of Constraints on Political Action," is published in a forthcoming special issue of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

"For many Americans, perceived freedom to act seems to be a necessary condition for political participation," Gibson says. "Black Americans are much less likely than whites to perceive that their government will allow them to engage in ordinary (but non-voting) forms of political participation."

While some pundits characterize the black electorate as a monolithic voting block ready to back Obama no matter what, Gibson's analysis reveals a black America fractured by surprisingly diverse political viewpoints.

Key findings include:

"Given the objective reality of participation wars in contemporary American politics, it is hardly surprising that some would perceive serious constraints on the available to them, and that even the election of a co-ethnic to America's highest office would have little long-term ability to inoculate against those constraints," Gibson concludes.

Provided by Washington University in St. Louis

"Political empowerment fading for black Americans in the Age of Obama​." October 16th, 2012. http://phys.org/news/2012-10-political-empowerment-black-americans-age.html