Barack Obama was the 44th President of the United States of America and was the first African-American to be elected into the White House in American history. His presidency brought about the idea of a new era in America, where race is no longer the deciding factor in a person’s social or economic mobility (Rich, 2013). This ideal of a post-racial society directly contradicts much of the information being distributed to the public today. Race has always been a point of contention within American society, and racism is not a problem that will just “go away”, even with coming generations becoming increasingly more accepting of people who are different from them (Cohen, 2011).
Racism itself is changing over time, becoming increasingly subtler, unconscious, and more covert (Bonilla-Silva, 2014). The United States has enacted several antidiscrimination laws that have improved prejudiced actions in the Post-Civil Rights era of America. Though these laws assist in the reduction of discrimination, they do not always translate into the reduction of prejudiced racial attitudes as a whole (Walker, Spohn, & DeLone, 2016). The evolution of racism has simultaneously made the subject both more difficult to study and increasingly easier to avoid talking about.
There is a wide disagreement between races when it comes to the evaluation of racism and discrimination in America. Cohen (2011) evaluates the responses of Latino, Black, and White youth who were surveyed about attitudes toward both race and the efforts of the Obama administration. The results were strikingly pessimistic, prompting the question of whether or not President Obama has been effective in ending the race crisis in America. When asked about perspectives on racism since the election of President Obama, both Black (68%) and Latino (58%) youth agree that racism is still a major problem in America. However, White (63%) youth asserted that, even though racism still exists in America, it is no longer a major problem. Surprisingly, all three races surveyed tended to agree when discussing the amount of change seen since President Obama took office. 64% of Black youth, 45% of White youth, and 52% Latino youth agree that “Some Change” has been observed. Very few youths of any race felt as if a “Big Change” had been observed, and even fewer believed that “No Change” had occurred (Cohen, 2011).
The statistical analysis of data collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) suggests that the Obama administration was not effective in decreasing the prevalence of racism in America. While it is certainly true that, in the three years after President Obama was elected, the nation has seen a decrease in hate crimes across all races, this decrease may not be a direct result of the actions of President Obama. Obi (2015) considered the prevalence of hate crimes over the course of six years, as well as the proportion of hate crimes that are committed against Blacks before and after President Obama took office. The study found that roughly 70% of all hate crimes committed are Anti-Black, and that this was true for both the three years before and after the election of President Obama (Obi, 2015). The author concludes that there is not significant evidence to claim the President effectively improved the livelihood of Blacks in America during his first three years in office.
The number of hate crimes committed every year is decreasing steadily (Obi, 2015). Bonilla-Silva (2014) attempts to explain this decline in blatant discriminatory acts. The author asserts that racism is transforming and does not look the same as it did during the Civil Rights Era. Bonilla-Silva claims that, although the election of President Obama represents the ability of a minority to gain access to the political system in America, it is still close to impossible to have an impact on the system as a whole. The threat to minorities is no longer physical violence or reprimand, it is now focused on the discrimination that disguises itself into everyday life. This form of discrimination is dangerous because it is easily passed over or forgotten about, especially if the focus is solely on “old” methods of discrimination. Rather than searching for instances where hate crimes have been committed against blacks, the author suggests examining the ways in which discrimination makes itself apparent in areas such as education, housing, or politics (Bonilla-Silva, 2014, p. 60-61).
Recent studies have found that Millennials are much more likely than older generations to be accepting of groups that are different from their own (Cohen, 2011; Maxwell & Schulte, 2018). For this reason, many critics believe that the “race issue” in America will work itself out over time. The White millennial generation has much more exposure to the outside world than their parents had when they were growing up, and research suggests that this improves racial relations as a whole. Social media facilitates much of this exposure, and a recent study has found that “increases in the use of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media were related to decreases in racial resentment” (Maxwell & Schulte, p. 1196). The study also found that White Millennials are heavily influenced by their parents’ racial attitudes. This suggests that, even though there is a large generational gap, those initial prejudices will not be easily counteracted, even with increased exposure.
Although it is difficult to change the attitudes of an entire nation, the Civil Rights Movement aimed to do just that. As a result of many years of hard work, many antidiscrimination laws have been put in place in order to combat racism in a practical nature. The 1954 landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483, desegregated the nation’s public-school system and the 1964 Civil Rights Act made it unconstitutional in America to discriminate against anyone based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin (Walker et al., 2016). These are just two examples of government assistance in the emphasis of equality on a national scale. In the Criminal Justice System, a system that has a major impact on both society and on the lives of individuals, many provisions have been set in place to combat the overrepresentation of minorities and the institutionalized racism that burdens the system. For instance, African-Americans can no longer be excluded from juries, sentences given must take basis in “acceptable legal factors”, and prisons are no longer racially segregated (Walker et al., 2016).
Antidiscrimination laws have provided equal opportunities for every race and continue to be modified to be increasingly inclusive as society changes. A post-racial society isn’t hard to imagine, according to Rich (2013), and it might even have already arrived in America. The author argues that, politically, America has reached a point of meritocracy in choosing elected officials (Rich, 2013, p. 120). The election and re-election of President Obama supports this claim, as he would not have been backed for a second term if the people were not satisfied with the job that he was doing. His race might have gotten him through one term as President, but it is unlikely that he would have stayed for a second if he hadn’t proven himself capable. Rich (2013) is not suggesting that racism and racial inequalities no longer exist, but rather that a person’s race or ethnicity no longer determines the path that they will take in life. The antidiscrimination laws in place work cooperatively with the current mainstream media to ensure that racism is effectively socially controlled. These factors deter discrimination to the point where the focus can shift toward classism and the downsides of living in a capitalist society (Rich, 2013).
When dealing with matters of race, there are a number of biases and limitations that influence the reliability and validity of the studies conducted. Limitations of The Studies In the study conducted by Cohen (2011), a major limitation was the inclusion of only three racial groups, Whites, Blacks, and Latinos. It is widely accepted today that there are far more than three racial groups, and the scope of the study is limited based on the inclusion of only three. There is no research surrounding the treatment of Middle-Eastern Americans, Native Americans, or Asian-Americans in the study, and that leaves room for doubt regarding the predictive validity of the study itself. It should also be noted that the terms “racism” and “discrimination” were not given an operational definition, and therefore were subject to interpretation by the respondents. This could lead to many discrepancies in the way that each participant understood the question, as well as the ways in which each participant chose to answer. The research conducted by the FBI regarding hate crimes was based on police departments’ Uniform Crime Reports (UCR). The UCR consists only of the numbers of crimes reported by state and local law enforcement agencies (Obi, 2015).
There is no assurance that every hate crime was reported, nor is there the assurance that each hate crime reported was in entirety a hate crime. Without a clear definition of what a hate crime is legally defined as, it is difficult to consider the statistics as externally valid. However, this does not mean that they do not accurately represent trends or movements in the prevalence of hate crimes – it suggests that a degree of caution should be used when evaluating the statistics. Both political and personal biases impact the reliability and validity of research measures, especially when it comes to studies involving racial attitudes. President Obama’s administration was a polarizing time in America.
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