This is a Time for Hope and Change

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2013-03-22 23:07Z by Steven

This is a Time for Hope and Change

Indiana Law Journal
Volume 87, Issue 1 (2012)
Article 23
pages 431-444

Kevin D. Brown, Richard S. Melvin Professor of Law
Indiana University Maurer School of Law

I have agreed to comment on the paper delivered by Professors Angela Onwuachi-Willig and Mario Barnes at a conference titled Labor and Employment Law Under the Obama Administration: A Time for Hope and Change? In his victory speech on the night of November 4, 2008, Barack Obama, the first black (African American, biracial?) President reaffirmed the themes of “hope and change” that were central to his campaign. He stated that his election was the answer “that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve, to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.” He went on to point out that “[i]ts [sic] been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.” So with his reelection just a year away, now is an appropriate time to reflect on whether this truly is a time for hope and change.

Professors Onwuachi-Willig and Barnes entitled their piece The Obama Effect: Understanding the Emerging Meanings of “Obama” in Anti-Discrimination Law.
They reject the idea that this is a time for either hope or positive change. They close their introduction with the following summary:

[W]e conclude that having a biracial, black-white president has had very little effect on the enforcement of anti-discrimination law. Indeed, we contend that Obama’s campaign and election have, to an extent, had the opposite effect in the work environment. Rather than revealing that racism is over or that racial discrimination is diminishing in the workplace, Obama’s presence and prominence have developed a specialized meaning that has signaled an increase in or at the very least a continuation of regular discrimination and harassment within the workplace.

To support their conclusion Onwuachi-Willig and Barnes point to “Obama’s own identity performance during his campaign, studies regarding the psychology of whites who supported Obama, and studies concerning implicit bias.” Onwuachi-Willig and Barnes note that during his campaign, Obama engaged in a number of racial-comfort strategies. He avoided discussions of race as much as possible and “black people [like Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton] . . . deemed to be ‘too’ racially defined.” Obama worked to produce an identity that countered stereotypes of blacks as too consumed with race and downplayed his status as a black man during the campaign. Onwuachi-Willig and Barnes also point out that Obama’s opponents used his race against him and his wife, often publicizing negative stereotypes about blacks. These attacks continued even after the election, including the highly publicized use of stereotyped images by the Tea Party. Onwuachi-Willig and Barnes mention studies that demonstrate that some whites voted for Obama as a means to make a statement about the irrelevancy of race to them and society. They indicate that psychologists have noted that some white voters who supported Obama did so simply in order to congratulate themselves for backing a black person. This statement, however, might provide persons with a license to support racism, because supporting Obama gave them the moral credentials to express their true feelings about race. Onwuachi-Willig and Barnes go on to contend that these psychological studies suggest that Obama’s election may actually increase racial discrimination, thereby requiring, but not necessarily resulting in, greater enforcement of anti-discrimination law.

It is impossible to ground an evaluative judgment, using definitive measures of universally agreed upon objective and measurable criteria, that Obama’s election may have increased racial discrimination and had a negative effect on the work environment. To reach such a conclusion, scholars have to decide among innumerable possible factors which ones are worthy of consideration, and how much weight should be given to the particular aspects chosen. Alternatively, scholars could arrive at a conclusion like this motivated by particular concerns. Thus, the evaluative conclusion that Obama’s election may increase racial discrimination could represent a response to these concerns…

Read the entire article here.

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