Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 July 2009
Barack Obama's election as the first Black president of the United States has stimulated much discussion about progress toward racial equality in the United States. Opinion surveys document that White Americans reliably perceive the rate of progress toward racial equality as greater than do Black Americans. We focus on two psychological factors that contribute to these diverging perceptions: (1) the tendency of White Americans and Black Americans to adopt different reference points to assess racial progress, and (2) the general tendency to frame social change as a zero-sum game in which Black Americans' gains entail losses for White Americans. We review research examining how these two factors contribute to racial polarization on the topic of progress toward equality. We also draw on excerpts from Barack Obama's speeches and writings to demonstrate that he often frames issues in ways that, our research suggests, has the potential to substantially bridge these racial divisions.