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IMAGES OF BLACK AMERICANS

Then, “Them,” and Now, “Obama!”

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 July 2009

Susan T. Fiske*
Affiliation:
Department of Psychology, Princeton University
Hilary B. Bergsieker
Affiliation:
Department of Psychology, Princeton University
Ann Marie Russell
Affiliation:
Department of Psychology, Princeton University
Lyle Williams
Affiliation:
Department of Psychology, Princeton University
*
Professor Susan T. Fiske, Department of Psychology, Green Hall 2-N-14, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08540. E-mail: sfiske@princeton.edu

Abstract

Images of Black Americans are becoming remarkably diverse, enabling Barack Obama to defy simple-minded stereotypes and succeed. Understood through the Stereotype Content Model's demonstrably fundamental trait dimensions of perceived warmth and competence, images of Black Americans show three relevant patterns. Stereotyping by omission allows non-Blacks to accentuate the positive, excluding any lingering negativity but implying it by its absence; specifically, describing Black Americans as gregarious and passionate suggests warmth but ignores competence and implies its lack. Obama's credentials prevented him from being cast as incompetent, though the experience debate continued. His legendary calm and passionate charisma saved him on the warmth dimension. Social class subtypes for Black Americans differentiate dramatically between low-income Blacks and Black professionals, among both non-Black and Black samples. Obama clearly fit the moderately warm, highly competent Black-professional subtype. Finally, the campaign's events (and nonevents) allowed voter habituation to overcome non-Blacks' automatic emotional vigilance to Black Americans.

Type
STATE OF THE DISCIPLINE
Copyright
Copyright © W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research 2009

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