“Race Threads and Race Threat: How Obama/Race-Discourse among Conservatives Changed Through the 2008 Presidential Campaign

Murphree, A., and D. Royster
Race in the Age of Obama (Research in Race and Ethnic Relations, Volume 16). Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.267 - 299. 10.1108/S0195-7449(2010)0000016014

This chapter uses critical race theories to interpret Obama-related content and changing discourse patterns on discussion boards maintained by a pro-gun, overwhelmingly white, male, and conservative virtual community. Beginning during the 2008 presidential primary season and continuing through Barack Obama's election as president, our analysis focused on the proliferation of negative “nicknames” (“Obamathets”) that were posted in race-oriented discussion threads over 16 months. We identified three types of frequently voiced Obamathets: those indicating general dislike, political disdain, or racial derision, and we analyzed usage patterns – which types of Obamathets appeared and at which times. Our results revealed a changing state of mind – annoyance to extreme anger – among posters whose sense of racial threat seemed increasingly palpable as Obama approached, and eventually won, the presidency. Over time, posts increasingly included racially derisive terms whose incidence intensified after the election and remained high; racially derisive terms overtook terms of general dislike (that had been more popular) as well as terms of political disdain several months into our analysis. Because posters tended to be more openly libertarian in orientation, we doubt our findings would generalize to the majority of conservative whites; however, our findings probably shed considerable light on activist elements among conservatives, including the “Tea Party” movement. Moreover, capturing sentiments expressed in a semiprivate venue – virtual community discussion boards – probably allowed us to uncover less censored racial sentiment (or racetalk) than is typical when social scientists solicit racial opinions from whites in face-to-face interviews, when many may omit racially hostile thoughts to appear more racially sensitive to researchers.

Wagner Faculty