does your subconscious think obama is foreign?

This is a fascinating article on subconscious racism, and how it may or may not effect who we perceive as foreign—including presidential candidate Barack Obama: Does Your Subconscious Think Obama Is Foreign?

It starts off talking about a study conducted a few years ago, where subjects were essentially asked to associate Asian American (i.e. TV personality Connie Chung, tennis star Michael Chang) and British names (i.e. Hugh Grant, Elizabeth Hurley) with American or foreign symbols:
A few years ago, psychologists Mahzarin Banaji and Thierry Devos showed the names of a number of celebrities to a group of volunteers and asked them to classify the well-known personalities as American or non-American. The list included television personality Connie Chung and tennis star Michael Chang, both Asian Americans, as well as British actors Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley. The volunteers had no trouble identifying Chung and Chang as American and Grant and Hurley as foreigners.

The psychologists then asked the group which names they associated with iconic American symbols such as the U.S. flag, the Capitol building and Mount Rushmore, and which ones they associated with generically foreign symbols such as the United Nations building in Geneva, a Ukrainian 100-hryven bill and a map of Luxembourg.

The psychologists found that the participants, who were asked to answer quickly, were dramatically quicker to associate the American symbols with the British actors, and the foreign symbols with the Asian Americans. The results suggest that on a subconscious level people were using ethnicity as a proxy for American identity and equating whites -- even white foreigners -- with things American.
I don't think those results surprised anyone. Asian Americans still constantly have to deal with the erroneous, xenophobic perception that we're inherently "foreign" and couldn't possibly be American. Yes, you idiot. I was born here, this is where I'm really from, and I speak English. Surprise.

But it doesn't end there. We as Asian Americans might be the "perpetual foreigners," but the bias apparently extends to other (non-white) ethnic groups, including African Americans:
The psychologists initially assumed that this bias began and ended with Asian Americans and would not apply to other ethnic groups. But in another experiment involving famous black athletes around the time of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, they found that the same pattern applied to African Americans. Although white volunteers agreed explicitly that hurdlers Allen Johnson and Angelo Taylor, who won two golds at Sydney, "contributed to the glory of America" and "represent what America is all about," they were slower to associate photos of black athletes than white athletes with American symbols. Black participants, on the other hand, were as quick to associate black athletes as white athletes with being American.
It makes sense then that the "white equals American" bias could play a powerful role in the presidential election. During the primary season, researchers found that on a subconscious level, people more easily associated Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton with being American than Senator Barack Obama. Even more remarkably, they found that subjects were quicker to associate former British prime minister Tony Blair with being American than Obama. The same goes, of course, when Obama is compared to John McCain:
On a conscious level, the participants had no trouble identifying Obama and Clinton as American, and Blair as a foreigner. But Devos and Ma found that the subconscious associations mattered: People who were slower to see Obama as American on a subconscious level were less likely to be willing to vote for the senator from Illinois than people who more easily associated him with American symbols. This was true of both Republicans and Democrats.

In a final set of experiments completed just last week, Thierry said the researchers had found an identical pattern when they compared people's subconscious associations with Obama and his Republican presidential opponent, Sen. John McCain. On a conscious level, volunteers said that both Obama and McCain were American, but on a subconscious level, volunteers were quicker to associate McCain with being American than Obama -- and the strength of these subconscious associations predicted people's voting intentions.
It's important to emphasize that the bias uncovered by the studies was subtle, and only one of many factors that go into people's voting choices. Lots of folks will indeed pick their candidate based on policy positions, partisan identification and personal circumstances. But you can't deny that this subconscious bias exists. We all have a subconscious bias of some sort.

Hell, for some people, it's not even subconscious bias. It's full-on, out-in-the-open bias. And ignorance. When you have people at a McCain rally saying things like, "I don't trust Obama... he's an Arab," you can't deny that bias and ignorance are informing some decisions at the polls. No lady, he's not "an Arab," and even if he was, there ain't a damn thing wrong with that.

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