Part of the Distributed Book Review of Race After the Internet, ed. by Lisa Nakamura and Peter Chow-White
In this post I will review the chapter titled “‘Have We Become Postracial Yet?’ Race and Media Technologies in the Age of President Obama” from Lisa Nakamura’s and Peter Chow-White’s collection of essays Race After the Internet. In this chapter Anna Everett discusses the role that race, new media news outlets, and information technologies played in Barack Obama’s election and his recent decline in popularity in presidential opinion polls. Everett starts the essay by stating that part of the success of Obama’s presidential campaign was the support that he got from young Americans who mobilized their political support through social media sites i.e. Facebook and videos on YouTube such as the Obama Girl series. In addition, Obama’s tech-savvy persona, also garnered the youth vote. While new media technologies helped the President gain his current position, new media has also been a proponent in decreasing the president’s approval ratings.
Two widely publicized events that Everett discusses are the Henry Louis Gates incident of 2009 and the Shirley Sherrod speech. Each of these events have painted a negative picture of President Obama by causing many citizens to believe that the President is racist and does not truly represent the race-neutral view that helped in his election. In the end, Everett states that despite the fact that having our first Black President and the equalizing nature of the Internet has resulted in the belief that America is embarking into a postracial era of society, it becomes apparent that the Internet is also a place that gives people the chance to espouse racism under a cover of online anonymity. In this sense, we are not yet postracial but the Internet has caused race to be represented in different ways.
In thinking about the president’s decline in approval as a function of the media portrayal of race, I think that Everett was spot on in her assertions that Obama’s movement from being portrayed as race-neutral to Black sympathizer has definitely swayed the way that American citizens view him. During his initial candidacy for President the rhetoric surrounding Obama was that the President “transcended race”, but with the media coverage of the criticism that the President received for inviting Common to the White House for an “Evening of Poetry”, it becomes evident that any time that the President identifies as African-American there is a lot of backlash. In terms of the intersection of race and technology it is easy to forget the downsides of the Internet when the Internet is portrayed as a digital democracy and/or a safe place where all people are equal and have the right to produce their own content. Many times the idea of equality in cyberspace seems to be promoted only so far as the internet is a place where no one has to know your race/gender/age/etc. However, this anonymity does not really promote equality, an idea that to me implies the acceptance of differences, but simply promotes a homogenizing neutrality of those differences. Therefore, while some people may feel that a postracial society is one in which differences are no longer recognized, I believe that the differences should be acknowledged in positive instead of negative ways.