chapter  7
36 Pages

The Political Psychology of Race

Racial prejudice and discrimination have been considered the “great American dilemma” (Myrdal, 1944) for decades. Yet on November 4, 2008, Americans elected the first AfricanAmerican to the office of the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. Racism was responsible for one of the most repressive regimes in modern history, the apartheid government of South Africa, yet South Africa had its first Black president in 1994, Nelson Mandela. Understanding racial divisions and conflicts requires us to go beyond explanations that rely upon competition for resources as causes of these conflicts. From the political psychological perspective, we can understand the intransigence of group conflict as the result of the continual human drive to form in-groups and out-groups and to compare their groups with others. Political psychology also enables us to understand how racial (and ethnic) groups can live together harmoniously for years and, then erupt in horrific internecine violence. Identities can be manipulated by leaders, and emotions can rise to extremes of hatred and fear, when people are convinced by leaders and by rumors that their group is threatened by others. Political psychology also turns our attention to the ways in which issues can be framed to produce particular anxieties in the minds of citizens. Stereotypes can be subtly or openly manipulated to produce stereotype-driven behaviors and attitudes.