Surprise, surprise—people who thought electing Barack Obama would usher in a "post-racial" America were merely thinking wishfully. A new study by a Baylor University researcher finds that some of the largest anti-Obama Facebook groups focus on the president's race, not his politics.
On Facebook groups such as "I hate it when I wake up in the morning and Barack Obama is President" (800,000 likes) and "I hate Obama" (17,500 likes), members post photos that frequently portray the Obama family in historical "blackface" photoshops and art. Comments on many of the photos include racial slurs and personal attacks.
The Obamas "are featured wearing ethnic garb, eating soul food and participating in various activities such as dancing and playing basketball. In sum, [hate groups] focus on the Obamas' personal character, gender and race rather than politics," writes Mia Moody, the study's author. "Findings indicate Facebook fans build on historical stereotypes and cultural narratives to frame the [Obama family] negatively."
Moody writes there are "several themes and missions of groups targeting the Obamas." One group focuses on attacking the president's politics, and "consist of Facebook members who have an interest in politics and use social media to share their ideas." The other, more malicious type focuses on the president's race, religion, sexual orientation, personality, and diet.
Moody writes that hate groups often reinforce old mass media stereotypes—minstrel shows and blackface were once popular entertainment, after all. Because newspapers and TV shows generally don't spread racist images anymore, people have gone online.
"Historical representations of African Americans have transcended to a new media platform…without traditional gatekeepers to suppress such messages, the watchdog role is left to scholars," she writes. And, unless the administrator of a Facebook group decides to take down a photo of Obama's head on a KFC bucket, it'll stay for hundreds of thousands to see. "Users rather than editors and publishers police the content of Facebook pages."
The Internet also allows hate groups to find members more easily.
"Hate groups, which might have remained benignly isolated at one time, recruit online and increase their numbers instantly," she said in a statement.
Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org