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TIPSHEET: An African American has achieved the nation’s highest office – what now?

Nov. 20, 2008, 4:09 PM

Barack Obama’s history-making election to president of the United States has many wondering what does this achievement mean for race relations in America – what now? Is there still need for affirmative action? Is there less racism in America than we might have once thought? Will the Obamas have an impact on African Americans’ and others’ expectations for and perceptions of family and achievement?

Vanderbilt University experts on race relations are available to address these questions.

Tracy Denean Sharpley-Whiting
, director, African American Studies
Sharpley-Whiting wrote the book Pimps Up, Ho’s Down: Hip Hop’s Hold on Young Black Women for New York University Press. She can comment on a variety of race-related issues, including those related to Michelle Obama, race and gender and impact the election of Barack Obama will have on elections in Europe as it relates to race. Sharpley-Whiting is heading an expansion of the African American Studies program at Vanderbilt University. The former print and runway model has authored three books and served as an editor on The Black Feminist Reader.

Tony Brown, assistant professor of sociology
Brown’s research interests include race and ethnic relations. His current research looks at racial and ethnic disparities in health, racial and ethnic differences in communication patterns during pediatric medical encounters, the race socialization process within black families and changes in the manifestation of whites’ racial prejudice. His previous research has included a look at the virtually unexplored link between racism and mental health problems, and the perceptions and experiences of racial discrimination. One study explores how racial antagonism creates novel mental health problems typically ignored in psychiatric settings. His study, “There’s No Race on the Playing Field: Perceptions of Racial Discrimination among White and Black Athletes,” explores why there seems to be agreement among white and black college athletes’ perceptions that racial and ethnic discrimination is no longer a problem. The study’s findings buck more than 70 years of social science trends relating to perceptions of racial discrimination – whites and blacks have never agreed regarding perceptions of race and discrimination since researchers first began tracking social science survey data in the 1930s.

Donna Ford, Betts Professor of Education and Human Development
Ford can discuss the under-representation of minority students in gifted classrooms and the challenges these students face in terms of peer-pressure. She has found that gifted black students often suffer from peer pressure – accused of “acting white” when they excel academically and “acting black” when they use improper English, do poorly in school, and run into trouble. How will the concept of “acting black” change now that an African American is president of the United States? What impact will an Obama presidency have on students’ expectation for their own success and ability, and will this translate into better education policy? In 2006, Ford and Vanderbilt colleague Gilman Whiting founded the Vanderbilt Achievement Gap Project to address systematic problems of racial inequity in education.

Frank Dobson Jr.
, director, Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center at Vanderbilt
Dobson can comment on a broad range of race-related issues. He is the author of the 1999 novel The Race is not Given and short story “Junior Ain’t” published in 2003 in Proverbs for the People: An Anthology of African American Fiction.

Media contact: Princine Lewis, 615-322-NEWS