Will Racist Tweets Help Obama?

Why seeing hate in 140 characters or fewer might convince some to cut him a break.

A map displaying postelection racist tweets by location (Geocommons)
A map displaying postelection racist tweets by location (Geocommons)

(The Root) — Amid all of the celebration that took place in progressive circles following the president’s re-election, there was a less jubilant reaction in some corners of the nation. There were so many racist messages tweeted after the president’s win that analysts started treating it as a competition. Want to know which states had the highest concentration of racist tweets? See the winners here.

While some outlets focused on seeking punishment and retribution against those who sent racist social media messages, such as the woman who posted a Facebook message reading, “Another 4 years of this [n-word] … Maybe he will get assassinated this term,” few have looked at how such racist language may actually end up helping the president advance his agenda in a second term.  

According to a recent poll, the number of white Americans holding anti-black attitudes has increased since President Obama took office. Yet it can be argued that while racist attitudes have increased, the number of Americans who believe racism is real has decreased. 

Throughout much of the president’s first term conservatives balked at suggestions that some criticism of the president might be race-based, with a growing number of them arguing that “racist” or “racism” were simply terms overused to scare white Americans from lodging legitimate criticism. On the conservative site Free Republic, an article devoted to this topic opens with, “Once upon a time racism used to be relatively easy to pin down. It was segregated lunch counters and slave ships, it was nooses and chains, it was the legal oppression of a group of people on account of the color of their skin. Then racism stopped being a set of laws and became an abstraction, first a set of attitudes and then a set of attitudes implying another set of attitudes.” 

Notorious conservative pot stirrer Ann Coulter argued that white Americans would only vote for Obama out of fear of being inaccurately labeled racist. In her new book Mugged, she argues that all real racism died after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and that there are virtually no real racists in existence anymore. Meanwhile, Fox News host Sean Hannity blamed the “race card” as an effective political tool used by liberals to accuse conservatives of racism. In dismissing a segment on MSNBC about coded racial language in politics, controversial conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh replied, “You know what we call people obsessed with race? Racists. Really what we have here is blatant bigotry and racism on this network of holier-than-thou liberals.