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Stockholm syndrome in politics, or why African-Americans vote for Trump?

Prof. Udi Sommer and Idan Franco from the School of Political Science, Government and International Relations at Tel Aviv University investigated why African-Americans "score an own goal" and vote for Trump. Is there racist self-loathing and how does it relate to Israel?

Article by: Michal Bachar

Illustration: depositphotos.com
Illustration: depositphotos.com

Prof. Udi Sommer, from the School of Political Science, Government and International Relations, was the chairman of the Young Israeli Academy and is the head of the scientific committee of the US Research Center, in collaboration with the Fulbright Program. Sommer published approx-50 scientific articles published in major journals in his areas of expertise as well as 3 books: on comparative abortion policy (published by Cambridge University Books, 2019), on the rights of sexual minorities in a comparative aspect (published by SUNY Press, 2016) and setting an agenda in the American Supreme Court (published by Palgrave-MacMillan, 2014). In addition, his book dealing with Israeli parents in America (2010) received extensive media coverage. Prof. Sommer specializes in American and comparative politics, politics of sexuality and gender, politics of courts, politics of epidemics, Israel-US relations, and cyber. In 2018, in collaboration with a multidisciplinary team from around the campus, he led to the winning of a NIS XNUMX million fund from the US State Department to establish the Center for US Studies at the university.

The new research by Prof. Sommer and Idan Franco, a doctoral student in political science, provides a fascinating explanation to the question of how African Americans can be the influential factor in the US elections and why, then, they vote for a candidate who did not support the movement "Black lives matter".

Against all odds

Even before the presidency of Barack Obama, it became clear that issues related to race significantly affect political behavior. Sommer and Franco's research focuses on the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections, but contrary to what we might assume, especially after the tenure of the first African-American president in the White House, the results were surprising.

"Survey results in the 2016 and 2020 elections indicate that Trump was able to increase the support of minority group voters for him," Prof. Sommer says. "The electoral consequences of his negative image in everything related to the African-American public - including his harsh criticism against the movement Black Lives Matter"And many other expressions of a racist nature - had a secondary effect, at most," explains Prof. Sommer. "In 2020, Trump enjoys even greater support among black voters compared to his achievement from the 2016 election. That is, against all odds and as a Republican president, Trump has managed to increase the support of African-American voters, who traditionally tend to vote in very large proportions for the party the democratic."

What's the explanation?

"In the research we conducted, we discovered that there is great value in using the term "racist aversion" ("racial resentment") to explain the political behavior of African-American voters," says Idan Franco. "Racial aversion is a familiar concept in the study of identity politics in the racial context, which until now has been used to examine feelings among white Americans towards the black community. Judging by its original definition, it is really not expected that this concept will be relevant to describe the feelings of the African-American community towards itself."

Racist hatred

"Racist aversion," continues to explain Prof. Sommer, "is a mixture of an antagonistic mindset towards blacks that combines a sense of hostility and humiliation. It is measured through the degree of agreement with statements related to interracial relationships, such as: 'White people in the US have certain advantages because of the color of their skin', 'Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to make their way outside of the weaker strata' and' Whites get away with crimes that African-Americans could never get away with.' The less the respondents agree with these statements, the more racist they are considered to be, because they deny the difficult social reality of blacks in America."

Why, then, do African-Americans feel racist hatred towards themselves, similar to the feelings that white people in the US feel? Is this a kind of political "Stockholm syndrome"?

"If we accept the original definition of the concept as 'racist aversion', these attitudes can be seen as a kind of self-racism, but our research," explains Prof. Sommer, "offers a different explanation. We argue that the political behavior of black voters includes the way they perceive the conditions of their racial group as a collective, as well as the way they believe society perceives their racial group. This brings us back to the public discourse in the US regarding the social challenges of the African-American community and the ways to solve them, which began more than a hundred years ago under the leadership of Du Bois and Washington."

The double consciousness

"Du Bois expressed a worldview that emphasizes systemic explanations for the problems of the black citizen - the most prominent of which is 'double consciousness'," claims Idan Franco. "It is a paradoxical feeling that simultaneously expresses the individual's attraction to his group and his inability to escape the temptation to assimilate into the larger socio-political reality. He dealt with the concept of institutionalized discrimination and argued that African-Americans should be treated as a collective living within a racist and discriminatory society and therefore already in an inferior position compared to white Americans. In addition, the history of the black community in the USA, the overwhelming part of which reluctantly came to the American continent because of the institution of slavery, contributes to this position of inferiority."

Individualism and self-actualization

"Du Bois' concept characterized the bulk of African-American thought throughout the 20th century, especially among the elite and at important decision points, such as the protest of the civil rights movement in the 60s," explains Prof. Sommer. "In contrast, Washington believed, decades earlier, that in accordance with the American spirit the black individual could realize himself regardless of the color of his skin. Washington expressed an individualistic, pragmatist and conciliatory view. He believed that the chain of professional education frameworks in the concentrations of the black population would lead to an improvement in the situation of the black community in the US, through increasing the contribution of the blacks to the American economy, which would increase their value in the eyes of the white public."

"If we return to the concept of racial aversion," Prof. Sommer continues to explain, "in the research we conducted we argued that the concept does not actually measure racial aversion, but different perceptions of inequality: between blacks who identify with DuBois's collective and critical approach, and those who identify with his approach Washington's individualist and compromiser. This difference carries a decisive political weight."

The decisive factor

"The results of our study," concludes Prof. Sommer, "demonstrated with high probability that the group of black voters who demonstrated abnormal positions on the racial aversion scale affected the results of the 2020 election. That is, African Americans with an abnormal perception of racial inequality, especially In states where black votes are significant - such as Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Michigan - can, in the end, be the ones that decide the election results."

Good democracy

Sommer and Franco discovered that the results of the Israeli elections indicate an interesting similarity. "Like Trump, Netanyahu also tried to attract votes among a surprising group - Israeli Arabs. Indeed, an examination of the election results from the last rounds shows that the Likud party has significantly increased the Arab public's support for it," explains Prof. Sommer and Franco adds, "Similar to the case of African-Americans and Trump, preliminary analyzes we performed show that, unlike standard explanations related to the economic situation, one of the variables Central to explaining the support of Israeli Arabs for Netanyahu is precisely the rate of agreement with the statement that Israel is a good democracy. This is especially surprising in light of the critical perception of many of the leaders of the Arab public that Israel systematically discriminates against its Arab citizens." Does racist hatred also affect the results of the elections in Israel? This, Sommer and Franco say, would be interesting to investigate.


Prof. Sommer and Idan Franco's research was first revealed last year In an article in the Washington Post

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