The speech that then-Sen. Barack Obama gave during the 2004 Democratic National Convention solidified him in the minds of many as a legitimate contender for the presidency.
During that keynote address, Obama said a statement that he would later repeat many times during his presidential campaign, a statement that provided a peek at the conceptual framework upon which his understanding of race hung. He said:
[T]here’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.
This proclamation was met with thunderous applause. There were tears in the eyes of many of attendees. I even found myself caught up in the moment as I watched it live on TV. He articulated something we could all believe in. Something we desired to one day achieve. It gave us hope. The only problem is that like many things said during political-party conventions, it was a fantasy.
This week is the Democratic National Convention, and like Youngblood Priest in Superfly, politicians might as well walk to the convention floor with Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman” playing over the speakers as they push their falsehoods in the guise of hope. Obama’s statement about a unified country was not true then and is not true now.
Perceptual segregation is a psychological phenomenon that influences the way we see the world. Shannon Spaulding, assistant professor of philosophy at Oklahoma State University, spoke to The Root and said this of the phenomenon:
It’s a banal truism that, metaphorically speaking, we don’t all see contentious events the same way. Research on perceptual segregation suggests this is not just metaphorically true; it’s also literally true. Individuals from different social backgrounds will tend to have different implicit associations, spontaneous personality trait inferences, and judgments of perceived similarity, which will result different patterns of social categorization. These patterns of social categorization can be modulated, but only if one is aware of the patterns and their effect and one has sufficient cognitive resources to detect and revise these inferences and judgments. This discussion of social categorization demonstrates how our social differences influence our social perceptions.
This means that when people from radically different backgrounds experience the same phenomena, they can come to very different conclusions about what they have seen.