Images of black americans: Then, “Them,” and Now, “Obama!”

Susan T. Fiske, Hilary B. Bergsieker, Ann Marie Russell, Lyle Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Images of Black Americans are becoming remarkably diverse, enabling Barack Obama to defy simple-minded stereotypes and succeed. Understood through the Stereotype Content Model's demonstrably fundamental trait dimensions of perceived warmth and competence, images of Black Americans show three relevant patterns. Stereotyping by omission allows non-Blacks to accentuate the positive, excluding any lingering negativity but implying it by its absence; specifically, describing Black Americans as gregarious and passionate suggests warmth but ignores competence and implies its lack. Obama's credentials prevented him from being cast as incompetent, though the experience debate continued. His legendary calm and passionate charisma saved him on the warmth dimension. Social class subtypes for Black Americans differentiate dramatically between low-income Blacks and Black professionals, among both non-Black and Black samples. Obama clearly fit the moderately warm, highly competent Black-professional subtype. Finally, the campaign's events (and nonevents) allowed voter habituation to overcome non-Blacks' automatic emotional vigilance to Black Americans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-101
Number of pages19
JournalDu Bois Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Barack Obama
  • Class
  • Habituation
  • Images
  • Omission
  • Prejudice
  • Stereotypes
  • Subtyping


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