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Race & Politics

Is Obama the wrong color to push through health reform? - People may judge the skin tone of mixed race political candidates according to how much they agree with their politics. If they agree with their views, they will see them as "whiter" than if they don't. And a YouTube video suggesting that face recognition cameras installed in HP laptops can't see black faces has had over one million viewers. None of this is good news for our future!

Behavioral scientist Eugene Caruso showed groups of undergraduate students a set of photos of Barack Obama that were taken during the 2008 presidential debates or from his campaign Web site. The subjects were asked which images were most representative of the president, and then indicated their political beliefs. We don't know if both white and black students took part in this study.

While some of the photos were unaltered, the researchers digitally lightened or darkened Obama's skin tone in others (unbeknownst to the research participants). The researchers report that self-described liberal students tended to judge lightened photos of President Obama as most representative of him, while self-described conservative students more frequently picked darkened photos.

Much previous research has demonstrated that people tend to have more negative stereotypes of dark-skinned blacks compared to light-skinned blacks, according to Caruso, who says, "Although the number of blacks in public office has increased dramatically over the years, there is some evidence that dark-skinned blacks are under-represented as elected officials relative to light-skinned blacks."

On YouTube, ohe short features a black man named "Black Desi" and a white woman named "White Wanda." When Wanda is in front of the screen, the camera zooms to her face and moves when she does, just like it's supposed to. But the camera doesn't track Desi. BBC News quotes an HP spokesman as saying, "HP has been informed of a potential issue with the facial-tracking software included on some of its systems, which appears to occur when insufficient foreground lighting is available. We take this seriously and are looking into it with our partners."

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Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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