What The U.S. Public Really Thinks About Barack Obama

Matthew Sardo, Staff Writer


Updated: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 22:01

Photo By Matthew Sardo

Northeastern Illinois University closed out their Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration Thursday afternoon, Jan. 19, in Golden Eagles with a presentation by Dr. Mark P. Orbe, a professor of communication and diversity at Western Michigan University and author of “Communication Realities in a “Post-Racial” Society: What the U.S. Public Really thinks about Barack Obama.

Dr. Katrina Bell-Jordan the communication department chair introduced Orbe to the students who were just starting to arrive because class schedule conflict. Most classes end at 2:55 p.m. and the presentation started at 2:50 p.m. and Orbe stopped his speech twice to invite students to the empty seats in the front of the room. “All of us are educators in some form or fashion. If you know it or not you are a teacher,” Orbe said.

Orbe’s hour-long presentation was based on research for his book. He gathered information from focus groups in 12 different states, which totaled 333 participants. His goal was to find the opinions of everyday Americans. In the focus groups, Orbe asked his participants to give their honest feeling on President Obama regarding how they view the president as a communicator. He had all white, all African-American, all Latino groups and some mixture groups to get a diverse perspective. The bulk of his presentation was quotes from his book. “He is a chess master in a world of checker players,” Orbe read a quote of a Black man from Oakland from his book.

Orbe took a six-month sabbatical from Western Michigan University to conduct his research. His book tries to highlight the diversity within because many people in his focus groups were not evenly pro or anti Obama. On one hand, Orbe talked about a Tampa student’s reaction to meeting Obama on the campaign trail and how seductively smooth Obama was. On the other hand, were some of the people Orbe interviewed saw the smooth talking Obama as the anti-Christ or a false prophet.

“Seventy percent of the people surveyed thought that they would never see an African-American president in their lifetime,” Orbe said. Orbe tried to help the Northeastern crowd understand race, people’s perceived race and how Obama, a mixed-raced president, complicates, yet helps, the debate.

“He is our president, not your president,” a Californian Arab-student said in response to the Black community claiming Obama for their own. “His election was proof that we were in a post-racial society,” Orbe said of a college-age European-American women in California. “The way out, is to go back through,” said Orbe quoting a proverb on how to get to a post-racial society.

Orbe’s presentation ended with a few questions from the students and then a short book signing. The book is usually $29.99 but the price was dropped to $20 at the event. Orbe used his best used-car salesman voice as Bell-Jordan hurried him to the signing table.

Orbe earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication from Ohio University in 1986, a master’s degree in education from the University of Connecticut, Storrs in 1989 and a doctoral degree in interpersonal and intercultural communication from Ohio University in 1993. He also has completed post-doctoral course work at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication in Portland, Oregon