assess aggregate knowledge about the incidence of discrimination, while other approaches (e.g., information obtained from in-depth interviews) assess knowledge of such occurrences in a particular instance.

THE CHALLENGE OF DIRECT MEASUREMENT OF DISCRIMINATION

Prior to 1964, many forms of racial discrimination were legal (see also Chapter 3). Although a few states had passed civil rights laws, there was no national prohibition on discriminatory treatment. Many Americans were regularly denied access to jobs, housing, accommodations, and services on the basis of their race or ethnicity. Under these circumstances, the incidence, causes, and consequences of discrimination could be assessed by surveying employers, landlords, and business establishments about their racial policies or by surveying minority group members about the frequency and circumstances under which they were denied access to jobs, housing, or accommodations because of their race.1

The civil rights legislation passed in 1964 made open discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity illegal, and perpetrators could be prosecuted under both criminal and civil law. In succeeding years, overt discrimination was prohibited progressively in various markets in the United States—first in markets for labor, goods, and services (in 1964); later in housing markets (in 1968); and finally in mortgage lending (in 1974, 1975, and 1977). Overtly denying nonwhites a job or apartment because of their race would invite prosecution and, if admitted in court, would virtually guarantee conviction.

Although readily observable acts of discrimination declined, the persistence of high levels of residential segregation along racial lines and large racial gaps with respect to income, wealth, and other societal outcomes indicate the continued existence of racial discrimination, at least at some level. Rather than being open and readily observable, however, discrimination was more often subtle in nature, assuming new forms that are not as easily identified but may be damaging nonetheless.

Under these circumstances, assessing the extent of racial discrimination directly from observational studies, such as asking black Americans whether they have been denied housing or employment because of their race, can be complicated. Those surveyed may suspect that they have been victims of discrimination, but ambiguity in such a situation can make proving discrimination—or sometimes even recognizing it—difficult. On the one hand, the true incidence of discrimination may be underestimated because a per-

1  

Although in some cases, social pressure may have impaired the accuracy of such reports.



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