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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I 9 Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century Lawrence D.Bobo The color-line is not static; it bends and buckles and sometimes breaks. (Drake and Cayton, 1945:101) Throughout the 1990s, assessments of racial and ethnic relations in the United States suggested that we have become increasingly racially polarized. Essayist and political scientist Andrew Hacker declared that, “a huge racial chasm remains, and there are few signs that the coming century will see it closed” (1992:219). Civil rights activist and legal scholar Derrick Bell offered the bleak analysis that, “racism is an integral, permanent, and indestructible component of this society” (1992:ix). These statements, it seemed, only set the stage for even more dramatic declarations from both Hispanics (Delgado, 1996) and other Blacks (Rowan, 1996). Reaction against such pessimistic analyses seemed inevitable. In 1997, conservative analysts Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom argued that, “the foundation of progress for many Blacks is no longer fragile. Progress is real and solid” (Thernstrom and Thernstrom, 1997:535). This sentiment was echoed by the eminent historical sociologist Orlando Patterson, who maintained that “being Afro-American is no longer a significant obstacle to participation in the public life of the nation. What is more, Afro-Americans have also become full members of what may be called the nation’s moral community and cultural life” (1997:17). Indeed, journalist Jim Sleeper goes so far as to deride the analyses offered by Hacker, Bell, Rowan, Delgado, and others as so much “liberal racism” (1997). The empirical social science literature examining racial attitudes and relations is no less divided. Sociologist Joe Feagin (1997) recently argued
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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I that, “the basic racial problem in the United States is White racism. White racism is a social disease that afflicts the minds, emotions, behaviors, and institutions of Whites. White racism pervades every nook and cranny of U.S. society” (p. 29). Political psychologist David Sears developed a densely argued and analytically detailed critique of the claim that race-neutral political values, as opposed to anti-Black animus, lay at the base of many Whites’ discontent with social policies developed on the basis of race. After examining data from three national surveys and one Los Angeles-based survey, Sears and his colleagues concluded: The strength of the findings here will lay to rest the notion that White opposition to racially targeted policies is primarily motivated by nonracial considerations, or that any racially based motivation is limited to a few poorly educated ethnocentrics or believers in White supremacy. Racism is considerably more widespread in American society than that, it cannot be reduced to the older forms of prejudice familiar in the pre-civil rights era, and it continues to have quite pervasive effects. It is not a pleasant aspect of our society, but it is not one that should be swept under the carpet, either (Sears et al., 1997:49). Yet, other students of public opinion vehemently disagree. Sears and colleagues’ conclusion is directly antithetical to that reached by Sniderman and Carmines (1997). On the basis of a series of experiments embedded in large-scale surveys examining Whites’ views about affirmative action, they argued that, “it is simply wrong to suppose that racial prejudice is a primary source of opposition to affirmative action…racism turns out to be just one of a string of explanations offered for opposition to affirmative action that don’t cash out” (Sniderman and Carmines, 1997:144). Likewise, some analysts of trend data have also ventured broad generalizations about a decline in racism. According to public-opinion researchers Niemi et al., “without ignoring real signs of enduring racism, it is still fair to conclude that America has been successfully struggling to resolve its Dilemma and that equality has been gaining in ascendancy over racism” (1989:168). And so the battle is joined. This great debate, whether waged at the level of public intellectuals or between empirical social scientists, raises serious questions about racial attitudes and relations, as well as about the success and health of American democracy, as we enter a new century. DEVELOPING THE EMPIRICAL ASSESSMENT The paramount question is whether America is moving toward becoming a genuinely “color-blind” society or stagnating as a society deeply polarized by race. As is by now obvious, studies of racial attitudes in the United States present a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, several recent
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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I studies emphasize steadily improving racial attitudes of Whites, especially in terms of their attitudes toward Blacks. These attitudinal trends are reinforced by many more tangible indicators, most notably the size, relative security, and potentially growing influence of the Black middle class. On the other hand, there is evidence of persistent negative stereotyping of racial minorities, evidence of widely divergent views of the extent and importance of racial discrimination to modern race relations, and evidence of deepening feelings of alienation among Blacks (and possibly among members of other minority groups as well). These more pessimistic attitudinal trends are reinforced by such tangible indicators as the persistent problem of racial segregation of neighborhoods and schools, discrimination in access to housing and employment, innumerable everyday acts of racial bias, and numerous signs of the gulf in perception that often separates Blacks and Whites. Empirical assessment here focuses on five aspects of the research: (1) the predominant trend toward positive change concerning the goals of integration and equal treatment; (2) the evident difficulty of moving from these goals to concrete support for change in social policy and individual living conditions; (3) the problem of persistent stereotyping; (4) the differing views of racial discrimination; and (5) the possible deepening of Black alienation. Wherever possible, trends are emphasized. It is essential to have a sense of whether and how much things have changed if we are to make sense of where we stand today or might head in the future. Although this analysis will emphasize what is known about the views of Whites toward Blacks, at several important points a multiracial perspective will be incorporated. By way of foreshadowing what is to come, it is important to note that we now have a deeply rooted national consensus on the ideals of racial equality and integration. These high ideals founder, however, on racial differences in preferred levels of integration, they founder on sharp racial differences in beliefs about racial discrimination, they founder on the persistence of negative racial stereotypes, and they result in policy stagnation and mutual misunderstanding. Although America has turned away from Jim Crow racism, it heads into an uncertain future. With specific regard to the Black-White divide, journalist David Shipler comes as close as anyone has to understanding the special character of this cleavage: [T]he fountainhead of injustice has been located between Blacks and Whites, and that legacy remains the country’s most potent symbol of shame. Nothing tests the nation, or takes the measure of its decency, quite like the rift between Black and White…. I have sought and found common denominators at a level of attitude that transcends boundaries
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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I of place. Everywhere I have looked, I have seen a country where Blacks and Whites are strangers to each other (1997:x). Before proceeding, it seems prudent to provide some anchorage for the terms “race” and “ethnicity,” “attitude,” “prejudice,” and “racism.” There is no settled consensus on how to define and use race and ethnicity (Petersen, 1982; Alba, 1992). Common usage tends to associate “race” with biologically based differences between human groups, differences typically observable in skin color, hair texture, eye shape, and other physical attributes. “Ethnicity” tends to be associated with culture, pertaining to such factors as language, religion, and nationality. There may be quite real differences in physical features that come to be understood as indicia for racial group membership. Yet, it is widely agreed by social scientists that both race and ethnicity are, fundamentally, social constructions (Jones, 1972; Omi and Winant, 1986; Stone, 1985; See and Wilson, 1989). Some have argued vigorously for discontinuing use of the term “race.” Early forceful proponents of this position were Ashley Montagu (1964) and Gordon Allport (1954). More recent advocates are Thernstrom and Thernstrom (1997) and Patterson (1997). “Race” is retained here for two reasons. (1) It still comports with prevailing social usage and understanding. The core mission here is to convey the state of public opinion on these matters; therefore, to introduce new vocabulary inconsistent with what much of the public readily comprehends introduces a distraction. (2) As Petersen eloquently explained, “Whether the removal of a word would also eradicate group antipathies is doubtful; one suspects that with another classification Jews and Gypsies would have been murdered just as beastially. In any case, deleting the term does not remove the need for some designation” (1982:7). Although perceived racial distinctions often result in sharper and more persistent barriers than ethnic distinctions, this is not invariably the case, and both terms share elements of presumed common descent or ascriptive inheritance. The broad census categories of Asian and Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Black, and White conceal important subgroup differences defined along lines of nativity, national origin, class, gender, and other dimensions. Social psychologists have long understood “attitudes” to involve “a favorable or unfavorable evaluation of an object” (Schuman, 1995:68). In this case, the objects of attitude are racial and ethnic groups and their attributes, aspects of relations between groups, public policies relevant to race, contact between those groups, and assessments of the character of intergroup relations.1 Attitudes are, therefore, important guides to likely 1 Thus, we rely on a multidimensional conception of attitudes about race and ethnicity (Jackman, 1977; Bobo, 1983). Although some social scientists still defend the usefulness of
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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I patterns of social behavior. Racial attitudes, however, are not automatically indicative of racial prejudice or of racism. Both prejudice and racism are themselves complex, internally differentiated concepts. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to interpret patterns revealed by any single racial attitude question, even in relation to a major conceptual grouping, as indicating a fundamental or global change in the level of either prejudice or racism. Such generalizations and interpretations should be made with great caution because social phenomena may remain powerfully “racialized” even as one way of understanding prejudice or racism is undergoing major change (Bonilla-Silva, 1996). Social psychologist Thomas Pettigrew suggested that prejudice involved “irrationally based negative attitudes against certain ethnic groups and their members” (1981:2). Prejudice thus involved an “antipathy accompanied by a faculty generalization” (Pettigrew, 1981:3). Sociologists Katherine O’Sullivan See and William Julius Wilson suggest that the term “prejudice” be reserved for the “attitudinal dimension of intergroup relations, to the processes of stereotyping and aversion that may persist even in the face of countervailing evidence” (See and Wilson, 1989:227). Prejudice is thus distinct from racism. See and Wilson suggested that [R]acism is a more complex belief system that prescribes and legitimates a minority group’s or an out-group’s subordination by claiming that the group is either biogenetically or culturally inferior…. There are two components to racism that are not present in prejudice: an ideology that justifies social avoidance and domination by reference to the ‘unalterable’ characteristics of particular groups and a set of norms that prescribe differential treatment for these groups (See and Wilson, 1989:227). Many analysts recognize forms of racism that exist at the level of individual attitudes and beliefs (Pettigrew, 1981; Gaertner and Dovidio, 1986; Jones, 1988; Sears, 1988), but there are also good reasons why distinction between the two should be maintained. (1) There is value in clearly differentiating individual and societal levels of analysis. Using the term “prejudice” to speak to the individual level and “racism” to speak to the cultural and societal levels helps to maintain greater conceptual clarity. (2) In a larger social context, where the term “racism” has become thinking of racial attitudes in terms of points along a single prejudice-to-tolerance con-tinuum (Kleinpenning and Hagendoorn, 1993), most analysts acknowledge the usefulness of perceiving racial attitudes as having several broad conceptual types. To be sure, some critics argue that examinations of racial attitudes are intrinsically static and destined simply to show declining prejudice (Bonilla-Silva, 1996; Steinberg, 1998); this view is easily refuted, however, once one adopts a multidimensional framework and devotes even the most cur-sory attention to empirical studies of change over time (Schuman et al., 1997).
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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I heavily loaded with potential to alienate as well as to stigmatize, and given that it has often been used carelessly, there is some value to insisting on delimited and careful use of the term. MAJOR PATTERNS IN RACIAL ATTITUDES AND BELIEFS New Principles of Equality and Integration The single clearest trend shown in studies of racial attitudes has involved a steady and sweeping movement toward general endorsement of the principles of racial equality and integration. The data charted in Figures 9–1, 9–2, and 9–3 show much of this trend. When major national assessments of racial attitudes were first conducted in the early 1940s, 68 FIGURE 9–1 Trends in Whites’ attitudes about school integration. SOURCE: Adapted from Schuman et al. (1997). Few: Would you have any objection to sending your children to a school where a few of the children are Blacks? Half: [If “no” or don’t know to FEW] Where half of the children are Blacks? Most: [If “no” or don’t know to HALF]: Where more than half of the children are Blacks? Same Schools: Do you think White students and Black students should go to the same schools or to separate schools? Federal Intervention: Do you think the federal government should see to it that White and Black children go to the same schools, or should federal officials stay out of this area, as it is not their business? Busing: In general, do you favor or oppose the busing of Black and White school children from one school district to another?
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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I FIGURE 9–2 Trends in Whites’ attitudes about residential choice. SOURCE: Adapted from Schuman et al. (1997). Same Block: If a Black family with the same income and education as you have moved into your block, would it make any difference to you? Next Door: If Blacks came to live next door, would you move? Great Numbers: Would you move if Blacks came to live in great numbers in your neighborhood? Open Housing Law: Suppose there is a community-wide vote on the general housing issue. One law says that a homeowner can decide for himself who to sell his house to, even if he prefers not to sell to Blacks. The second law says that a homeowner cannot refuse to sell to someone because of their race or color. Which law would you vote for? Residential Choice: Do you agree with this statement? White people have a right to keep Blacks out of their neighborhoods if they want to, and Blacks should respect that right. percent of Whites expressed the view that Black and White school children should go to separate schools, 54 percent felt that public transportation should be segregated, and 54 percent felt that Whites should receive preference over Blacks in access to jobs. By the early 1960s, percentages of Whites advocating segregation and discrimination had decreased substantially, so much so that the questions on public transportation and access to jobs were dropped from national surveys in the early 1970s (Figure 9–3). By then, virtually all Whites endorsed the idea that transportation should be integrated and that access to jobs should be equal without regard to race. The issue of integrated schools remained more divided; however, the trend was equally steady. By 1995, fully 96 percent of
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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I FIGURE 9–3 Trends in Whites’ attitudes about race and employment. SOURCE: Adapted from Schuman et al. (1997). Equal Jobs: Do you think Blacks should have as good a chance as White people to get any kind of job, or do you think White people should have the first chance at any kind of job? Federal Interven tion: Should the federal government see to it that Black people get fair treatment in jobs, or should the federal government leave these matters to the states and local communities? Preference in Hiring: Are you for or against preferential hiring and promotion of Blacks? [If For] Do you favor preference in hiring and promotion strongly or not strongly [If Against] Do you oppose preference in hiring and promotion strongly or not strongly? Help Blacks: Some people think that Blacks have been discriminated against for so long that the government has a special obligation to help improve their living standards. Others believe that the government should not be giving special treatment to Blacks. Where would you place yourself on this scale [1. I strongly agree the government is obligated to help Blacks. 3. I agree with both answers. 5. I strongly agree that government shouldn’t give special treatment], or haven’t you made up your mind on this? Whites expressed the view that White and Black school children should go to the same schools (Figure 9–1). Three points about this transformation of basic principles or norms that should guide race relations bear noting. First, there is some variation in the degree of endorsement of the principle of racial equality and integration. In general, the more public and impersonal the arena, the greater the evidence of movement toward endorsing ideals of integration and equality. Thus, support for uncon-
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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I strained access to housing for Blacks has undergone tremendous positive change, but still lags behind endorsement of access to schools and jobs. More telling, racially mixed marriage still encounters some resistance, with one in five Whites as recently as 1990 supporting laws that would ban such marriages, and an even higher percentage expressing personal disapproval of them (Figure 9–4). Second, Blacks have long rejected segregation. Although the available data for tracing long-term attitudinal trends among Blacks are much more limited than for Whites, it is clear that Blacks have overwhelmingly favored integrated schools and neighborhoods and desired equal access to employment opportunities. And Blacks have long been less likely than Whites to object to racially mixed marriages, presumably because such strictures were viewed as one element in a system of race-based oppression. Third, the positive trend among Whites on these principles across the domains of schools, public transportation, jobs, housing, politics, and even intermarriage is steady and unabated. Despite intense discussion of a possible “racial backlash” in the 1960s in response to Black protests, or in the 1970s in response to school busing efforts and the implementation of affirmative action, or even in the 1990s in the wake of events such as the FIGURE 9–4 Trends in Whites’ attitudes about racial intermarriage. SOURCE: Adapted from Schuman et al. (1997). Oppose Laws: Do you think there should be laws against marriages between Blacks and Whites? Favor Intermarriage: Do you approve or disapprove of marriage between Whites and non-Whites?
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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I riots in Los Angeles, support for principles of racial equality and integration has been sweeping and robust. So much so, that it is reasonable to describe it as a change in fundamental norms with regard to race. Complexity of Changing How We Live and What We Want Government to Do Unfortunately, it is not possible to infer from the positive change in attitudes toward principles of equality and integration that either public policy or the texture of day-to-day life for most Americans would quickly come to mirror this apparent consensus on ideals. Consider first the issue of integrating neighborhoods and schools. It is clear that numbers matter (see Figures 9–1 and 9–2). When Whites were asked about living in integrated areas or sending their children to integrated schools, their willingness to do so decreased as the percentage of Blacks rose (compare trends for Few, Half, and Most in Figure 9–1). Also, the meaning of integration differs for Blacks and Whites. It is clear that most Whites prefer to live in overwhelmingly White neighborhoods even though they are open to living with a small number of Blacks. Blacks prefer to live in integrated neighborhoods, but also prefer to be present in substantial numbers—numbers high enough, however, to generate discomfort for most Whites. With respect to public policy issues, there have been long-running debates about equal opportunity policies and affirmative action, and the trend data suggest that there is a significant substantive division in opinion. Programs that are compensatory in nature—that aim to equip minorities to be more effective competitors or that engage in special outreach and recruitment efforts—are reasonably popular. Policies that call for explicit racial preferences have long been unpopular, with the use of quotas rejected by Whites and Blacks alike (Lipset and Schneider, 1978; Kluegel and Smith, 1986; Bobo and Kluegel, 1993; Steeh and Krysan, 1996). There is, however, some divergence of opinion about affirmative-action policies by race. Blacks and Hispanics tend to support affirmative-action type policies, whether aimed at improving training and competitive resources of minority group members or calling for preferences in hiring and promotion. A majority of Whites support the more compensatory policies, but fewer support preferential policies (Figures 9–5 and 9–6). Persistent Negative Stereotyping A major factor influencing limits to integration and social policy with respect to race lies in the problem of antiminority, especially anti-Black, stereotyping. There is evidence that negative racial stereotypes of minor-
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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I FIGURE 9–5 Support for race-based job training and education assistance programs, by race. SOURCE: Los Angeles Survey of Urban Inequality (1994). FIGURE 9–6 Support for race-based preferences in hiring and promotion, by race. SOURCE: Los Angeles Survey of Urban Inequality (1994). ity groups, especially of Blacks and Hispanics, remain common among Whites. As Sniderman and Carmines (1997) put it, “it is simply wrong to suppose that there is a shortage of White Americans willing to say, publicly, something overtly negative about Black Americans” (p. 63). There is evidence that minority groups may also stereotype one another, though the story here is a good deal more complicated. It is important to clarify what is meant by “stereotype.” A stereotype
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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I conception. At the same time, most Whites are exposed to a history, culture, and current set of social forces that encourage negative feelings toward and beliefs about Blacks. This creates, on a level not necessarily open to conscious awareness or manipulation, a deep ambivalence toward Blacks. The practical result, as Gaertner and Dovidio have shown in a convincing program of field and laboratory experimental research, is that whenever the norm of racial egalitarianism is rendered ambiguous, differential and negative treatment of Blacks by Whites tends to occur. This research is impressive not merely for its experimental basis, but also for focusing on observable behaviors, not merely attitudinal expression. Furthermore, it resonates powerfully with sociological findings, whether ethnographic (Anderson, 1990), in-depth interview material (Feagin and Sikes, 1994), or survey responses (Sigelman and Welch, 1989; Bobo and Suh, 2000; Forman et al., 1997), which point to the subtlety and complex character of much modern racial discrimination. The lesson for the broader argument is that Whites’ attitudes are often ambivalent and that, under certain conditions, that ambivalence can result in substantial and repeated behavioral discrimination against Blacks. Symbolic racism is a theory of modern prejudice proposed by David Sears and his colleagues (Kinder and Sears, 1981; Sears, 1988). It maintains that a new form of politically potent anti-Black prejudice emerged after the Civil Rights era. The waning of “old-fashioned racism,” or more appropriately “Jim Crow racism,” which involved overt derogation of Blacks as inferior to Whites and explicit insistence on racial segregation, opened the door to newer, more subtle anti-Black sentiments. These new sentiments fused deeply rooted anti-Black feelings, typically learned early in life, with other long-standing American values such as the Protestant work ethic. Thus, when Blacks demand integration or such policies as affirmative action, according to this theory, many Whites react with opposition based on this attitude. The symbolic racist resents Blacks’ demands and views them as unfair impositions on a just and good society. According to Kinder and Sanders (1996) this new type of racial resentment crystallized during the mid- to late 1960s as Whites watched social protest and rising Black militancy pose an increasing challenge to their social order. Although the theory of symbolic racism began as an effort to understand the dynamics of Black-White relations, especially in the political realm, it has been extended to include how Whites respond to Hispanics and to such issues as bilingual education and immigration policies (Huddy and Sears, 1995). Empirically, research on symbolic racism has sought to establish that narrow, objective self-interest has little bearing on why Black candidates for political office become controversial (Kinder and Sears, 1981; Citrin et al., 1990), or why Whites mobilize against school busing (Sears et al., 1979;
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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I McConahay, 1982), or may oppose affirmative action (Sears, 1988). Thus, for example, having children in the public schools or living in an area where busing is used for desegregation does not affect attitudes on school busing. In addition, symbolic racism research has set out to establish that measures of traditional, old-fashioned racism do not predict issue positions or candidate preferences as strongly as do measures of symbolic racism. Symbolic racism has been measured in a variety of ways, with some recent consensus that it involves resentment of minority demands, resentment of special treatment or consideration of minorities, and a tendency to deny the potency of racial discrimination (Sears, 1988; Kinder and Sanders, 1996). The theory has been the subject of wide controversy and critical assessment (see, e.g., Bobo, 1983, 1988; Schuman et al., 1985; Weigel and Howes, 1985; Sniderman and Tetlock, 1986; Sidanius et al., 1992; Tetlock, 1994; Wood, 1994). Despite the number and findings of these many critical assessments, symbolic-racism researchers have effectively substantiated an important aspect of the issue: racial attitudes have changed in important ways; yet, negative views of Blacks remain both all too common and all too often of tangible political consequence. One way to understand this change has recently been theorized as a shift from a dominant ideology of “Jim Crow racism” to a dominant ideology of “laissez-faire racism” (Bobo et al., 1997; Bobo and Smith, 1998). Accordingly, we have witnessed the virtual disappearance of overt bigotry, demands for strict segregation, advocacy of governmentally enforced discrimination, and adherence to the belief that Blacks are categorically the intellectual inferiors of Whites. Yet, overt racism has evidently not been supplanted by an embracing and democratic vision of the common humanity, worth, dignity, and equal membership in the polity for Blacks. Instead, the tenacious institutionalized disadvantages and inequalities created by the long slavery and Jim Crow eras are now popularly accepted and condoned under a modern free-market or laissez-faire racist ideology. This new ideology incorporates negative stereotypes of Blacks; a preference for individualistic, and rejection of structural, accounts of racial inequality; and an unwillingness to see government actively work to dismantle racial inequality. This new pattern of belief is more subtle and covert than its predecessor, making it more difficult to directly confront; it is also more amenable to the more fluid and permeable set of racial divisions in the social order. Much of the broad empirical basis for the laissez-faire racism argument has been reviewed above. Using data from the 1990 GSS, Bobo and Kluegel (1997) examined four hypotheses derived from the theory of laissez-faire racism and found that (1) contemporary racial stereotyping and negation of social responsibility for Black conditions constitute dis-
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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I tinct attitudinal dimensions; (2) traditional, overt racist outlooks were more strongly rooted in region of residence (South versus nonsouth), age, and level of education than were the elements of laissez-faire racism (stereotyping and social responsibility beliefs), which is consistent with Jim Crow-style racism being older and more regionally specific and laissez-faire racism being a more contemporary, nationally shared outlook; and (3) beliefs about reasons for general, socioeconomic (not race-specific) inequality play a larger role in laissez-faire racism than they did in Jim Crow racism. Bobo and Kluegel (1997) suggest that, “If Jim Crow racism is no longer seen to serve the defense of economic privilege, then there is no reason to expect that beliefs that justify the stratification order in general will affect it. If elements of laissez-faire racism are seen as defending White economic privilege, then justifications of economic inequality in general should motivate stereotyping and the denial of social responsibility for Blacks’ conditions” (pp. 96–97). Fourth, they found that although both Jim Crow and laissez-faire racism affect Whites’ support for race-targeted social policies, the elements of laissez-faire racism were stronger influences. Of course, it is possible to doubt the need to invoke racism at all as a central element of the modern racial divide. At least at the level of politics and political debate, this precise point has been the message offered by Paul Sniderman and colleagues (Sniderman and Piazza, 1993; Sniderman and Carmines, 1997). They developed a four-part argument. First, they assert that racism is not an important part of the modern politics of race, especially in terms of the debate over affirmative action. Second, they assert that if many Whites object to affirmative action or other race-targeted policies, it has more to do with broad American values about fairness, justice, individualism, and traditional conservatism than with racism or prejudice. In short, there are principled foundations to the politics of race, deriving from political values and ideology. Accordingly, they feel, those advancing the symbolic-racism argument have seriously misunderstood the current political divide over affirmative action. Third, to the extent prejudice now matters in politics, it is generally most pronounced among the least politically sophisticated segments of the public (Sniderman and Piazza, 1993) and poses the greatest political challenge among liberals (Sniderman and Carmines, 1997). Fourth, there are distinct types of issue agendas in political discourse about race: a social-welfare agenda focusing on the economic circumstances of Blacks; an equal-treatment agenda concerned with banning discrimination; and a race-conscious agenda focusing on preferential treatment of Blacks. In each domain, a different mix of attitudes, values, and beliefs is said to influence political thinking. Spanning nearly a decade now, Sniderman and colleagues’ program
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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I of research is innovative, vigorously pursued, and has identified a number of intriguing empirical patterns. By drawing on survey-based experiments, as Schuman and Bobo (1988) proposed, Sniderman and colleagues combined the power of controlled experiments with the representativeness of national surveys: the certainty of casual inference and ability to generalize results are thus greater. Two contributions loom large in this work. First, political ideology is an element in how many Whites think about race-related issues such as affirmative action. There is much debate, as yet unresolved, over how large a role pure ideology plays in race politics (Sidanius et al., 1996). But Sniderman and colleagues have rightly cautioned against a monolithic view that prejudice and racism are the whole story. Second, a number of their experimental results suggest that prejudice against Blacks does more to account for views among liberal Whites than it does among conservative Whites (see, especially, Sniderman and Carmines, 1997). If so, it may be the case that prejudice has less of a role in unifying the right than it does in dividing the left. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS The glass is half-full or the glass is half-empty, depending on what one chooses to emphasize. If one compared the racial attitudes prevalent in the 1940s with those commonly observed today, it is easy to be optimistic. A nation once comfortable as a deliberately segregationist and racially discriminatory society has not only abandoned that view, but now overtly, positively endorses the goals of racial integration and equal treatment. There is no sign whatsoever of retreat from this ideal, despite events that many thought would call it into question. The magnitude, steadiness, and breadth of this change should be lost on no one. The death of Jim Crow racism has left us in an uncomfortable place, however; a state of laissez-faire racism. We have high ideals, but cannot agree on the depth of the remaining problem—we are open to integration, but in very limited terms and only in specific areas. There is political stagnation over some types of affirmative action, and persistent negative stereotyping of racial minorities; and a wide gulf in perceptions regarding the importance of racial discrimination remains. The level of misunderstanding and miscommunication is, thus, easy to comprehend. The positive patterns in attitude and belief have important parallels in more concrete social trends. Two examples—demographic data showing modest declines in racial residential segregation in most metropolitan areas, and the growing suburbanization of Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians—match the broad shift in attitudes on the principle of residential integration and openness to at least small amounts of real racial mixing in
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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, Volume I neighborhoods. In addition, the greater tolerance for interracial marriages, including Black-White marriages, is mirrored in the significant rise in the actual number of such unions, although Black-White intermarriages are the least common form of racial intermarriage for Whites. We should always bear in mind that attitudes are but one important input to behavior. Most centrally, situational constraints—such as those intended to be addressed by equal opportunity mandates and antidiscrimination laws—or the expectations of significant others in our lives, affect whether, and when, there is a correspondence among attitude, beliefs, and behavior. Is it possible to change attitudes? The record of change I have reviewed makes it plain that attitudes can change and in important ways. Education and information can help. The better educated, especially those who have gone to college, are typically found to express more positive racial attitudes. It is also clear that many Americans hold inaccurate beliefs about the size of racial minority groups and about such social conditions as group differences in the level of welfare dependency. However, education and information campaigns alone are unlikely to do the job that remains ahead of us if we are to genuinely become one society in the twenty-first century. Attitudes are most likely to change when the broad social conditions that create and reinforce certain types of outlooks change and when the push to make such change comes from a united national leadership that speaks with moral conviction of purpose. That is, it is essential to speak to joblessness and poverty in the inner city, to failing schools, and to a myriad of forms of racial bias and discrimination that people of color often experience, which has not yet effectively been communicated to all American citizens. To pose the question directly: Are we moving toward a color-blind society or toward deepening racial polarization? America is not a color-blind society. We stand uncomfortably at a point of defeating Jim Crow racism, but unsure whether, through benign neglect, to allow the current inequalities and polarization to take deeper root, or to face directly and proactively the challenges of bias, miscommunication, and racism that remain. As a people, we feel quite powerfully the tug, indeed the exhortation, of Dr. King’s dream to become a nation that embodies the ideals of racial equality and integration. It is important to seize on the steady commitment to these ideals of racial equality and integration. The risk of failing to do so, is that a new, free-market ideology of racism—laissez-faire racism—may take hold, potentially worsening an already serious racial divide.
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