Archive | Race

How Slavery Changed the US South

Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell and Maya Sen find in a new paper that if it weren’t for the legacy of slavery, white Southerners today would be politically indistinguishable from Northerners.

Drawing on a sample of more than 39,000 southern whites, we show that whites who currently live in counties that had high concentrations of slaves in 1860 are on average more conservative and express colder feelings towards African Americans than whites who live elsewhere in the South. That is, the larger the number of slaves in his or her county of residence in 1860, the greater the probability that a white Southerner today will identify as a Republican, express opposition to race-coded policies such as affirmative action, and express greater racial resentment towards African Americans. We show that these differences are robust to a variety of factors, including geography and mid-19th century economic conditions and political attitudes. We also show that our results strengthen when we instrument for the prevalence of slavery using local measures of the agricultural suitability to grow cotton. In fact, our findings indicate that in the counterfactual world where the South had no slaves in 1860, the political views of white Southerners today would be indistinguishable from those of similarly situated white Northerners.
Continue Reading

The Anniversary of the March on Washington, and What It Means for Public Opinion

Given the news of recent months – the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin shooting, the Supreme Court’s invalidation of part of the Voting Rights Act, and controversy over the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy – the anniversary of the March may be the unusual event that helps bring the perspectives of whites and blacks closer together.

That is Danny Hayes, over at Wonkblog.  More here.

Continue Reading

Do Popular Votes on Rights Create Animosity Toward Minorities?

Continuing our new series of collaborations with political science journals, we are pleased to present the following guest post from University of Western Washington political scientist Todd Donovan to discuss his article with University of Iowa political scientist Caroline Tolbert ”Do Popular Votes on Rights Create Animosity Toward Minorities?” that appears in the current issue of Political Research Quarterly.  In conjunction with this post, SAGE will make the article freely available to all for the next 30 days; you can download it here.


Americans regularly make major decisions about minorities and minority rights via the purely majoritarian process of direct democracy.   Conflict over the substance of these policies occasionally reaches the US Supreme Court, but effects of the process of direct democracy on perceptions of minorities receive little attention.  My recent study of campaigns against same sex marriage (Minnesota Law Review), and research I’ve conducted with Caroline Tolbert published recently in Political Research Quarterly, highlight some concerns about the process.  Campaigns against a minority right appear similar to campaigns against the minority itself, as campaigns target the minority as a threat to the majority.

Voters have banned the sale of land to Asians, repealed fair housing legislation, repealed school desegregation, prohibited undocumented workers from receiving public services, and repealed public affirmative action programs. Thirty one states – including California with Prop. 8 in 2008 – voted to ban same sex marriage.  Beyond any policy effects, our study of public opinion found that the anti-marriage campaigns affected what people thought about lesbians and gays. We found animosity toward lesbian and gays increased in 2004 among religious people living in states where marriage was on the ballot.

When the constitutionality of these popularly enacted policies are challenged in court, the primary legal issues may involve how the laws are being applied, and 14th Amendment equal protection claims.  These were at issue in Romer v. Evans, when the Court overturned Colorado’s voter approved law prohibiting “special rights” for lesbians and gays.  This June, the Court largely avoided this when, in Hollingsworth v Perry, they decided that Prop. 8’s proponents lacked standing to appeal an earlier district court ruling.

Neither of these cases gave explicit consideration to effects of the process of direct democracy on a minority group.   This may change next session, when the Court considers a Michigan initiative that restricted affirmative action.  One issue in Schuette v Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action is whether the initiative changed policymaking affecting a racial minority (university admissions policy is now made via the ballot box) in a way that burdens the minority’s ability to affect the policy.  Our research suggests the effects direct democracy may go deeper – if campaigns against a pro-minority policy stigmatize public perceptions of the minority group that benefits from the policy.

Opinion polls suggest that if Prop. 8 were put before California voters today, same sex marriage would be approved.  Indeed, same sex marriage was approved by voters in Washington, Maine, and Maryland in 2012.  Given this rapid and recent change in attitudes, a campaign against same-sex marriage (and by extension, against lesbians and gays) today may not have the capacity to stigmatize as it did before.  Yet this need not mean that there isn’t potential for campaigns over other policies that benefit a minority to stigmatize public perceptions of the targeted minority group.  A July 2013 Quinnipiac poll found that nearly three-quarters of Americans felt that universities should not be allowed to use race as a factor in admissions.  A 2011 poll found most respondents agreeing that Muslims “undermine American culture.”  In the context of attitudes such as these, direct democracy campaigns may not only produce outcomes that constrain the rights and influence of minorities, but may also generate increased animosity toward the group.

Continue Reading

Is the Criminal Justice System Colorblind? The Separate Realities of Blacks and Whites

I’ve been remiss in linking to my latest post at Wonkblog.  It is an interview with political scientists Mark Peffley and Jon Hurwitz about their work on race and perceptions of the criminal justice system and the implications of this work for Trayvon Martin’s death and George Zimmerman’s acquital.  Here is an excerpt:

Q: Does a case like Trayvon Martin’s make the “realities” of blacks and whites more separate then?

A: Our research shows how events like the Trayvon Martin case widen the racial divide in the U.S.  When high-profile, incendiary events smack of racial profiling and/or police brutality against people of color, blacks, who view the system as discriminatory and distrust law enforcement, are deeply suspicious about whether justice will prevail. Whites who view the system as color-blind and are much more trusting of the police, discount the likelihood of police misconduct or racial bias when the suspects or victims are African American. Events like the Trayvon Martin case reinforce and intensify more generalized judgments about the fairness of the system.

More in the post.  Peffley and Hurwitz’s recent book is Justice in America: The Separate Realities of Blacks and Whites.



Continue Reading

More on “Missing White Voters”

Beyond the fact that the 2012 dropouts do not look like a group that Republicans can count on for help in future elections, a focus on “missing voters” completely ignores what is almost certain to remain the most important source of change in the racial composition and political orientations of the American electorate for the foreseeable future — generational replacement

More from Alan Abramowitz and Ruy Teixeira here.  My related posts are here and here.

Continue Reading

Latinos View Black “Law-abidingness” Less Favorably than Whites Do

We welcome another guest post from Brown political scientist Michael Tesler.


Some commentators have questioned the role of race in the events leading up to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin because George Zimmerman’s mother is Latina—a discussion that has carried over into the comments section of this blog.  The fact that Zimmerman is part Hispanic, however, hardly immunizes him from the explicit and implicit anti-black biases that Corrine McConnaughy described in her recent post.

Indeed, the figure below suggests that Latinos are actually more likely to stereotype African-Americans as criminals than whites.  Those results, which come from a 2009 Pew Poll that interviewed a relatively large number of Hispanics (N = 376), reveal that Latinos were much less willing than whites to say “most blacks are law-abiding.“  Only 48% of Latinos, for instance, endorsed that statement compared to 76% of whites.  Moreover, the second panel of the display shows that this pessimism among Latinos was limited to their perceptions of black law-abidingness.  Three-quarters of the Latinos surveyed said that “most whites are law-abiding.”  The display also shows that African-Americans were surprisingly suspicious of their own group’s law-abidingness.  Yet, unlike whites and Latinos, African-Americans were even more likely to stereotype whites as criminals—a factor that may contribute to the wide racial divide in Americans’ reactions to the Zimmerman verdict.


(Source: Pew Social Trends—October 2009—Racial Attitudes in America II; raw data here)

A recently published article by Tessa Ditanto, Richard Lau and David Sears also suggests that anti-black attitudes may be more prevalent among Latinos than whites.  Analyzing data from the 2008 American National Election Study, which included a Latino oversample, these authors found: “In terms of negative affect toward Blacks, acceptance of Black stereotypes, and implicit prejudice, Latinos score higher than non-Hispanic Whites.“

To be sure, these results in no way imply that Zimmerman’s actions on the night of Trayvon Martin’s death were racially motivated.  They do, however, make it clear that Latinos are just as likely, if not more so, to maintain the stereotypes and implicit biases that could lead to the racial profiling of African-Americans.

Continue Reading

“Stop and frisk” statistics

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen brings up one of my research topics:

In New York City, blacks make up a quarter of the population, yet they represent 78 percent of all shooting suspects — almost all of them young men. We know them from the nightly news.

Those statistics represent the justification for New York City’s controversial stop-and-frisk program, which amounts to racial profiling writ large. After all, if young black males are your shooters, then it ought to be young black males whom the police stop and frisk.

I have two comments on this. First, my research with Jeff Fagan and Alex Kiss (based on data from the late 1990s, so maybe things have changed) found that the NYPD was stopping blacks and hispanics at a rate higher than their previous arrest rates:

To briefly summarize our findings, blacks and Hispanics represented 51% and 33% of the stops while representing only 26% and 24% of the New York City population. Compared with the number of arrests of each group in the previous year (used as a proxy for the rate of criminal behavior), blacks were stopped 23% more often than whites and Hispanics were stopped 39% more often than whites. Controlling for precinct actually increased these discrepancies, with minorities between 1.5 and 2.5 times as often as whites (compared with the groups’ previous arrest rates in the precincts where they were stopped) for the most common categories of stops (violent crimes and drug crimes), with smaller differences for property and drug crimes.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 11.57.51 PM

I can’t fault Cohen here, he’s just a newspaper columnist, you can’t expect him to be aware of a six-year-old article in the Journal of the American Statistical Association. And things may have changed since 1998-1999 (which is when our data are from). But the data we have here shows the police were disproportionately stopping minorities.

The other thing is, I don’t think Cohen is necessarily being fair to the police when he describes the stop-and-frisk program as “racial profiling.” As we wrote in our paper, “It is quite reasonable to suppose that effective policing requires stopping and questioning many people to gather information about any given crime.” It could well be that a statistical pattern of stops could arise from individual decisions that are not based on race but instead are based on characteristics that are correlated with race. I have no idea what the police are doing—-my only experience here is with the numbers.

I that Cohen is, on one hand, way too quick to dismiss the numbers with his blanket statement that “young black males are your shooters” and on the other hand may be way too quick to describe police work as racial profiling.

P.S. As a bonus, Slate columnist Matthew Yglesias connects this to one of my other research interests: Bayesian inference. I won’t comment on Yglesias’s remarks except to point out that Bayes’ theorem is a two-way street. The problem here is not so much Bayesian inference as its application to decision analysis. If you have to make individual decisions by maximizing the probability of success (catching a criminal, if you are the police), then profiling can be a logical strategy. Reasons not to profile include, “equal protection of the laws” etc. and also indirect effects of what one might call the “profiling culture,” effects such as hassling innocent people, reducing trust in the police, empowerment of Bernard Goetz and George Zimmerman to go around shooting people, etc. Bayes’ theorem is relevant in all these calculations but the issues here are not trivial.

Continue Reading

Trayvon Martin and the Burden of Being a Black Male

We welcome another guest post from Corrine McConnaughy, a political scientist at The Ohio State University.


Could race could have played any role in the confrontation that resulted in Treyvon Martin’s death and in the jury’s interpretation of the evidence  that led them to acquit George Zimmerman?  Answering those questions is very hard, in part because we do not have direct, objective evidence on exactly what occurred between Martin and Zimmerman, nor statements from the jury about their thought processes. What social scientists know about race, however, questions whether even that evidence would give us the answer. “Race” can work in ways that are exceedingly difficult to detect. White opinion of blacks contains important implicit biases as well as stubbornly persistent explicit prejudice.  Although no firm conclusions are possible about Zimmerman and Martin, I will note two features of their altercation and Zimmerman’s trial that could have exacerbated implicit bias.  And I will describe new research showing how explicit prejudice toward blacks singles out black males like Trayvon Martin in particular.

Many studies have demonstrated a decline in overt racism over the last several decades.  White Americans have become less likely to say that they believe that African Americans are inherently inferior to whites, such as that they are less intelligent or hardworking than whites, and more likely to support contact with blacks, such as by living in neighborhoods with a significant number of black residents and by inter-racial marriage. Negative sentiments about blacks still exist, of course. The percentage of whites who express overt racism hovers around 20 to 30 percent. Yet, clearly many white Americans have moved past racism, making it plausible that the individuals involved in the Zimmerman trial—Zimmerman himself, the lawyers, the jurors—had no racial bias motivating their thoughts and actions.

Stopping at overt racism, however, is stopping far too short. Research on aversive racism uses implicit measurement strategies to show that even those white Americans that express racially egalitarian views are not immune from holding—and acting upon—racial prejudice. Negative implicit views are most likely to produce discriminatory or harmful behavior toward blacks when there is no social monitoring of the behavior—that is, no one is “watching”—and the behavior can be justified or rationalized based on a factor other than race. Those who are racially egalitarian on both explicit and implicit measures, however, do not engage in such behavior.

This points to a first feature of Zimmerman’s altercation: it was an interaction that was observed clearly by no one.  Witnesses could only sketch bits of what transpired that night.  None of them was visible to Zimmerman.  Other things equal, this makes it more likely that race played a role in that interaction, even if Zimmerman holds no overtly racist beliefs about blacks. Negative racial attitudes or affect of which Zimmerman may not even be aware remain untested but plausible motivations for his actions.

This brings us to the second feature: the Zimmerman trial judge’s decision to sharply limit the explicit reference to race—including denying the prosecution the ability to argue that Zimmerman engaged in racial profiling.  Studies of the legal system and aversive racism show that the less explicitly race is engaged in the discourse in the courtroom, the more likely aversive racism is to influence the decisionmaking process of the jurors. Thus, the judge’s decision also makes it more likely that race played a role in the outcome of the case.

Finally, there is the question of whether it mattered that Martin was a black male. Here we do not have to ferret out unconscious forms of racial bias.  This bias is readily evident in media coverage of crime, which disproportionately emphasizes violent crime perpetrated by non-white males and helps to increase support among white Americans for more punitive crime policies.  Such bias is also evident in public opinion.  Ismail White and I have been conducting a number of studies on the uniqueness of attitudes toward black men. In a nationally representative sample of white Americans, we find that black men are indeed considered uniquely violent. While a traditional question about racial and gender stereotyping finds that whites perceive “blacks” as more violent than “whites” and “men” as more violent than “women,” a question that asks about combinations of these identities—black men, white women, etc.—shows how black men are uniquely stigmatized.  More than 40 percent said that many or almost all black men were violent, but less than 20 percent said that of black women and white men. The figure below displays these results (with the bands indicating 95 percent confidence intervals). mcconnaughy1

We also extend one of the implicit measures of racial attitudes, the Affect Misattribution Procedure (AMP), to measure how white Americans view not simply blacks and whites, but men and women of each race.  As displayed in the figure below, we find that black males elicit the most negative sentiments. Indeed, those who responded the fastest to the measurement task—thus the most clearly expressed implicit bias—registered not only extremely sharp divides between black men and whites of both genders, but also made a clear distinction between black men and black women.

mcconnaughy2In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, some commentators have reflected on the social burden of black men and even asked who is afraid of (young) black men.  Our research demonstrates that black men do in fact face unique burdens—one of explicit racial blame and also the deeper scar of implicit bias. Trayvon Martin was a part of a social group that many white Americans distinctly malign. While we cannot say with certainty exactly how his race and gender mattered that fateful night in Sanford or in the subsequent trial of Zimmerman, his case offers an important opportunity to understand and perhaps start to undo this unique burden for black men.

Continue Reading