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America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I (2001)

Chapter:9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century

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Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
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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

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
×

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).

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
×

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?

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
×

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-

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
×

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?

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
×

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-

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
×

is “a set of beliefs about the personal attributes of members of a particular social category” or “a set of cognitions that specify the personal qualities, especially personality traits, of members of an ethnic group” (Ashmore and Del Boca, 1981:13). As Hamilton and Trolier put it, stereotypes are “cognitive structures that contain the perceiver’s knowledge, beliefs, and expectations about human groups” (1986:133). Thus, racial stereotyping involves projecting assumptions or expectations about the likely capacities and behaviors of members of a racial or ethnic group onto members of that group. Thus, stereotyping has a strong potential to influence other perceptions about, behavior toward, and patterns of interaction with members of the stereotyped group.

Historically, racial stereotyping denoted beliefs that were categorical or extreme, negative in valence, rigidly held, and as a consequence of these features, inherently bad (Ashmore and Del Boca, 1981; Jackman, 1994). Modern social scientists, however, limit the meaning of the stereotyping concept to the ideas or perceptions about groups, without assuming these ideas are necessarily categorical, negative, rigid, or even bad (Ashmore and Del Boca, 1981; Stephan, 1985). As a matter of definition, it is better to think of stereotypes much like any other cognition. Whether these assumed characteristics exist is thus a matter for empirical assessment. Indeed, some stereotypes may have a kernel of truth in them, such as disproportionate Black dependence on welfare or involvement in crime. Such perceptions become problematic, and more akin to prejudice, to the extent they resist modification when presented with new information, are applied categorically to individuals, or both.

Social psychologists commonly distinguish between cultural stereotypes and personal stereotypes, or personal beliefs. Cultural stereotypes refer to widely shared ideas about members of particular racial or ethnic groups (Devine, 1989; Devine and Elliot, 1995). Any particular individual, while almost certainly aware of the broad cultural stereotype about a salient racial or ethnic group, need not personally accept or adhere to that stereotype. Hence, it is of both analytical and (as we shall argue) practical importance to recognize the distinction.

The impetus to accept or adhere to prevailing stereotypes has several sources or origins (Pettigrew, 1981; Duckitt, 1992; Brown, 1995). Individuals may come to accept stereotypes through

  • social learning: socialization into a particular culture or other direct contact with members of particular racial or ethnic groups, or vicarious learning experiences such as through the media;

  • motivation: rationalization of some externality or instrumental consideration—e.g., it is easier to exploit and deny rights to those one perceives as inferior—or of a personality attribute—e.g., ethnocentric, intol-

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
×

erant, authoritarian people require others to feel superior to, and so choose to believe more negative stereotypes of others, often minority group members;

  • cognitive biases: rare or infrequently occurring phenomena, especially if given a strongly negative evaluation, can assume unwarranted prominence in memory, such as a perception of minority group members as prone to crime and violence. In addition, once categorization has occurred, it is common to exaggerate between-group differences and to underestimate within-group variation

After a long period of inattention, survey researchers began in the 1980s to focus on racial stereotypes, following the work of Mary Jackman. Beginning with Jackman and Senter (1980, 1983) and Jackman (1994), several major social surveys have shown that negative stereotyping of racial and ethnic minorities, especially involving Whites’ views of Blacks, remain widespread (Smith, 1990; Sniderman and Piazza, 1993; Sniderman and Carmines, 1997; Bobo and Kluegel, 1993, 1997). In part, this resurgence of interest reflected a move to different ways of measuring stereotypes; bipolar trait rating or other means of expressing relative judgments replaced previous reliance on categorical agree-or-disagree statements. In part, this resurgence of interest reflected a perception that racial stereotypes had, in fact, changed in form of expression to a more qualified nature, which the methodological innovation allowed researchers to tap.

Gauging the exact level of negative stereotyping is not an easy task. One relatively conservative estimate is offered by Sniderman and Piazza (1993) who maintain that:

Notwithstanding the cliché that Whites will not openly endorse negative racial stereotypes for fear of appearing to be racist, large numbers of them—rarely less than one in every five and sometimes as many as one out of every two—agree with frankly negative characterizations of Blacks, particularly characterizations of Blacks as irresponsible and as failing to work hard and to make a genuine effort to deal with their problems on their own (p. 12).

This accounting is a bit complicated, on two scores. First, many Whites were found also to hold positive-trait perceptions of Blacks, not merely negative ones. Second, only a minority of Whites were found to hold uniformly negative views of Blacks—roughly 22 percent of Sniderman and Carmines’ (1997) national sample. In some absolute sense, that almost one quarter of Whites hold consistently negative stereotypical views of Blacks is not a large number; however, given that almost all Whites express some negative stereotypes of Blacks, and nearly one quarter hold

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
×

firmly negative views, the potential for anti-Black bias in many settings is actually quite large even with these conservative estimates.

It is important to note that the observed spread of negative stereotyping depends on both the exact trait examined and the method of assessment. As regards the method of assessment, absolute ratings of Blacks, for example, tend to reveal less prevalent negative stereotypes than do relative or difference-score ratings comparing images of Whites and of Blacks. For example, Jackman’s 1975 survey found that 25 percent of Whites gave absolute negative ratings of Blacks’ intelligence, 30 percent gave absolute negative ratings of Blacks’ dependability, and 36 percent gave absolute negative ratings of Blacks’ industriousness—i.e., believe Blacks are lazy. In contrast to how these White respondents rated Whites as a group, the degree of stereotyping against Blacks was higher; 57 percent gave a more negative relative rating to Blacks concerning intelligence, 56 percent did so concerning dependability, and 37 percent did so concerning laziness.

A similar pattern of nontrivial absolute negative ratings and of even more broadly negative relative ratings of Blacks is obtained from 1990 General Social Survey (GSS) data. Bobo and Kluegel (1997:100–101) show that 31 percent of Whites gave Blacks a low absolute rating in terms of intelligence, 47 percent did so in terms of laziness, 54 percent did so concerning proclivity to violence, and 59 percent did so concerning preference to live off of welfare. The relative ratings are higher in each instance, sometimes substantially so. Thus, the figures are 54 percent rating Blacks as less intelligent compared to the rating for Whites, 62 percent rating Blacks as lazier, 56 percent rating Blacks as more prone to violence, and fully 78 percent rating Blacks as preferring to live off of welfare as compared to Whites.

Jackman and others (Jaynes and Williams, 1989; Bobo, 1997; Bobo and Kluegel, 1997) make the important point that racial stereotypes are now more qualified in character. The perceived differences between Blacks and Whites are expressed, if not also understood, as more a matter of degree than a matter of categorical distinction. But also, the differences appear to be understood or interpreted in more cultural and volitional terms. To the extent there are differences, comparatively few Whites appear to believe they are inherent or biological in origin. These negative stereotypes often also apply in terms of Whites’ views of Hispanics (Smith, 1990). Although Whites’ views of Asians and Pacific Islanders are seldom as negative as those regarding Blacks and Hispanics, even Asians and Pacific Islanders typically receive unfavorable relative ratings. The 1990 GSS reported that considerably more than 50 percent of Whites rated Blacks and Hispanics as less intelligent. A similar percentage rated Blacks and Hispanics as prone to violence. Considerably more

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
×

FIGURE 9–7 Percentage of Whites rating racial minorities as inferior to Whites. SOURCE: Los Angeles Survey of Urban Inequality (1994).

than two-thirds of Whites rated Blacks and Hispanics as actually preferring to live off welfare.

One example of such patterns is shown in Figure 9–7. Substantial percentages of Whites rated Blacks and Hispanics as less intelligent, preferring to live off welfare, and hard to get along with socially. Research suggests that these stereotypes differ in several important ways from stereotypes that were prevalent in the past. First, they are much more likely to be understood as the product of environmental and group cultural traditions, whereas, in the past, they were unequivocally taken as the product of natural endowment. Second, there is growing evidence that many Whites are aware of traditional negative stereotypes of Blacks, as anyone immersed in American culture would be, but personally reject the negative stereotype and its implications (Devine and Elliot, 1995). The problem is that in many face-to-face interactions, the traditional stereotype controls perception and behavior (Devine, 1989). The end result is bias and discrimination against minorities.

In terms of the social consequences of these stereotypes, research suggests that stereotyping likely influences interpersonal interactions (Anderson, 1990; Feagin and Sikes, 1994), processes of racial residential segregation (Farley et al., 1994; Bobo and Zubrinsky, 1996), and the larger political environment (Bobo and Kluegel, 1993; Hurwitz and Peffley, 1997; Peffley et al., 1997). Research indicating Whites’ fearfulness of a Black stranger is indicative. Based on a survey involving the use of sophisticated experimental vignettes, St. John and Heald-Moore (1995) found that Whites were more fearful of a Black stranger than of a White stranger. This was

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
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true irrespective of other situational factors such as time of day or neighborhood characteristics. The degree of fear was strongly conditioned by only two factors: age and gender of the Black person (young Black males were feared more than others) and age of the White person (feelings of fear and vulnerability were greatest among older Whites). In subsequent work, St. John and Heald-Moore (1996) found a strong interaction between race of the stranger, level of fear, and level of racial prejudice among Whites.

We found that for Whites, encounters with Black strangers in public settings evoke more fear of victimization than encounters with White strangers. We also found that the effect of the race of strangers encountered is conditioned by racial prejudice. That is, encounters with Black strangers evoke greater levels of fear in Whites who have high levels of prejudice than in Whites who have lower levels. However, even Whites who gave the least prejudiced response to all the items of the prejudice scale were more fearful of encounters with Black than with White strangers (1996:281).

This work implies that the interaction between Blacks and Whites in many public settings is rife with the potential for missteps, misunderstanding, and insult. Precisely this sort of dynamic is suggested by events and experiences recounted in qualitative interviews with middle-class Blacks (Feagin, 1991; Cose, 1993; Feagin and Sikes, 1994).

Negative stereotyping appears to play a role in reproducing larger structural patterns of racial residential segregation (Massey and Denton, 1993). Based on data from the 1992 Detroit Area Study (DAS), Farley and colleagues (1994) found that negative stereotyping of Blacks strongly predicted Whites’ willingness to share integrated neighborhood space with Blacks. In subsequent work, involving data from the Los Angeles County Social Survey (LACSS), Bobo and Zubrinsky (1996) found that this effect was not restricted to Whites’ reactions to Blacks. The effect of negative stereotyping on openness to residential integration also applied when Whites were reacting to the prospect of Hispanic or Asian neighbors. It is important to note that both of these surveys showed that the effect of negative stereotyping on attitudes on residential integration was independent of perceptions about the average class status of Blacks (for 1992 DAS) and of perceptions of the average class status of Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians (for 1992 LACSS). That is, distinctly racial stereotyping influenced Whites’ willingness to live in integrated communities.

Stereotyping also appears to play an important role in modern politics, especially with regard to some types of race-targeted social policies (Bobo and Kluegel, 1993) as well as to some issues with a more implicit racial component such as crime (Hurwitz and Peffley, 1997) and welfare-related policy issues (Gilens, 1995, 1996a; Peffley et al., 1997). Research in

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
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this area makes clear the general importance of racial attitudes, but also often highlights the complex and conditional nature of the effects of negative racial stereotyping. For example, using survey-based experimental data from a 1994 survey in Lexington, Kentucky, Hurwitz and Peffley (1997) found that the impact of negative stereotyping of Blacks on Whites’ views of crime, criminals, and crime policy issues hinged on other contextual information. Aspects of the nature of the crime, the criminal, and the policy all mattered. To the extent these contextual features were consistent with the broad cultural stereotypes of Blacks—as part of a violent, self-perpetuating, ghetto-inhabiting, poor underclass—the more pronounced the effect of negative stereotyping on the judgments made. For example, stereotypes about Blacks strongly influenced the degree of hostile reactions to a Black car-jacking suspect but not to a Black corporate embezzler. The alleged car-jacker had all the trappings consistent with the cultural-stereotype “street thug” and elicited a powerful resonance with underlying stereotypes about Blacks. The corporate embezzler is a business executive—i.e., did not fit the cultural stereotype of Blacks— and, thus, even though described as Black, did not generate reactions strongly related to underlying stereotypes of Blacks. Hurwitz and Peffley (1997) also found that negative stereotyping encouraged support for punitive responses to crime, but had no impact on views of crime-prevention policies. Thus, stereotyping of Blacks was not uniformly of political relevance, but if other contextual information was stereotype-consistent, a strong reverberation with the underlying stereotype emerged.

Disagreement About the Prevalence of Racial Discrimination

In many ways, the centerpiece of the modern racial divide comes in the evidence of sharply divergent beliefs about the current level, effect, and nature of discrimination. Blacks and Hispanics, and many Asians as well, feel it and perceive it in most domains of life. Many Whites acknowledge that some discrimination remains, but they tend to downplay its contemporary importance. A comparatively small percentage of Whites, but a comparatively high percentage of Blacks and Hispanics, express the view that there is “a lot” of discrimination against, respectively, Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians seeking “good-paying jobs” (Figure 9–8). It is interesting to note that Blacks and Hispanics have lower, but still substantial, percentages acknowledging belief of such discrimination against the other. Neither Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, nor Asians themselves tend to see “a lot” of discrimination against Asians in obtaining better-paying jobs.

Views of police and the criminal justice system constitute an arena of often-acute racial group differences in opinion. For example, Schuman et

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
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FIGURE 9–8 Percentage of Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, and Asian/Pacific Islanders who believe there is “a lot” of discrimination in getting good-paying jobs, by race. SOURCE: Los Angeles Survey of Urban Inequality (1994).

al. (1997:265) report that in 1995, approximately 88 percent of Blacks in an ABC News/Washington Post poll felt that the police treat Blacks unfairly as compared to only 47 percent of Whites. Their analysis showed that the gap between Blacks’ and Whites’ views on police treatment actually grew larger between the late 1980s and mid-1990s. This pattern may reflect a number of prominent and dramatic incidents of police abuse during the 1990s such as the Rodney King beating, the Abner Louima beating, and, in 1999, the murder of Amadou Diallo by New York City police. Tuch and Weitzer’s (1997) trend analyses showed that Blacks’ views of the police tend to exhibit more dramatically adverse reactions in the wake of highly publicized police brutality cases than is true among Whites, and that the adverse impact on views of the police tends to be longer lasting for Blacks as well. Nowhere was the magnitude and palpable tension of this divide more in evidence than along the sharp polarization of views between Blacks and Whites in the wake of the criminal trial of O.J.Simpson for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.

Minorities not only perceive more discrimination, they also see it as more “institutional” in character. Many Whites tend to think of discrimination as either mainly a historical legacy of the past or as the idiosyncratic behavior of the isolated bigot. In short, to Whites, the officers who tortured Abner Louima constitute a few bad apples. To Blacks, these officers represent only the tip of the iceberg. To Whites, the Texaco tapes are shocking. To Blacks, the tapes merely reflect that in this one instance the guilty were caught.

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
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But differences in perception cut deeper than this. For Blacks and Hispanics—and, to a lesser extent, Asians—modern racial bias and discrimination are central factors in the problem of minority disadvantage. Although many Whites recognize that discrimination plays some part in higher rates of unemployment, poverty, and a range of hardships in life that minorities often face, the central cause is usually understood to be the level of effort and cultural patterns of the minority group members themselves (Schuman, 1971; Apostle et al., 1983; Kluegel and Smith, 1986; Schuman et al., 1997). For minorities, especially Blacks, it is understood that the persistence of race problems has something to do with how our institutions operate. For many Whites, larger patterns of inequality are understood as mainly something about minorities themselves.

At issue here is not only how extensive one believes discrimination to be in any particular domain, but also whether one sees individual or social structural factors as key sources of persistent racial economic inequality (Kluegel and Smith, 1982; Kluegel, 1990). Figure 9–9 charts national survey data to show Whites’ perceptions and beliefs about, respectively, the individualistic (Figure 9–9a) and the structural (Figure 9–9b) bases of Black-White economic inequality. Two immediate contrasts distinguish the figures. First, endorsement of the various “individualistic” statements is usually higher than that for any “structural” statement. Thus, among the four structural items, only the conceptually ambiguous “no chance for an education” item (Kluegel, 1990) is endorsed by more than 50 percent of Whites, whereas several of the individualistic items exceed 60 percent White agreement. Furthermore, this comparatively weak structural attribution shows a downward trend over time. To be sure, the individualistic account of Black-White inequality with the most immediately racist import—a belief in innate differences in ability—has steadily declined and is now endorsed by only a small percentage of Whites. Yet, the most popular view holds that Blacks should “try harder,” should get ahead “without special favors,” and fall behind because they “lack motivation.” Second, several of the individualistic items show small, but noteworthy, trends toward growing acceptance. Thus, these patterns confirm Kluegel’s (1990) speculation that Whites show decreased acceptance of most of the structural bases of racial inequality.

The results of two surveys highlight a crucial distinction between idiosyncratic and episodic, and between institutional and structural, views of discrimination. Local and national surveys showed that high percentages of both Blacks and Whites disapproved of the 1992 Simi Valley jury verdict that exonerated the White Los Angeles police officers who beat Black motorist Rodney King (Bobo et al., 1994). However, in a Los Angeles survey conducted immediately after the verdict and subsequent social upheaval, Blacks and Whites disagreed sharply about whether the courts

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
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FIGURE 9–9a Trends in Whites’ beliefs about individualistic bases of Black/ White economic inequality. SOURCE: Adapted from Schuman et al. (1997). Try Harder: We asked people why they think White people seem to get more of the good things in life in America—such as better jobs and more money—than Black people do. Do you agree or disagree with each reason as to why White people seem to get more of the good things in life? It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if Blacks would only try harder they would be just as well off as Whites. No Special Favors: Irish, Italians, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors. Motivation: On the average Blacks have worse jobs, income, and housing than White people. Do you think these differences are mainly due to discrimination? Do you think these differences are because most Blacks just don’t have the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty? Ability: (Same introduction as Motivation above) Do you think these differences are…because most Blacks have less inborn ability to learn?

and criminal justice system were generally unfair to Blacks. Approximately 80 percent of Blacks in Los Angeles agreed that Blacks usually do not get fair treatment in the courts and criminal justice system, compared with only 39 percent of Whites (Bobo et al., 1994:111). Similarly, the DAS survey found that approximately 82 percent of Whites felt that Blacks “very often” or “sometimes” missed out on good housing because individual White owners would not sell or rent to them; 85 percent of Blacks expressed such views (Farley et al., 1993:19). When asked about discrimination by such institutional actors as “real estate agents” and “banks and

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
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FIGURE 9–9b Trends in Whites’ structural beliefs about Black/White economic inequality. SOURCE: Adapted from Schuman et al. (1997). Discrimination: On the average Blacks have worse jobs, income, and housing than White people. Do you think these differences are…mainly due to discrimination? No Chance for Education: (Same introduction as Discrimination above) Do you think these differences are…because most Blacks just don’t have the chance for education that it takes to rise out of poverty? No Chance for Jobs: In general, do you think Blacks have as good a chance as White people in your community to get any kind of job for which they are qualified, or don’t you think they have as good a chance? Discrimination in Managerial Jobs: In your area, would you say Blacks generally are discriminated against or not in getting managerial jobs?

lenders,” however, the Black-White gap in views increased to 22 percent and 34 percent, respectively. Indeed, Blacks saw discrimination as slightly more prevalent by “banks and lenders” than by individual White homeowners.

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the sharp divide over the understanding and experience of racial discrimination to the present-day racial impasse in America (Sigelman and Welch, 1989). Sustained and constructive discourse about matters of race will surely remain difficult insofar as Blacks are (1) more likely than Whites to see discrimination in particular domains and situations; (2) more likely to see discrimination as institutional rather than episodic; (3) more likely to see discrimination as a central factor in larger patterns of racial inequality; and (4) more likely

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
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to regard racial discrimination as personally important and emotionally involving.

Deepening Pessimism and Alienation

In many corners, there is a feeling of pessimism about the state of race relations. A 1997 survey conducted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Research found that only 40 percent of Blacks rated race relations in their community as “excellent” or “good” and more than 20 percent rated community race relations as “poor.” In contrast, 59 percent of Whites rated local race relations as “excellent” or “good,” though better than 10 percent rated them as “poor.” The results of a recent Gallup survey are, in some respects, more pessimistic; roughly 33 percent of Blacks and Whites described race relations as having gotten worse in the past year. What is more, 58 percent of Blacks and 54 percent of Whites expressed the view that “relations between Blacks and Whites will always be a problem for the United States.”

This problem takes the form of particularly acute cynicism and alienation among Blacks, though there are signs of frustration among Hispanics and some APIs as well. Among Blacks, University of Chicago political scientist Michael Dawson’s National Black Politics Survey, conducted in 1993 (Dawson, 1995), found that 86 percent of Blacks agreed with the statement that “American society just hasn’t dealt fairly with Black people.” Fifty-seven percent of Blacks rejected the idea that “American society has provided Black people a fair opportunity to get ahead in life,” and 81 percent agreed with the idea that “American society owes Black people a better chance in life than we currently have.”

A major survey of Los Angeles county residents (the Los Angeles County Social Survey, conducted by this author in 1992) shows that although Blacks expressed the highest and most consistently alienated views, an important percentage of the Hispanic and Asian population did so as well. Thus, for example, 64 percent of Hispanics and 42 percent of Asians agreed with the idea that their groups were owed a better chance in life (Figure 9–10). This places these two groups in between the high sense of deprivation observed among Blacks and the essentially nonexistent feeling of deprivation observed among Whites.

The concern about Black cynicism, however, is acute for two reasons. First, there are signs that the feelings of alienation and deprivation are greatest in an unexpected place: among the Black middle class, especially so among well-educated and high-earning Blacks. Second, there is a concern that these feelings of alienation and deprivation may be contributing to a weakening commitment to the goal of racial integration. Among the potentially discouraging signs in this regard is a recent significant rise in

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
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FIGURE 9–10 Percentage of Blacks, Hispanics, Asian/Pacific Islanders, and Whites agreeing or disagreeing with fairness statements regarding ethnic group deprivation. SOURCE: Los Angeles County Social Survey (1992).

the number of Blacks who think it is time to form a separate national political party (Figure 9–11). The 1993 National Black Politics Survey showed that this figure was at 50 percent, up substantially from about 30 percent in 1984. In addition, Blacks continue to feel a strong connection between the fate of the group as a whole and that of the individual Black. Thus, the 1993 National Black Politics Study shows a slow but steady rise in the percentage of Blacks expressing the view that there was a strong connection between their fate as an individual and the fate of the group as a whole. This tendency is especially pronounced among highly educated Blacks.

In her wide-ranging assessment of data on Black public opinion, political scientist Jennifer Hochschild identifies Black disaffection, particularly among the middle class, as one of the most disturbing trends for the future of American democracy. This disaffection, she finds, expresses itself not merely as “Black rage,” grievance, and alienation, but it also involves a deep questioning of the American dream and prospects for the future. On one level, this reflects the uncertainties of racial minority status, especially for the middle class, in a society that has not yet overcome racism (Hochschild, 1995):

…middle-class Blacks find their lives much more problematic than do middle-class Whites, so the comfort that a broader education, better job, and more money usually bring to Whites is denied to similarly situated Blacks. Thus the paradox of succeeding more and enjoying it less… (p. 93).

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
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FIGURE 9–11 Importance of race to Blacks. SOURCE: Adapted from Dawson (1994), Tate (1993), and Dawson (1995).

This paradox has quite wide-ranging social implications. Hochschild writes:

Black and White increasingly diverge in their evaluations of whether the American dream encompasses African Americans…middle-class Blacks are increasingly disillusioned with the very ideology of the dream itself, and poor Blacks may not be far behind….

The ideology of the dream has always relied on previously poor Americans not only achieving upward mobility, but also recognizing that they had done so, feeling gratified, and consequently deepening their commitment to the dream and the nation behind it. That, very roughly speaking, has been the experience of most immigrants. But middle-class Blacks are not following the prescribed pattern. They recognize their own mobility, they are pleased by it, but their commitment to the American dream is declining, not rising. That is an unprecedented risk to an ideology that depends so heavily on faith in its ultimate fairness and benevolence (pp. 86–87).

The sense of alienation among many Blacks then includes a profound critique of American institutions and culture. As Cornell West put it, “The accumulated effect of the Black wounds and scars suffered in a White-dominated society is a deep-seated anger, a boiling sense of rage, and a passionate pessimism regarding America’s will to justice” (West, 1993:18).

In an earlier era, these sorts of ideas would have been associated with activist Malcolm X, the “prophet of Black rage,” according to Cornell

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
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West. The connection between the insight and rhetoric of Malcolm X and the dilemma of the modern Black middle class is not hard to unearth. As West put it, “One rarely encounters a picture of Malcolm X (as one does of Martin Luther King, Jr.) in the office of a Black professional, but there is no doubt that Malcolm X dangles as the skeleton in the closet lodged in the racial memory of most Black professionals” (1993:97).

The survey data, and summaries of them, however, cannot convey the full depth and range of Black responses, and some Black writers have recently given voice to this sense of discontent. In his recent autobiography, journalist Sam Fulwood describes coming to consciousness as a “blue chip Black”—a Black person slated for success in the mainstream White economy. A teacher explains to him that, unlike his friends, he will be attending the traditionally White junior high school, because, as the teacher expressed it to Fulwood, “I am absolutely certain that you can hold your own with the best” White students. This became a defining moment for the young Fulwood, hopeful that a bright future, free of racial bias, would be his. His adult life experiences proved sharply disillusioning, however (Fulwood, 1996):

I evolved that day into a race child. I believed I would, in due time, illuminate the magnificent social changes wrought by racial progress. Overt racial barriers were falling and I, son of a minister and a school-teacher, fully credentialed members of Charlotte’s Black middle class, thought my future would be free of racism and free of oppression. I believed I was standing at the entrance to the Promised Land. Now, as the twentieth century exhausts itself, I am awakening from my blind belief in that American dream. I am angrier than I’ve ever been (p. 2).

The depth of his sense of rage grew when he returned to the United States from a trip in South Africa:

I returned from South Africa with a new definition of American-style racism and classism, and how they acted like a pair of invisible hands molding the contours of my life. I wasn’t in control of my destiny in the United States; I was living in Alice’s Wonderland. The rules of life were always defined by someone White who decided whether what I did was acceptable, legal behavior. I knew more of the rules, so I played the game better than poorer Blacks, who didn’t know or didn’t care to play the game at all. But I was still only a pawn in the White man’s match (p. 164).

One acute source of Fulwood’s frustration sprang from the inability of Whites to see or even admit the contemporary potency of racism.

Over the course of my life, I realized, so much had changed in me, but so little had changed in the outside world. Racism surrounded me. I could perceive it, but I was powerless to prove conclusively to anyone

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
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who was not Black how corrosive it could be (p. 208)…. I have a boulder of racial attitudes on my back, and at work I must toil among White people and pretend that the dead weight is not there (p. 213).

In the end, Fulwood decides to live in an affluent Black suburb and, more important, to assure that his daughter is raised with a more acute sense of race identity and of the challenge posed by enduring racism than was he. “My daughter,” he declares in the opening pages of the book, “will not be a second-generation blue-chip Black, laboring under the mistaken belief that race will one day be coincidental, unimportant or ignored in her life” (1996:5).

Journalist Jill Nelson writes with a deeper sense of bitterness and despair. For her, much of the dilemma of Black middle-class success comes in having to suppress feelings of rage against a society and a world of work still massively insensitive to the historic and modern weight of racism, in order to maintain a precarious middle-class livelihood (Nelson, 1993):

I’ve also been doing the standard Negro balancing act when it comes to dealing with White folks, which involves sufficiently blurring the edges of my being so that they don’t feel intimidated, while simultaneously holding on to my integrity. There is a thin line between Uncle Tomming and Mau-Mauing. To fall off that line can mean disaster. On the one side lies employment and self-hatred: on the other, the equally dubious honor of unemployment with integrity. Walking that line as if it were a tightrope results in something like employment with honor, although I’m not sure exactly how that works (p. 10).

Like Fulwood, the eminent religion scholar C.Eric Lincoln writes of both the permeating quality of the racial divide and the pain of being rendered socially invisible by virtue of race (Lincoln, 1996):

In America, race is the touchstone of all value, the prism through which all else of significance must be refracted before relationships can be defined or relevance ascertained. There is no order of reality large enough to transcend its pervasiveness, small enough to escape its intrusiveness, or independent enough to avoid its imprimatur (pp. 45–46)…. Every Black American knows firsthand the slander of invisibility. Anonymity. It comes in a thousand ways: a word, a gesture, a conversation that moves over and around him as though he or she were not present. Invisibility is most painful when it is preclusive—jobs not offered, invitations not issued, opportunities denied. It is a lifelong incubus from which few if any African Americans ever escape completely, no matter what their achievements. Racial anonymity derives from the presumption of inconsequence—the inconsequence of Black persons and of their achievements, actual or potential (p. 94).

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
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Even mainstream political figures such as Kweisi Mfume, while never succumbing completely to a sense of Black alienation, nonetheless share many of these same sentiments. Mfume describes coming to consciousness in explaining when, during his college days, he changed his name from Frizzell Gray to Kweisi Mfume (Mfume, 1996):

Anyone who spent more than a moment with me knew that I believed that a terrible hoax was being played on Black people in this country. I believed that most of us were going to live and die without ever having experienced anything near what was promised in the Declaration of Independence about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We weren’t at all protected under the laws of the land—Black people were citizens in name only. We were a people chronically and institutionally disenfranchised, feeding off the scraps of the educational system, the job market, and any other channels leading to a life of dignity…. Yet, Black people were expected to believe in the American Dream as much as White people did. Why should we? The very notion was obscenely cynical, and any Black man or woman who thought differently was living in a fool’s paradise. My disdain for the system was evident as a new wave of militancy engulfed my persona. I didn’t just wear a bush, I was a bush that burned with revolutionary fervor, from the wildfires of racism and prejudice that smoldered around me (p. 189, emphasis in original).

These represent a few of the numerous other memoirs that express similar sentiments—bell hooks, Marcus Mabry, Rosemary Bray, or Nathan McCall, to name a few.

THEORETICAL INTERPRETATIONS OF RACIAL ATTITUDES

To interpret the set of patterns described above is no simple task. To capture their full complexity, four broad schools of thought have been implemented: symbolic racism theory, political ideology and value commitment theory, aversive racism theory, and notions of group position and laissez-faire racism theory. Each theoretical tradition has identified important features of the dynamics of modern racial attitudes and relations. Three of these accounts point to a change or reconfiguration in the nature of racism; the other suggests that more and more matters—beyond race and racism—are important to the discourse about race.

Aversive racism should be distinguished from dominative racism. Dominative racism involves open/overt derogation and oppression of a racial minority group. Aversive racism has been defined by social psychologists Samuel Gaertner and John Dovidio as involving racism among the well intentioned (1986). Accordingly, in the post-Civil Rights era, most Whites hold many racially egalitarian outlooks (as summarized above). Indeed, it is likely racial egalitarianism is an important aspect of self-

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
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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;

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
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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-

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
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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

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
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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

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
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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.

Suggested Citation:"9. Racial Attitudes and Relations at the Close of the Twentieth Century." National Research Council. 2001. America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9599.
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Next: 10. Racial Trends and Scapegoating: Bringing in a Comparative Focus »
America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: Volume I Get This Book
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The 20th Century has been marked by enormous change in terms of how we define race. In large part, we have thrown out the antiquated notions of the 1800s, giving way to a more realistic, sociocultural view of the world. The United States is, perhaps more than any other industrialized country, distinguished by the size and diversity of its racial and ethnic minority populations. Current trends promise that these features will endure. Fifty years from now, there will most likely be no single majority group in the United States. How will we fare as a nation when race-based issues such as immigration, job opportunities, and affirmative action are already so contentious today?

In America Becoming, leading scholars and commentators explore past and current trends among African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, and Native Americans in the context of a white majority. This volume presents the most up-to-date findings and analysis on racial and social dynamics, with recommendations for ongoing research. It examines compelling issues in the field of race relations, including:

  • Race and ethnicity in criminal justice.
  • Demographic and social trends for Hispanics, Asian Americans, and Native Americans.
  • Trends in minority-owned businesses.
  • Wealth, welfare, and racial stratification.
  • Residential segregation and the meaning of "neighborhood."
  • Disparities in educational test scores among races and ethnicities.
  • Health and development for minority children, adolescents, and adults.
  • Race and ethnicity in the labor market, including the role of minorities in America's military.
  • Immigration and the dynamics of race and ethnicity.
  • The changing meaning of race.
  • Changing racial attitudes.

This collection of papers, compiled and edited by distinguished leaders in the behavioral and social sciences, represents the most current literature in the field. Volume 1 covers demographic trends, immigration, racial attitudes, and the geography of opportunity. Volume 2 deals with the criminal justice system, the labor market, welfare, and health trends. Both books will be of great interest to educators, scholars, researchers, students, social scientists, and policymakers.

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