Colorful Lore

Kevin Lewis

May 12, 2022

Slavery and the Rise of the Nineteenth-Century American Economy
Gavin Wright
Journal of Economic Perspectives, Spring 2022, Pages 123-148

The essay considers the claim that slavery played a leading role in the acceleration of US economic growth in the nineteenth century. Although popular among pro-slavery apologists, the proposition fails under rigorous historical scrutiny. The slave South discouraged immigration, underinvested in transportation infrastructure, and failed to educate the majority of its population. It is not even clear that the region produced more cotton than it would have under a counterfactual alternative settlement by free family farmers, on the free-state pattern. The grain of truth in recently popular narratives is that many northerners and business interests were complicit in the crime of slavery: routinely engaging in transactions with slaveholders, even promoting activities that facilitated slavery and the domestic slave trade. Complicity complicates simple historical moralism, but it is quite different from the notion that the prosperity of the nation as a whole derived from slavery in any fundamental way. 

The Proliferation of Criminal Background Check Laws in the United States
David McElhattan
American Journal of Sociology, January 2022, Pages 1037-1093

Criminal record checks have become a widely used method for governing access to institutional attachments in the United States. State laws that authorize or require the use of background checks serve as one important source of criminal records' expanded reach. The current study uses novel longitudinal data to examine the proliferation of these laws at the state level between 1982 and 2013. Panel analyses provide the strongest support for a model of racial classification, with the rate of background check adoption increasing as African-Americans represent larger shares of state criminal record populations. Considerable support is also found for racial economic threat and, to a lesser extent, ethnic economic threat. Background check adoption is only weakly associated with violent crime rates and other features of state-level penal regimes. 

Protest movements involving limited violence can sometimes be effective: Evidence from the 2020 BlackLivesMatter protests
Eric Shuman et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 28 March 2022

The murder of George Floyd ignited one of the largest mass mobilizations in US history, including both nonviolent and violent BlackLivesMatter (BLM) protests in the summer of 2020. Many have since asked: Did the violence within the largely nonviolent movement help or hurt its goals? To answer this question, we used data [R. Kishi, et al., (Report, Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, 2021)] about the location of all BLM protests during the summer of 2020 to identify US counties that featured no protests, only nonviolent protests, or both nonviolent and violent protests. We then combined these data with survey data (n = 494; study 1), data from the Congressional Cooperative Election Study (n = 43,924; study 2A), and data from Project Implicit (n = 180,480; study 2B), in order to examine how exposure to (i.e., living in a county with) different types of protest affected both support for the key policy goals of the movement and prejudice toward Black Americans. We found that the 2020 BLM protests were not associated with reduced prejudice among either liberals or conservatives. However, when containing a mix of nonviolence and violence, these protests predicted greater support for BLM's key policy goals among conservatives living in relatively liberal areas. As such, this research suggests that violent, disruptive actions within a broader nonviolent movement may affect those likely to be resistant to the movement. We connect these findings to the notion of disruptive action, which explains why these effects do not materialize in reducing prejudice, but in generating support for important policy goals of the movement. 

The Long Run Impacts of Court-Ordered Desegregation
Garrett Anstreicher, Jason Fletcher & Owen Thompson
NBER Working Paper, April 2022 

Court ordered desegregation plans were implemented in hundreds of US school districts nationwide from the 1960s through the 1980s, and were arguably the most substantive national attempt to improve educational access for African American children in modern American history. Using large Census samples that are linked to Social Security records containing county of birth, we implement event studies that estimate the long run effects of exposure to desegregation orders on human capital and labor market outcomes. We find that African Americans who were relatively young when a desegregation order was implemented in their county of birth, and therefore had more exposure to integrated schools, experienced large improvements in adult human capital and labor market outcomes relative to Blacks who were older when a court order was locally implemented. There are no comparable changes in outcomes among whites in counties undergoing an order, or among Blacks who were beyond school ages when a local order was implemented. These effects are strongly concentrated in the South, with largely null findings in other regions. Our data and methodology provide the most comprehensive national assessment to date on the impacts of court ordered desegregation, and strongly indicate that these policies were in fact highly effective at improving the long run socioeconomic outcomes of many Black students. 

Reducing Racial Inequality in Access to the Ballot Reduces Racial Inequality in Children's Later-Life Outcomes
Daniel Jones & Ying Shi
University of Pittsburgh Working Paper, February 2022

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 removed barriers to voting for Black Americans in the South; existing work documents that this in turn led to shifts in the distribution of public funding towards areas with a higher share of Black residents and also reduced Black-White earnings disparities. We consider how expanded access to the ballot improved the well-being of children, and in doing so document that the immediate effects of expanded voting access last well into the next generation. Specifically, within a cohort-based differences-in-differences design, we test how early-life exposure to the VRA differentially impacted later-life outcomes of Black Americans. We find that increased exposure to the VRA before the age 18 leads to higher educational attainment and earnings in adulthood for Black Americans, with little or no impact on whites. 

"Hanging Pretty Girls": The Criminalization of African American Children in Early America
Crystal Webster
Journal of the Early Republic, Summer 2022, Pages 253-276

At the start of the criminal reform movement and during the moment of northern emancipation, a startling phenonenon emerged in which Black children were hypercriminalized. Their treatment within the emerging criminal justice system was unusually harsh, and exceedingly violent. Officials confined Black children and especially Black girls to adult prisons, where they served lifetime sentences or even were executed. This article examines the experiences of individual Black girls in the criminal courts and prisons of Early America and illustrates that their severe punishments were a reaction to the threat of their freedom, and that these practices were an integral part of the development of the racialized carceral state. 

"Let Our Ballots Secure What Our Bullets Have Won": Union Veterans and the Making of Radical Reconstruction
Michael Weaver
American Political Science Review, forthcoming

After the Civil War, congressional Republicans used sweeping powers to expand and enforce civil rights for African Americans. Though the electoral benefits of African American suffrage were clear, Republicans had to overcome party divisions and racist voters. This paper argues that the war imbued Northern veterans with the belief that true victory required renewing the Union by abolishing slavery and establishing (imperfect) legal equality. This made veterans more receptive to Radical Reconstruction and ignited activism for it from below. Using difference-in-differences, I show that greater enlistment increased Republican vote share, particularly in pivotal postwar elections. Moreover, "as-if" random exposure to combat deaths increased Republican partisanship among soldiers after the war. Finally, I show that veterans became more likely to vote for African American suffrage. The paper concludes that Union veterans, through their votes and their activism, were a decisive part of the white coalition that backed America's "Second Revolution." 

Setting the Tone: An Investigation of Skin Color Bias in Asia
Jacqueline Chen & Andrew Francis-Tan
Race and Social Problems, June 2022, Pages 150-169

Social stratification by skin color is evident across the globe. In Asia, the origins of colorism are more obscure, and contemporary patterns are less studied. This paper examines the presence and patterns of colorism in an Asian context. Using data from Project Implicit, Study 1 investigated the extent to which participants associated dark skin color with negative concepts and light skin color with positive concepts. East Asia emerged as the world region with the highest level of skin color bias. Using experiments conducted in Singapore, Studies 2-4 investigated how manipulating skin color impacted the evaluations of job applicants. Studies 2 and 4 documented a modestly sized bias against dark- and medium-skinned applicants relative to light-skinned applicants, driven primarily by female participants. Study 3, which increased the range of applicant credentials, documented an attenuation of skin color bias. Furthermore, stratified models indicated participants from lower socioeconomic status families displayed higher levels of bias. 

My Commander in Chief is Black! The Mental Health Significance of Barack Obama's 2008 Presidential Election for Military Veterans
Quintin Gorman, Tony Brown & Julian Culver
Armed Forces & Society, forthcoming

This study investigated the mental health significance of Barack Obama's 2008 presidential election for military veterans. Many believed his election signaled a progressive shift in race relations and crucial challenge to White supremacy. Furthermore, many argued his election generated hope, especially among Blacks. We therefore hypothesized Black and Hispanic veterans would experience improved mental health after installment of the nation's first Black commander in chief. We also hypothesized White veterans would experience no change in their mental health. With nationally representative survey data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), we tested these hypotheses by predicting poor mental health days self-identified Black, Hispanic, and White veterans experienced preelection and postelection in fall 2008. Net of established social determinants of health, we estimated Black and Hispanic veterans, respectively, experienced approximately 2.01 and 2.17 fewer poor mental health days postelection, whereas White veterans experienced no significant postelection change. Sensitivity analyses seemed to corroborate these findings.


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