Racial Inheritance

Kevin Lewis

June 04, 2020

Agenda Seeding: How 1960s Black Protests Moved Elites, Public Opinion and Voting
Omar Wasow
American Political Science Review, forthcoming


How do stigmatized minorities advance agendas when confronted with hostile majorities? Elite theories of influence posit marginal groups exert little power. I propose the concept of agenda seeding to describe how activists use methods like disruption to capture the attention of media and overcome political asymmetries. Further, I hypothesize protest tactics influence how news organizations frame demands. Evaluating black-led protests between 1960 and 1972, I find nonviolent activism, particularly when met with state or vigilante repression, drove media coverage, framing, congressional speech, and public opinion on civil rights. Counties proximate to nonviolent protests saw presidential Democratic vote share increase 1.6-2.5%. Protester-initiated violence, by contrast, helped move news agendas, frames, elite discourse, and public concern toward “social control.” In 1968, using rainfall as an instrument, I find violent protests likely caused a 1.5-7.9% shift among whites toward Republicans and tipped the election. Elites may dominate political communication but hold no monopoly.

Beyond Performance: Racial Resentment and Whites’ Negativity Toward Government
Alexandra Filindra & Noah Kaplan
University of Illinois Working Paper, April 2020


We argue that since the 1960s, with increased descriptive representation in elected positions and in key administrative posts, government has become racialized. As a result, white racial conservatives are more likely to be less trusting and feel more threatened by government. The link between racial attitudes and beliefs about government suggests that the decline in public trust may not be simply a response to performance but rather a result of in-congruence in values between white racial conservatives and public institutions. Furthermore, the racialization of government constitutes a path for racial “spillover” in nonracial policy domains. Using a priming experiment and the 1988-2016 ANES we demonstrate a strong negative relationship between racial resentment and various measures of support for government. We also show that racial resentment has indirect effects on several nonracial and racialized policy domains through its effect on government attitudes.

A Subaltern Middle Class: The Case of the Missing "Black Bourgeoisie" in America
William Darity, Fenaba Addo & Imari Smith
Contemporary Economic Policy, forthcoming


A convention, particularly in economics and sociology, for empirical identification of the “middle class” has been to mark off a segment of the population above a lower bound with respect to income, occupational status, and/or educational attainment. Instead, we argue here that wealth constitutes a superior standard for demarcation of the middle class. Wealth is an especially useful standard for identification of the middle class from subaltern communities, communities that have a generally marginalized status. We illustrate the value of the wealth criteria by examining the specific case of America's Black middle class. This alternative approach enables us to demonstrate that the Black middle class is proportionately much smaller than the White middle class and to demonstrate the limitations of several proposals recently advanced to close the racial wealth gap.

Identities, interest group coalitions, and intergroup relations
Jacob Rothschild
Politics, Groups, and Identities, forthcoming


Interest groups are well known for lobbying and providing information to citizens. However, no extant scholarship explores how the actions of interest groups affect intergroup relations, even though these organizations represent a variety of social identities. I argue that the decisions of interest group leaders to work together or reject collaboration send signals to everyday members of the identity groups they represent about their relations to other groups. In a survey experiment with a nationally representative sample of African-Americans, I vary whether respondents receive information about a successful coalition or a rejected coalition between African-American interest groups and organizations representing another identity. I find that when African-American interest groups successfully form a coalition with a high-solidarity outgroup (e.g., Hispanics), individuals develop greater feelings of closeness with the outgroup and express greater support for policies that benefit that group. However, when leaders of the outgroup organizations reject the coalition, it creates a backlash effect of lower closeness and weaker policy support. This backlash effect does not occur for low-solidarity outgroups (e.g., atheists). These findings suggest that interest groups are an understudied source of elite influence on identity-based perceptions, which can either promote or obstruct harmonious intergroup relationships.

Neighborhood climates of legal cynicism and complaints about abuse of police power
Bill McCarthy, John Hagan & Daniel Herda
Criminology, forthcoming


Research findings show that legal cynicism - a cultural frame in which skepticism about laws, the legal system, and police is expressed - is important in understanding neighborhood variation in engagement with the police, particularly in racially isolated African American communities. We argue that legal cynicism is also useful for understanding neighborhood variation in complaints about police misconduct. Using data on complaints filed in Chicago between 2012 and 2014, we show that grievances disproportionately came from racially segregated neighborhoods and that a measure of legal cynicism from the mid‐1990s predicts complaints about abuse of police power two decades later. The association between legal cynicism and complaints is net of prior complaints, reported crime, imprisonment, and other structural factors that contribute to the frequency and nature of interactions involving police and residents. Legal cynicism also mediates the influence of racially isolated neighborhoods on complaints. The mid‐1990s is the approximate midpoint of a half‐century of police scandals in Chicago. Our research findings suggest that contemporary complaints about police misconduct in highly segregated Chicago neighborhoods are grounded in collectively shared historical memories of police malfeasance. They also suggest that persistent complaints about police misconduct may represent officially memorialized expressions of enduring racial protest against police abuse of power.

Divided We Stay Home: Social Distancing and Ethnic Diversity
Georgy Egorov et al.
NBER Working Paper, May 2020


Voluntary social distancing plays a vital role in containing the spread of the disease during a pandemic. As a public good, it should be more commonplace in more homogeneous and altruistic societies. However, for healthy people, observing social distancing has private benefits, too. If sick individuals are more likely to stay home, healthy ones have fewer incentives to do so, especially if the asymptomatic transmission is perceived to be unlikely. Theoretically, we show that this interplay may lead to a stricter observance of social distancing in more diverse and less altruistic societies. Empirically, we find that, consistent with the model, the reduction in mobility following the first local case of COVID-19 was stronger in Russian cities with higher ethnic fractionalization and cities with higher levels of xenophobia. For identification, we predict the timing of the first case using pre-existing patterns of internal migration to Moscow. Using SafeGraph data on mobility patterns, we confirm that mobility reduction in the United States was also higher in counties with higher ethnic fractionalization. Our findings highlight the importance of strategic incentives of different population groups for the effectiveness of public policy.

Changes in Black-White Inequality: Evidence from the Boll Weevil
Karen Clay, Ethan Schmick & Werner Troesken
NBER Working Paper, May 2020


This paper investigates the effect of a large negative agricultural shock, the boll weevil, on black-white inequality in the first half of the twentieth century. To do this we use complete count census data to generate a linked sample of fathers and their sons. We find that the boll weevil induced enormous labor market and social disruption as more than half of black and white fathers moved to other counties following the arrival of the weevil. The shock impacted black and white sons differently. We compare sons whose fathers initially resided in the same county and find that white sons born after the boll weevil had similar wages and schooling outcomes to white sons born prior to its arrival. In contrast, black sons born after the boll weevil had significantly higher wages and years of schooling, narrowing the black-white wage and schooling gaps. This decrease appears to have been driven by relative improvements in early life conditions and access to schooling both for sons of black fathers that migrated out of the South and sons of black fathers that stayed in the South.

When Coercive Economies Fail: The Political Economy of the US South After the Boll Weevil
James Feigenbaum, Soumyajit Mazumder & Cory Smith
NBER Working Paper, May 2020


How do coercive societies respond to negative economic shocks? We explore this question in the early 20th-Century United States South. Since before the nation's founding, cotton cultivation formed the politics and institutions in the South, including the development of slavery, the lack of democratic institutions, and intergroup relations between whites and blacks. We leverage the natural experiment generated by the boll weevil infestation from 1892-1922, which disrupted cotton production in the region. Panel difference-in-differences results provide evidence that Southern society became less violent and repressive in response to this shock with fewer lynchings and less Confederate monument construction. Cross-sectional results leveraging spatial variation in the infestation and historical cotton specialization show that affected counties had less KKK activity, higher non-white voter registration, and were less likely to experience contentious politics in the form of protests during the 1960s. To assess mechanisms, we show that the reductions in coercion were responses to African American out-migration. Even in a context of antidemocratic institutions, ordinary people can retain political power through the ability to "vote with their feet."

Neural and sociocultural mediators of ethnic differences in pain
Elizabeth Reynolds Losin et al.
Nature Human Behaviour, May 2020, Pages 517-530


Understanding ethnic differences in pain is important for addressing disparities in pain care. A common belief is that African Americans are hyposensitive to pain compared to Whites, but African Americans show increased pain sensitivity in clinical and laboratory settings. The neurobiological mechanisms underlying these differences are unknown. We studied an ethnicity- and gender-balanced sample of African Americans, Hispanics and non-Hispanic Whites using functional magnetic resonance imaging during thermal pain. Higher pain report in African Americans was mediated by discrimination and increased frontostriatal circuit activations associated with pain rating, discrimination, experimenter trust and extranociceptive aspects of pain elsewhere. In contrast, the neurologic pain signature, a neuromarker sensitive and specific to nociceptive pain, mediated painful heat effects on pain report largely similarly in African American and other groups. Findings identify a brain basis for higher pain in African Americans related to interpersonal context and extranociceptive central pain mechanisms and suggest that nociceptive pain processing may be similar across ethnicities.

Can We Bring Culture into the Large-Scale Study of Gentrification? Assessing the Possibilities Using Geodemographic Marketing Data
Mahesh Somashekhar
Urban Affairs Review, forthcoming


Despite advances in quantitative methodology, many quantitative gentrification scholars rely on under-theorized and speculative presumptions about who gentrifiers are. This study uses Claritas Potential Rating Index for Zip Marketers (PRIZM), a geodemographic marketing data source on the lifestyles and consumer habits of U.S. households, to augment a Census-based analysis of Chicago neighborhoods that gentrified from 2000 to 2017. PRIZM data reveal that the households moving into gentrified neighborhoods represent a range of lifestyles, calling into question the attribution of “gentrifier” to any particular social group or demographic category. In some cases, despite having the same social class positions, gentrifiers pursue varying interests, suggesting they have different effects on neighborhoods. Once lifestyle is accounted for, many assumptions about gentrifiers on which quantitative studies are built become inadequate. The article’s conclusion not only proposes ways in which scholars can integrate geodemographic marketing data into future gentrification research, but it also outlines reasons to be cautious when using the data.

Accounting for central neighborhood change, 1980-2010
Nathaniel Baum-Snow & Daniel Hartley
Journal of Urban Economics, forthcoming


After 1980-2000 population decline and economic stagnation, downtown neighborhoods in most large US cities experienced 2000-2010 population growth and gentrification. Stark racial differences in valuations of downtown amenities and suburban labor market opportunities among those with less than college that only emerged after 2000 are the primary drivers of these downtown neighborhood dynamics. As college-educated whites moved in, increases in valuations of downtown amenities encouraged other whites to remain in downtowns, a reversal from prior decades. Continued departures of less than college educated minorities were driven both by relative improvements in suburban employment opportunities for this group and their continued declines in valuations of downtown amenities. Our evidence highlights the importance of racial differences in valuations of potentially endogenous local amenities for understanding recent downtown gentrification.


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