Race Matters

On the heels of Obama’s election, many Americans are wondering whether race really matters anymore. Are we on the edge of a color-blind society? Have whites moved beyond race as a per se factor in shaping preferences? A study titled “In the Eye of the Beholder: Racial Beliefs and Residential Segregation” in the latest volume of the Du Bois Review reminds us that race continues to matter, and that it continues to matter in part as a consequence of whites’ racial stereotypes and negative racial beliefs.

Over the past several years, two prominent studies have demonstrated that race matters to employers in hiring. In one study, published in 2003 in the American Journal of Sociology, employers responded negatively to Black applicants (White applicants who reported a criminal record, for example, were more likely to be called back for a second interview than were Black applicants with no criminal record); in another, published in 2004 in the American Economic Review, they responded negatively to African American-sounding names on resumes (White applicants on average had to send out ten resumes to get a call for a job interview; Black applicants with a resume identical to that of the white applicants, except for name, had to send out fifteen resumes to get a call).

The recently published Du Bois Review study shows a similar reaction to race by whites in the housing market. The researchers constructed videos depicting different neighborhood social-class levels. Each video showed five hired actors as “residents” of the neighborhoods, picking up their mail, talking with each other, etc. For each social-class level, the researchers created videos with exclusively Black residents, with exclusively white residents, and with a mix of Black residents and white residents. The residents were otherwise matched in clothing style, age, and sex; the only difference was their race. See a sampling of the videos.

The finding? From the authors:

. . . . White respondents who saw a neighborhood with only Black residents evaluated it significantly more negatively than similar Whites who saw exactly the same neighborhood but with White residents. The skin color of our resident actors gave White respondents information they used to judge whether the homes were expensive or moderate in cost, whether the neighborhood was safe, whether the schools were good, whether housing prices would likely to go up or stagnate in the future.

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1 Response

  1. A.W. says:

    One nitpick.

    Race doesn’t matter. Racism does. Indeed, I don’t believe in the concept of race, period. The only need for a definition of “black,” “white,” “asian,” etc. is in understanding and addressing racism.