Race, Ethnicity and Politics

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There have been a lot of studies focusing on the relationship between race and political attitudes or gender and political attitudes, however, as groups assimilate in the United States there has become an increase in the studies that evaluate how gender and race interact simultaneously. The work of both Gay and Tate (1998) and Philpot and Walton (2007) focuses on how gender and race interact for black women and whether gender and/or race guides decision making.

According to Gay and Tate (1998), multiple group identities that develop as a result of social and economic integration can weaken an individual group’s orientation towards politics.

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Each person often has competing alliances within them, specifically with black women. Studies have found that black women are more likely than white women to identify as feminists. Black women who strongly identify with their race will support a black feminist strategy more because they recognize the disadvantage and discriminated in society (Gay & Tate, 1998). Gay and Tate (1998) argue that black women are doubly bound to both race and gender when forming their political identities. Using data from two national surveys of voting-eligible black Americans in both 1984 and 1996, Gay and Tate found that for black women, gender and race are mutually reinforcing in instances where race directly interferes with gender, however, rely on racial identities more when making political decisions.

Gay and Tate (1998) firstly examine, among black women who identify strongly with women, whether gender identification increases the probability of supporting liberal public policies. Secondly, Gay and Tate (1998) examine whether gender identification enhances the effect of race identification on support for liberal public policies. The primary independent variable in this study measures group identity – one for gender and another for race. Respondents were asked, “”Do you think what happens generally to blacks in this country will have something to do with what happens in your life?”” respondents who answered yes were then asked: “”will it affect you a lot, some, or not very much?”” Similar questions were used to measure the degree of common fate with women. In 1984, black women identified less with their gender than with their race. However, over 12 years, racial and gender common fate awareness increased among black women. Race in particular increased in salience over this period (Gay & Tate, 1998). The political attitudes of black women were then measured by six policy attitudes. Three of the policies concerned race-specific policy agenda, three were concerned with general social welfare programs.

Gay and Tate’s (1998) study reveal that the perception of gender interdependence does not account for much of the policy liberalism often observed among black women. Racial identification, however, more consistently shapes the liberal policy attitudes of black women in 1984. While race guides liberal policy attitudes, gender identification did not detract or enhance the liberal effect that race consciousness had on black women’s policy views. The little effect of a link to gender found in this study could be because the 1984 telephone survey accounted for social welfare programs, but did not directly address women’s concerns (Gay & Tate, 1984). Gay and Tate (1998) stated, “”In 1984, black women viewed politics from a racial lens even as the majority felt connected to their gender as well as their race”” (p. 182).

When examining the impact of race and gender on the opinions of black women towards significant black public figures and events, Gay and Tate found that the impact of being strongly identified with women detracted from the effect of being race-identified. These studies prove that race and gender interact in a complex way and play a role not only in people’s identities but the way people view situations and act on public policy. This study shows us that gender remains relevant for black women in issues where there is overlap between gender and race.

Gay and Tate’s findings suggest that race remains the most dominant quality in which black women view politics because racism is considered a bigger obstacle than sexism and because gender is a “”weak vehicle for political identification”” (Gay & Tate, 1998, p. 182). Their research also suggests that feminism might weaken black women’s support for black causes among strongly race-identified black women when those causes are framed as harmful to the advancement of women.

The Gay and Tate study provides key findings but is not relatable to the present day as it was a study finished in 1998. Since the 90’s we have seen more overlapping interests in minorities and groups of people with the legalization of gay marriage, the election of a black president, and the increasing adaption of groups in the United States. Philpot and Walton provide a more detailed study that is more applicable to modern day politics as it was conducted in 2007.

Philpot and Walton’s study expands upon Gay and Tate’s findings examining the role of race and gender in candidate evaluations arguing that the role of race and gender in electoral politics must be examined simultaneously because they mutually reinforce each other. Black women are largely underrepresented in all levels of government. Philpot and Walton attempt to examine the likely supporters of black female candidates using an experiment, precinct-level election data, and exit poll data (Philpot & Walton, 2007).

Philpot and Walton created a fictitious campaign in which participants read a paragraph about an upcoming mayoral election featuring a black female candidate with three conditions. The first condition read that she was running against an African American male. The second a white male, and the third a white female. This was successful because it allowed for Philpot and Walton to control for inauthentic relationships that might interfere with the support of a candidate. Using this experimental data, however, makes it hard to generalize these findings. In reality, political support is determined by a plethora of circumstances.

Philpot and Walton find that black women, regardless of the opponent, tended to be the biggest supporters of the black female candidate (Johnson) (Philpot & Walton, 2007) suggesting that both race and gender strengthened support. Black males also supported Johnson although their support was dependent on her opponent. When the opponent was a black male, only 60 percent of the black men preferred Johnson. Yet, when the opponent was white, over 80 percent in both groups supported Johnson confirming the group interests of the race.

Philpot and Watson also analyzed the electoral support for black female candidates from the city of Atlanta because it is one of the few cities that collect registration by gender and race. In the 2001 Atlanta mayoral election, Shirley Franklin, received a little under half of the votes. Her success was due to a well-funded campaign mostly by women and supporters from all races. Looking at the voter turnout, the black female candidates received a greater percentage of the vote in precincts with greater numbers of black female registered voters. On average, support for the Atlanta black female candidates were lower in districts with higher percentages of black male registered voters. These findings suggest that black male support for a black female is contingent upon the race and gender of the opponent. At the time a black man was running against Shirley. Black men are most likely to vote for black men, but are more likely to support a black women over a white male or female.

Philpot and Walton (2007) stated, “”For black women, race and gender do not operate separately from one another”” (p. 58). They found that race and gender strengthened support for female black candidates. Their findings suggest that black female candidates receive equal levels of support among whites relative to blacks when she has obtained political experience. The background of the candidate allows her to transcend race and gender among white voters.

There is a large assumption that people have multiple overlapping interests and thus one group can never dominate politics. Using the pluralist perspective that Gay and Tate laid out, individuals will try to strike a balance between competing issues. Research of black women consistently suggests that blacks frequently use their racial identity over their gender. Gay and Tate (1998) expand on this research by saying that black women “”use race at the expense of gender in their political evaluations”” (p. 59).

The research of Philpot and Walton confirms that blacks frequently use their racial identity, however, this is not an end all be all. Philpot and Walton argue that black women are not the sum of their parts and it is not as simple as identifying as one or the other. Black women evaluate candidates based on the potential benefits offered to black women rather than blacks and/or women. Black women’s evaluations cannot be explained by race or gender independently of each other. Political decisions are made by black women that satisfy the intersection of the competing identities rather than choosing an outcome that minimally satisfies both or fully satisfies one and not the other. There are still a lot of unanswered questions. I am interested in seeing these types of studies play out not only in black women but in individuals in which there are other overlapping interests such as homosexuals who are also racial/ethnic minorities. These studies only confirm that the notion of linked fate that we have been studying throughout the semester will continue to shape our political opinions and decisions.

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Race, Ethnicity and Politics. (2019, May 20). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/race-ethnicity-and-politics/