Selling Out?: The Politics of Navigating Conflicts between Racial Group Interest and Self-interest

Selling Out?: The Politics of Navigating Conflicts between Racial Group Interest and Self-interest

By Ismail K. White, George Washington University, Chryl N. Laird, Saint Louis University and Troy D. Allen, Southern University-Baton Rouge

Departing from accounts of minority group politics that focus on the role of group identity in advancing group members’ common interests, we investigate political decisions involving tradeoffs between group interests and simple self-interest. Using the case of black Americans, we investigate crystallized group norms about politics, internalized beliefs about group solidarity, and mechanisms for enforcing both through social pressure. Through a series of novel behavioral experiments that offer black subjects individual incentives to defect from the position most favored by black Americans as a group, we test the effects of social pressure to conform. We find that racialized social pressure and internalized beliefs in group solidarity are constraining and depress self-interested behavior. Our results speak to a common conflict—choosing between maximizing group interests and self-interest—and yet also offer specific insight into how blacks remain so homogeneous in partisan politics despite their growing ideological and economic variation.

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