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

Virtual Issue: Diversity, Inclusiveness, and Inequality

The APSA Presidential Task Force Report ‘Political Science in the 21st Century report’, now just over five years old, offered a number of recommendations to the discipline including several related to political science research on diversity and racial, ethnic, and gendered marginalization. After reading APSA journals articles published in the years prior to and following the taskforce report, Dianne Pinderhughes and Maryann Kwakwa, both of the University of Notre Dame, argue that, while there have been important steps toward increasing multicultural diversity in political science research and teaching, the barriers that contributed to its marginalization in the past continue to exist. The following article is included in the virtual review issue.

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. AllenSouthern 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.

American Political Science ReviewVolume 108Issue 4 / November 2014 , pp. 783-800