The Cost of Participating while Poor and Black: Toward a Theory of Collective Participatory Debt
By Sally A. Nuamah, Northwestern University
How do resource-poor Black populations participate in the policy process? And what are the interpretive impacts of their participation? Using multiyear qualitative data on mass school closures in two large U.S. cities—in which nearly 90% of the population targeted were Black and low-income—I investigate how 1) the school district and local organizations provide resources for those affected to participate in the policy process; 2) affected participants interpret their engagement as contributing positively to the development of civic skills and perceptions of internal efficacy but negatively to their perceptions of politics, policy, and future participation; and that 3) these negative attitudes persist even among those who secure success in fighting the policy. I conceptualize this last phenomenon as indicative of “collective participatory debt” and raise serious questions about the utility of participating while poor and Black in American democracy.