Poverty and Racial Attitudes

One of the most significant books I read as an undergraduate was Racial Attitudes in America: Trends and Interpretations, by sociologists Howard Schuman, Charlotte Steeh, and Lawrence Bobo (1985). (A revised edition was published in 1998 by Harvard University Press.)

In fact, my first ever academic conference presentation (at the Western Anthropology/Sociology Undergraduate Research Conference at Santa Clara University) was inspired by this book. It was based on a paper I wrote for Dr. Yossi Shavit’s social statistics class: “From Bensonhurst to Berkeley: Trends in American Racial Attitudes, 1972 to 1988.” In that paper, I used General Social Survey (GSS) data to analyze whether American racial attitudes had improved or, I feared, declined or stagnated over time.

With the help of Shavit and my teaching assistant Eleanor Bell, I created a Guttman scale for racial attitudes based on 7 questions from the GSS.

Guttman Scale for GSS Race VariablesAs the snippet from my paper above shows, Guttman scales are hierarchical so that a person who agrees with a certain item should also agree with lower-ranked items. For example, a person who favors busing to achieve desegregation (the hardest item in the racial attitudes scale) should also favor easier items such as interracial marriage and having a family member’s black friend home for dinner.

I was reminded of this work today when I was surfing around the internet trying to find ways people have used the General Social Survey to study racial attitudes recently. Many of the same survey questions I utilized continue to appear, but I was taken aback when I stumbled across the following graphic on racial attitudes from Nate Silver’s FiveThiryEight website that examined responses to a question I had not analyzed:

Graphic on Blacks Lack MotiviationWow. That is all I can say.

What White People DON’T Like

I blogged earlier about the ever-more famous “What White People Like” blog. The popularity of the blog (and the impending book based on the same idea) has created considerable discussion/debate. Is the site a critique of Whiteness or a veiled celebration of it?

Among the more entertaining (to me) and pointed comments is from the Undercover Black Man blog, called “Stuff White People Don’t Like.” I quote a part here:

Here are a few things that white people don’t like:

1. Black bosses.

2. Mexicans.

3. Being told they’re wrong.

4. Panhandlers.

5. Black people on magazine covers.

6. Islam.

OK, so this level of discourse doesn’t exactly contribute to positive race relations in America, but race relations in America are so bad, you just have to laugh sometimes to keep from crying.

Stuff White People Like

I came across this site recently: Stuff White People Like. It is HILARIOUS. Just as an example, here is an excerpt from #91 San Francisco (close to my heart being from the Bay Area):

Much in the way that white people in Brooklyn feel a strong and unfounded connection with The Notorious BIG, white people in San Francisco feel the need to identify with rappers from the East Bay. Interestingly enough, the further they venture from San Francisco, the stronger their need to represent their region.


“Oh man, I went to the show last night. So hyphy man, so hyphy. You should come by some time and we’ll ghost ride the Prius.” When you are presented with statements like this, the best response is to say “Berkeley is close to Oakland,” and the white person will likely nod and throw up some sort of west side hand sign.