Racial Identity, Group Consciousness, and Attitudes: A Framework for Assessing Multiracial Self-Classification

The forthcoming article “Racial Identity, Group Consciousness, and Attitudes: A Framework for Assessing Multiracial Self-Classification” by Lauren D. Davenport, Shanto Iyengar  and Sean J. Westwood is summarized by the author(s) below. 

Multiracial Americans are the fastest-growing racial demographic in the U.S. Their swift rise suggests shifting patterns of the social and political meanings associated with race. In this article, we provide the first large-scale assessment of the racial identities, consciousness, and attitudes of multiracial self-classifiers, focusing on the two biggest groups in the population: White-Blacks and White-Asians. In doing so, our work provides important insights into how identity is politicized in a diversifying America.  

Drawing on psychological theories of group dynamics, we formulate three models of multiracial political identity: a minority solidarity model, which predicts that multiracials feel most strongly attached to and express attitudes more closely aligned with their minority race; a hegemonic model, which predicts that multiracials feel more closely aligned with Whites; and an emerging identity model, which contends that multiracials’ attachments and attitudes consistently deviate from both of their constituent backgrounds.  

From these models, we generate a set of hypotheses that we test using a rich battery of items embedded into the largest national political survey of multiracial adults to date (n=1229). We compare multiracial White-Blacks and White-Asians to those of their component monoracial groups: Whites, Blacks, and Asians. We assess racial group identity and consciousness with three measures: relative salience of race to one’s identity, racial group closeness, and linked fate. We estimate multiracials’ affinity (or lack thereof) toward their constituent racial groups with both explicit and implicit racial attitude measures, including the implicit association test.  

All told, we find no support for the hegemonic model, that multiracials principally align themselves with Whites. On balance, our results indicate that self-classification as White-Black or White-Asian does not reflect an equal connection to and affinity for both constituent racial groups, but relatively greater alignment with the minority race. Both consciously and subconsciously, White-Asians assert a stronger affiliation with Asians than with Whites, and White-Blacks are akin to Blacks on linked fate and stereotypes. But we also show that, relative to their monoracial minority group, multiracials express lower levels of group closeness, and, in the case of White-Blacks, some implicit bias against Blacks—suggesting that White-Blacks may hold some prejudices of which they are unaware. Taken together, this indicates a complexity to multiracials’ identities and underscores a need to understand when and how multiracials’ differing attitudes affect their political behavior and preferences. 

We also find some differences in multiracials’ attitudes that are tied to their particular background. Compared to White-Blacks, White-Asians express relatively greater linked fate to Whites and markedly higher levels of anti-Black stereotyping and resentment. Because minority group consciousness has been shown to result in more progressive political attitudes, greater political participation, and a commitment to minority coalition building, we argue that White-Blacks’ relatively stronger sense of minority group linked fate (compared to White-Asians) may induce them to engage with and support issues pertinent to their minority community to a greater degree. 

These findings suggest that members of these multiracial populations are likely to align themselves relatively more with their minority background than with Whites on political issues that are racial in nature. All things considered, we argue that the rise of these multiracial populations is likely to strengthen rather than weaken the longstanding bond between self-identified minorities and the Democratic Party.  

About the Author(s): Lauren D. Davenport is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science at Stanford University, Shanto Iyengar is Professor, Department of Political Science at Stanford University and Sean J. Westwood is Associate Professor, Department of Government at Dartmouth College. Their research “Racial Identity, Group Consciousness, and Attitudes: A Framework for Assessing Multiracial Self-Classification” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.