Friday, September 6, 2019, 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Abstract: Reversing course from a long tradition of studying racial antipathy, I argue that racial sympathy, defined as white distress over black misfortune, shapes public opinion among a nontrivial subset of white Americans. Using an original measure – the racial sympathy index – I find that sympathy motivates support for policies perceived to benefit, as well as opposition to policies to perceived to harm, African Americans. Racial sympathy is distinct from a more general sympathy, as it does not shape opinion related to other groups. The concept is foremost a racial attitude; as evidence of this, I find that sympathy is activated when a policy draws attention to its black beneficiaries. In probing this effect, I find that even exposure to negative stereotypes of blacks does not extinguish the influence of sympathy. The consistent results across multiple national studies suggest that racial sympathy represents a distinct dimension of American racial attitudes.