Spring 2011

Destabilizing the American Racial Order

Jennifer Lucy Hochschild, Vesla M. Weaver, and Traci Burch

Are racial disparities in the United States just as deep-rooted as they were before the 2008 presidential election, largely eliminated, or persistent but on the decline? One can easily find all of these pronouncements; rather than trying to adjudicate among them, this essay seeks to identify what is changing in the American racial order, what persists or is becoming even more entrenched, and what is likely to affect the balance between change and continuity. The authors focus on young American adults, who were raised in a distinctive racial context and who think about and practice race differently than their older counterparts. For many young Americans, racial attitudes are converging across groups and social networks are becoming more intertwined. Most important, although group-based hierarchy has not disappeared, race or ethnicity does less to predict a young adult's life chances than ever before in American history.

Jennifer L. Hochschild, a Fellow of the American Academy since 1996, is the Henry LaBarre Jayne Professor of Government, Professor of African and African American Studies, and Harvard College Professor at Harvard University. She is author of The American Dream and the Public Schools (with Nathan Scovronick, 2003) and Facing Up to the American Dream: Race, Class, and the Soul of the Nation (1995). Her current book project, coauthored with Vesla Weaver and Traci Burch, is tentatively titled “Transforming the American Racial Order: Immigration, Multiracialism, DNA, and Cohort Change.” At present, she is the John R. Kluge Chair of American Law and Governance at the Library of Congress.

Vesla M. Weaver is an Assistant Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia. She has published articles in American Political Science Review, Perspectives on Politics, Political Behavior, Studies in American Political Development, and Social Forces. Her first book, Frontlash: Civil Rights, the Carceral State, and the Transformation of American Politics, is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press. Her current book project is “Political Consequences of the Carceral State” (with Amy Lerman).

Traci Burch is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University and a Research Professor at the American Bar Foundation. Her publications have appeared in Political Behavior, Law and Society Review, and the Du Bois Review. Currently, she is completing a book manuscript, “Punishment and Participation: How Criminal Convictions Threaten American Democracy.”

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