The Dynamics of Race and Inequality in the United States: Permeable Boundaries and Self-fulfilling Prophecies
Mounting evidence, both survey-based and experimental, demonstrates that perceptions of a person’s race in the USA change in response to myriad changes in social position. These findings suggest that individual-level racial fluidity serves to reinforce racial inequality by redefining successful or high-status people as white (or not black) and unsuccessful or low-status people as black (or not white). The basic patterns hold for both economic and non-economic outcomes, and across historical and contemporary periods – though they differ somewhat by gender. Taken together, the results provide a compelling, nationally representative demonstration of the social construction of race in the United States. They also raise new questions about how stereotypes shape the way we see race, in the most literal sense, and thus how we see and understand inequality -- which has implications for understanding racialized disparities around the world.