Shaping Race Policy: The United States in Comparative Perspective

Shaping Race Policy: The United States in Comparative Perspective

by Robert Lieberman


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Shaping Race Policy investigates one of the most serious policy challenges facing the United States today: the stubborn persistence of racial inequality in the post-civil rights era. Unlike other books on the topic, it is comparative, examining American developments alongside parallel histories of race policy in Great Britain and France.

Focusing on on two key policy areas, welfare and employment, the book asks why America has had such uneven success at incorporating African Americans and other minorities into the full benefits of citizenship. Robert Lieberman explores the historical roots of racial incorporation in these policy areas over the course of the twentieth century and explains both the relative success of antidiscrimination policy and the failure of the American welfare state to address racial inequality. He chronicles the rise and resilience of affirmative action, including commentary on the recent University of Michigan affirmative action cases decided by the Supreme Court. He also shows how nominally color-blind policies can have racially biased effects, and challenges the common wisdom that color-blind policies are morally and politically superior and that race-conscious policies are merely second best.

Shaping Race Policy has two innovative features that distinguish it from other works in the area. First, it is comparative, examining American developments alongside parallel histories of race policy in Great Britain and France. Second, its argument merges ideas and institutions, which are usually considered separate and competing factors, into a comprehensive and integrated explanatory approach. The book highlights the importance of two factors—America's distinctive political institutions and the characteristic American tension between race consciousness and color blindness—in accounting for the curious pattern of success and failure in American race policy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691118178
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 07/25/2005
Series: Princeton Studies in American Politics: Historical, International, and Comparative Perspectives , #121
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Robert C. Lieberman is Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs at Columbia University. He is the author of Shifting the Color Line: Race and the American Welfare State.

Read an Excerpt

Shaping Race Policy

The United States in Comparative Perspective
By Robert C. Lieberman

Princeton University Press

Copyright © 2005 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

Chapter One


RACE-particularly the color line dividing white from black (or white from everything else)-has always been central to American political life. It has instigated our most harrowing political challenges, from sectional strife to Civil War, and inspired our proudest achievements, from emancipation to the civil rights revolution. Despite these achievements, however, racial division and inequality remain disturbingly present and disruptive forces in American political life-even more so today, in many ways, than in the bad old days of slavery or Jim Crow. Whereas once the color line was apparent for all to see, etched without irony or embarrassment on the nation's lawbooks, on its maps, and in its customs and social codes, now it has shifted beneath the surface of American politics. Although few will openly acknowledge the color line, its effects are everywhere, in decaying inner cities, overcrowded prisons, and substandard public schools. What has made racial division such a persistent theme in American political development despite dramatic progress in American racial attitudes and institutional practices? How is it possible that these divisions remain when Americans seemed so decisively to have exorcised their racial demons more than a generationago, and when so much progress has been made? This question and the profound challenge it poses to the American self-image of universal equality and opportunity lie at the center of this book.

In the past half-century, progress toward racial equality and integration has been nothing short of revolutionary. The immediate liberal integrationist aims of the civil rights movement have met with resounding and long-lasting success: formal, state-sponsored segregation has ended and discrimination has been outlawed across a variety of domains. Moreover, racism-the belief in the existence of biologically rooted racial categories and in the inferiority or historical underdevelopment of one or more racially defined groups-has declined dramatically in American life over the past half-century.

But this revolution in legal status and public attitudes has not meant unimpeded incorporation for African Americans into all spheres of American life. Within this generally upward trajectory (although from such a low starting point that downward was scarcely possible), progress has been, to say the least, uneven. In this book I zero in on one particularly jarring disjunction between the success and failure of racial incorporation in two related but distinct policy areas over the course of the twentieth century: welfare and employment. In the realm of employment, the civil rights revolution spawned, rather unexpectedly and almost despite itself, a deceptively strong and arguably successful approach to attacking employment discrimination-the cluster of policies and practices known collectively as "affirmative action." The rise of affirmative action is all the more surprising because it emerged from a resolutely color-blind antidiscrimination law that seemed to prohibit precisely the kind of race-conscious enforcement measures that it spawned. Despite its shortcomings and the controversy surrounding it, American employment discrimination policy has proven one of the country's stronger pillars of minority incorporation. By 2002, nearly one-fourth of employed blacks held professional or managerial jobs (compared to 35 percent for non-Hispanic whites), more than three times the proportion in 1960. And despite several decades of stagnation, the wage gap between black and white workers remains historically small. Large inequalities remain, but the American labor market is much more diverse and more protective of minority rights than at any time in history.

The American welfare state-by which I mean here principally cash income-support programs-has quite a mixed record of incorporating African Americans into structures of public social provision. Social insurance programs such as Social Security have grown in diversity over nearly seventy years. Expanding coverage and increasing benefits have both benefited African Americans, who now participate in Social Security at a rate nearly comparable to that of whites: one in seven African Americans aged fifteen or over receives some kind of benefit from Social Security (including survivors' and disability benefits). The program, moreover, has incorporated minorities with surprisingly little friction or controversy and enhanced the economic prospects of a growing black middle class. At the same time, public assistance programs such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC; since 1996, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) have followed precisely the opposite path. The real value of AFDC benefits reached its peak in the early 1970s and has declined steadily ever since, in an era when the minority presence on the AFDC rolls has steadily increased. In contrast to social insurance, American "welfare" policies have consistently treated their disproportionately minority clientele as excluded from the mainstream and posed barriers to their full incorporation in American life.

These policies, then, underscore my central question: why is there success in some areas of racial incorporation and failure in others? The lumpiness of racial progress in the post-civil rights era poses a puzzle and a challenge. The puzzle is to explain why the civil rights revolution failed to bring about the full-scale incorporation of African Americans into the full promise of American political, social, and economic life. What are the causes of racial progress and what are the barriers that stand in its way? The challenge is to devise policy strategies for addressing these persistent imbalances, which threaten to erode, if not to undermine completely, much of the progress of the last generation. What kind of policies will help achieve the full incorporation of minorities into American life? One approach is to target policies at minorities in order to make up for past discrimination, equalize opportunity, and ensure diversity in institutions such as schools and workplaces. But some critics charge that such race-conscious approaches to achieving equality threaten instead to undermine equality by highlighting rather than submerging group differences. If American society is to live up to its color-blind ideals, these analysts argue, it must stop treating people differently on the basis of race, ethnicity, or other group characteristics. This conflict between race-conscious and color-blind policy came to a head most recently in the lawsuits over admissions policies at the University of Michigan, in which a closely divided Supreme Court upheld the principle of race-conscious admissions for the purpose of ensuring diversity while restricting the range of acceptable applications. But the Michigan cases, however publicly and bitterly fought, were merely the latest skirmish in an ideological and political battle that has raged for a generation or more on extremely varied policy terrain-from affirmative action to voting rights and representation to a broad range of social policies.

The puzzle deepens when we consider that welfare and employment policy are connected in important ways. Both are aimed, broadly speaking, at mitigating inequalities generated by market forces, whether by providing benefits directly or by ensuring access to jobs. In the American welfare state, moreover, the labor market largely regulates access to social benefits; workers have access not only to generous social benefits such as Social Security and unemployment insurance but also to a range of tax-financed and private benefits such as health insurance and pensions, while nonworkers are relegated to public assistance programs that tend to be punitive, stingy, and politically weak. The American welfare state consequently tends to amplify rather than reduce labor market inequalities. We might expect, consequently, that policies that successfully reduce racial inequities in the labor market would have a similar multiplier effect in helping to narrow racial gaps in the welfare state. Experience, however, does not seem to bear out this proposition. The rise of the policy commitment to equal employment opportunity coincided with growing class stratification among African Americans; some have argued, indeed, that affirmative action, which has tended to benefit relatively more advantaged members of minority groups, contributed to the growing gap between haves and have-nots among minorities.

From one perspective, it is hardly surprising that racial incorporation is stronger in social insurance and employment discrimination than in public assistance. Antidiscrimination policy, ensuring what appears to be fair labor-market access, may simply substitute for more generous and inclusive social provision in the national policy mix, and thus on balance increase inequality by reinforcing the distinction between those who work and those who do not. Such, at any rate, is one prominent argument about the gender effects of the American welfare state, in which strong employment discrimination protection for women coexists with high levels of gender inequality in terms of class status and access to social provision. American welfare reform in the 1990s, which explicitly required work of (mostly female) public assistance recipients, underscored this argument.

At the same time, however, the substitution argument does not translate easily and precisely to the case of racial inequality. American welfare policy and employment policy alike have been severely constrained by the politics of race. The United States rejected the grand postwar Keynesian bargain that linked active full employment policies with generous social benefits; rather, in both policy areas, broader and potentially more racially inclusive policy options have been defeated by racially structured coalitions. This pattern suggests that racial barriers to inclusion cut across welfare and employment policies more generally and, consequently, that the puzzle of uneven incorporation remains unsolved; successes as well as failures need to be explained.

This account of policy outcomes hinges on the notion of "incorporation," by which I mean the extent to which a group is accorded full membership in the national community, with fair and equal access to civil, political, and social rights. This formulation obviously owes a great deal to T. H. Marshall's famous analysis of citizenship, which he decomposed into these same three components. But it also goes beyond Marshall's essentially teleological account of citizenship, in which social rights-"from the right to a modicum of economic welfare and security to the right to share to the full in the social heritage and to live the life of a civilized being according to the standards prevailing in the society"-follow in an orderly and cumulative progression from the development of civil (legal equality) and political (voting) rights. Marshall's influential formulation equates social citizenship with the existence of universal social policies that promise broad access to benefits as a counterweight to the stratifying effects of social class. But this conflation of policies and outcomes is too rigid to account for the ways in which apparently universal policies can introduce or reinforce other kinds of social stratification, along other axes of heterogeneity than class. Certainly the range of minority experience in American welfare and employment policy and the varying capacity of these policies to overcome racial stratification suggest that race, too, is a potentially important barrier to the full flowering of social citizenship.

The notion of incorporation is intended to specify more precisely the extent to which policies in fact offer benefits and protection to minorities and enable them to attain a measure of status within the national community. Incorporation is thus the obverse of the idea of "social exclusion," a concept that denotes not simply chronic poverty or unemployment or even exclusion from social benefits but social marginality and isolation. Measuring minority incorporation in social policies thus has two components. First, it requires identifying, as far as possible, the extent to which minorities actually benefit from social policies. Second, it involves assessing the extent to which inclusion in those benefits enhances or stifles inclusion in other areas of the political economy. Consequently, my account of minority incorporation in welfare and employment policies will involve both data on minority access to benefits, capturing participation levels, and accounts of policy developments over time, capturing the propensity of policies to foster increasing inclusion.

Incorporation is more than just the lack of discrimination in awarding benefits and protecting rights; protection against deliberate, overt discrimination-differential treatment of individuals explicitly because of racial or ethnic characteristics-is a necessary but not sufficient condition for full incorporation. Incorporation also encompasses rules and procedures that allocate benefits, rights, and status. This may happen in such a way that some groups are systematically favored while others are systematically deprived. Such group imbalances may occur even in the absence of discriminatory intent through the unconscious operation of program administration, as when uniform, apparently race-neutral rules are applied unevenly to different groups. One group may be less inclined to seek benefits, for example, whether because of fear, lack of access, or cultural differences among groups. This kind of administrative discrimination also occurs within a political setting, and policies themselves can encourage such discrimination by shifting discretion over the rules and their application to lower levels of government and to front-line administrators or by adhering to standards of policy "success" that bias implementation and evaluation. Policies may thus be discriminatory even if they are applied in scrupulously neutral ways. The distinction between discriminatory intent and discriminatory effects is an important one because they imply different causal mechanisms behind failures of racial incorporation. Both have operated powerfully in American social policy at various times and in different contexts. In an earlier time, openly discriminatory intentions frequently informed, and even dominated, American politics and policy-making. In the post-civil rights era unequal incorporation persists despite the absence of such open discrimination. Nevertheless, past patterns and practices of deliberate exclusion shape today's more subtle and hidden limits to racial incorporation. A historical exploration of incorporation patterns is thus a necessary component of understanding and altering them.


Why this curious and maddening mixture of success and failure? Two factors have dominated recent scholarly attempts in the social sciences to answer such questions about the evolution and consequences of public policies: ideas and institutions. Despite their ample virtues as ways of explaining policy development, these approaches have complementary flaws that limit their ability by themselves to explain this puzzling dual outcome, in which incorporation has gone in dramatically different directions at the same time, in substantially the same ideological and institutional contexts. For the most part, however, social scientists have seen these approaches as alternatives; few, if any, have managed successfully to merge ideas and institutions into a single unified explanatory framework. An innovative approach to considering ideas and institutions together in more historically specific configurations, however, offers a more satisfying general account of seemingly contradictory incorporation outcomes.

The idea that matters most in attempting to explain incorporation is racism. Perhaps these outcomes simply reflect prevailing public beliefs and attitudes about the proper place of minorities in American society. Some observers believe that racism dominates white Americans' beliefs and that the express desire to exclude African Americans and other minorities accounts for the persistence of racial inequality. More sophisticated versions of the racism thesis suggest that even though out-and-out racist expression is frowned upon, racial stereotypes remain a powerful framing device that can shape political behavior and policy debates, often in ways that remain hidden behind a norm of color-blind equality. Others suggest that racial prejudice per se is less important than other kinds of beliefs in shaping white Americans' opinions about policies such as affirmative action and others that are designed expressly to benefit minorities.


Excerpted from Shaping Race Policy by Robert C. Lieberman Copyright © 2005 by Princeton University Press . Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents




CHAPTER ONE: Configurations of Race and State: The Politics of Racial Incorporation 1

CHAPTER TWO: Legacies of Slavery and Colonialism: Race and the Politics of Social Reform 27

CHAPTER THREE: The Roots of Welfare Incorporation 56

CHAPTER FOUR: Postwar Transformations of Race and State 75

CHAPTER FIVE: Encounters with the Welfare State: Social Security and Social Insurance 99

CHAPTER SIX: Encounters with the Welfare State: Public Assistance and "Welfare" 118

CHAPTER SEVEN: The Development of Employment Discrimination Policy 147

CHAPTER EIGHT: Weak State, Strong Policy: Paradoxes of Antidiscrimination Policy 174

CHAPTER NINE: Toward a Color-Blind Future: Varieties of Color Blindness and the Future of Race Policy 202



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From the Publisher

"Shaping Race Policy advances existing scholarly discussion by bringing together issues normally only addressed by either country specialists or policy specialists. The book integrates these literatures and in the process provides a fresh account of how race—mediated through political institutions, patterns of group-state linkages and cultural patterns—has fashioned different political trajectories. Thoroughly researched, theoretically elegant, and persuasive, it is an outstanding exercise in comparative politics."—Desmond King, Nuffield College, Oxford University

"Robert Lieberman's Shaping Race Policy is a milestone in political science institutional theory. Though sociological approaches to the study of institutions and politics have brought cultural factors to the task, Lieberman's book is a major contribution in this effort for a full accounting of policy making and its variations. This analysis is thorough, eloquent—and timely."—John Skrentny, University of California, San Diego

"How have and will we resolve the fundamental tension between our race consciousness and our color-blind ideals? Robert Lieberman breaks new and important ground in resolving this basic American dilemma, focusing on how shifting coalitions and tensions between ideas and institutions have produced varying welfare and discrimination policies, all richly informed by comparisons with French and British experience. The result helps us understand not only how we got to the current crossroads but also where we must aspire to head. We must all hope that the nation will learn the lessons Lieberman teaches."—Anthony W. Marx, President, Amherst College

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