African Americans in White Suburbia

Social Networks and Political Behavior

Ernest McGowen, III

Despite decades of progress, African Americans living in largely white affluent suburbs still often find themselves caught between the two worlds of race and class. High economic status has afforded them considerable employment opportunities and political resources—but not necessarily neighbors, coworkers, or local candidates or office holders who share or even understand their concerns. How does such an environment affect the political behavior of African Americans who have strong racial identifications and policy preferences? This is the question Ernest B. McGowen III asks in African Americans in White Suburbia.

McGowen uses a combination of surveys to understand the attitudes of affluent suburban African Americans, compare these attitudes to those of their white neighbors, and to African Americans in the city and so-called “black ring” suburbs. This detailed study—which ranges from participation in black churches and other institutions to attitudes towards government and affirmative action—reveals that suburban African Americans feel their minority status acutely. As a result, they tend to seek out more agreeable networks that reinforce their racial identity, such as churches, fraternal organizations, and charities in black neighborhoods they’ve left behind.

African Americans in White Suburbia fills a tremendous gap in the study of race and local politics. Marshaling a trove of survey data, Ernest McGowen demonstrates that suburbanization is altering African Americans’ political experiences, both heightening their race consciousness and motivating them to find alternative venues for participation. McGowen provides a valuable new perspective on the ever shifting dynamics of race, class, and place in America.”

—Eric Oliver, professor of political science, University of Chicago

“Ernest McGowen’s African Americans in White Suburbia offers a fresh, eye-opening perspective regarding the intersections of social networks, neighborhood context and political behavior, all areas of research that have not been sufficiently extended to African Americans. While there is a growing body of literature on African Americans residing in majority Black suburbs, little research examines the contemporary experiences of African Americans living in predominately White suburbs. McGowen’s use of national survey data from multiple sources shows the extent to which neighborhood racial makeup matters, expanding our understanding of social networks, political behavior and life in contemporary American suburbs. This book serves as a significant contribution and must read for students of American politics and public opinion, but also urban and local politics and public policy.”

—Lorrie Frasure-Yokley, associate professor of political science, University of California, Los Angeles

Arriving at a moment of great controversy over racial disparities and division, his timely study offers invaluable insight into the complex nexus of race and class in America.

About the Author

Ernest B. McGowen III is assistant professor of political science, University of Richmond.