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.

“This incisive work highlights a complicated dynamic that affects both middle-class and working-class African American politics.

—Choice

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

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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 associate professor of political science, University of Richmond.