These changes were not random, as one might expect if the interviewers were just hurrying to finish up or if the data-entry clerks were making mistakes. The racial classifications changed systematically, in response to what had happened to the respondent since the previous interview.Race is a way of distinguishing between different types of bodies, and how societies locate them relative to one another.
All else being equal, including how they had been racially classified before, respondents who were unemployed, had children outside of marriage, or lived in the inner city were less likely to be classified as white and more likely to be classified as black. Having been incarcerated, unemployed, divorced, or impoverished each reduced the chances by a percentage point or two that someone who was recorded as white by an interviewer one year would be seen as white again the next year.
Some people are naturally understood to be poor and marginalized; other types of bodies and peoples, are through common sense, understood to be dominant, "middle class," or "normal."
As featured in The Boston Review, new research from Aliya Saperstein and Andrew Penner would seem to support how race is a type of cognitive map that people then use to determine their social location relative to others. Apparently, for all of the fictions about "post racial" America, race--and by implication other markers such as gender, class, and ethnicity--are useful heuristics for deciding who has power in the country.
How do we parse out causality in thinking through the finding that white folks who have fallen down the class hierarchy are then perceived to be "black?" Which way do the causal arrows go?
Race is a social construct and a fiction. Yet, it does powerful work in determining life chances and opportunities. Race is a lie, a type of property, protection, and resource that individuals, communities, and to which the State, assigns meaning and value.
Thus, is it that white people who fall down the class and status hierarchy are channeling some type of "blackness" because they associate and have internalized certain behaviors with poverty and diminished life chances?
The Boston Review continues:
The studies we have conducted show that while race shapes our life experiences, our life experiences also shape our race. Race and perceptions of difference are not only a cause of inequality, they also result from inequality. Americans’ racial stereotypes have become self-fulfilling prophecies: the mental images Americans have of criminals and welfare queens, or college grads and suburbanites, can literally affect how we see each other.Or are outside observers drawing conclusions based on how people of color--blacks and Latinos specifically--are more likely to be poor and economically disadvantaged, and then making an error in inference?
Habitus is real. Race and class intersect. People of color are increasingly becoming less hopeful about their futures in the Age of Obama and The Great Recession. White folks are also feeling an even greater sense of diminished hopes, dreams, and possibilities.
What does it mean then that those white folks who have suffered diminished life chances are then perceived to be "black" by researchers? Is this a hopeful possibility for the potential of productive alliances across the color line?
Or alternatively, are these findings about the "blackening" of unemployed white people a powder keg ready to erupt, as the wages of whiteness when handed a check labeled insufficient funds and "black" erupt in defiance and rage?