Professor Hakeem Jefferson will discuss his forthcoming paper, "Deconstructing Race," which takes seriously the idea that race is socially constructed by endeavoring to deconstruct it. In particular, this work focuses on deconstructing the category “Black”—a racial category that has been uniquely and stringently defined throughout American history. Using an innovative conjoint experimental design, the authors surveyed a diverse sample of Americans to examine several sociopolitical antecedents of Blackness and ask: how flexible is the category “Black” in American society today? Who is considered Black, and why? How much of the contemporary Black categorization is attributable to ascribed, less flexible characteristics–and how much is acquired, tied to social, cultural, and political meanings?
The findings in the report are compelling, and provide one of most comprehensive assessments to date of the permeability of the boundaries of Blackness. Findings show, for example, that parentage and stated appearance, via skin tone, remain highly salient traits in affecting how Americans conceive of Blackness. However, perceptions of Blackness are not solely the consequence of heritage and phenotype; a target’s perceived Blackness is also significantly shaped by their expressed political identity and various sociocultural factors, including race of spouse and neighborhood composition. Results also highlight the stigmatized nature of Blackness as a social category, as more frequent encounters with discrimination increase the likelihood that a target is perceived as Black.
Pre-reading is available on the Ash Center website.
Taken together, our findings provide deeper empirical clarity to a premise at the heart of social science research: race is socially constructed, and its construction implicates questions of authenticity, prototypicality, and belonging.