The continuing significance of race: Antiblack discrimination in public places

Feagin, J. R.

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Feagin, J. R. (1991). The continuing significance of race: Antiblack discrimination in public places. American Sociological Review, 56(1), 101–116.

Much literature on contemporary U.S. racial relations tends to view black middle-class life as substantially free of traditional discrimination. Drawing primarily on 37 in-depth interviews with black middle-class respondents in several cities, I analyze public accommodations and other public-place discrimination. I focus on three aspects: (1) the sites of discrimination, (2) the character of discriminatory actions; and (3) the range of coping responses by blacks to discrimination. Documenting substantial barriers facing middle-class black Americans today, I suggest the importance of the individual's and the group's accumulated discriminatory experiences for understanding the character and impact of modern racial discrimination.

Main finding
Interviews show that middle-class blacks face avoidance, rejection, verbal attacks, and physical threats and attacks. Discrimination occurs in both private and public places, but tends to increase as one moves away from home into public space. Respondents were stereotyped by their skin color regardless of their socioeconomic status. The most common responses to public discrimination and hostility were withdrawal or verbal reply. Verbal replies were difficult in both fleeting and aggressive situations, for lack of response time or fear of violence. Verbal counterattacks were more common in public accommodation discrimination, often in the case of poor service, in which black patrons either corrected whites quietly or responded aggressively and lectured them about their behavior, sometimes threatening to sue. Few retaliated physically. The author finds racial prejudice and public discrimination to be very important in the lives of middle-class black Americans, whose vulnerability restricts their full enjoyment of public space.

Description of method used in the article
The author analyzes 37 in-depth interviews from a larger study of 135 middle-class black Americans. The discussions of discrimination in public space arose naturally in response to general questions about coping strategies, barriers to personal goals, or education, employment and housing.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories

Crime and Aggression Gathering/Socializing
Physical types
Geographic locations