Institutional Racism, ASA Council, and the ASR Editorship
A Statement from the Section on Racial and Ethnic Minorities
Institutional racism operates in post-civil rights America, unlike in the Jim Crow era, in a subtle, apparently nonracial, and "now-you-see it, now-you-don't" fashion (Smith 1995). The recent decision by the ASA Council on the ASR editorial team illustrates how racist considerations creep even in our beloved discipline. Since the story is somewhat convoluted and has been conveyed through open letters in Footnotes by Publications Committee member, Michael Buroway, and past ASA President Alejandro Portes, widely circulated e-mails by Publications Committee members, Michael Schwartz and Elizabeth Higginbotham, and in public statements by various colleagues in open fora, we will give some antecedents and explain the facts of the case ASR as we know them before proceeding to state our position in this controversy.
In 1995 ASA passed a number of resolutions on diversity stating things such as, "much of the vitality of the ASA flows from its diverse membership" and charging editors of ASA journals to "take aggressive actions to increase the representation of women and people of color" (Felice J. Levine, The Open Window, March 1996 Footnotes). One concern of various Council members and of many ASA members was that journals such as the American Sociological Review, Sociological Theory, and Sociological Methods were not adequately representing the diverse interests, methodological inclinations, and racial/gender make-up of our discipline (see Buroway's Open Forum letter, July/August 1999 Footnotes). Based on that charge, the Publications Committee made two recommendations to the ASA Council regarding the editorship of ASR. Based on unrebuked information revealed in various ASA fora, the Publications Committee's top candidate was UCLA professor, Walter R. Allen, and his very distinguished and diverse team of sociologists that included Northwestern professor, Aldon Morris, UCLA professor, Vilma Ortiz, and University of Cincinnati professor, Patricia Hill Collins. The second ranked candidate was University of Pennsylvania professor, Jerry Jacobs.
According to information divulged publicly by current ASA President, Joe R. Feagin, in the most recent ASA business meeting, and later confirmed by ASA Executive Officer Felice J. Levine, Council members asked to see a Wisconsin proposal that had been reviewed by the Committee but which was neither ranked nor forwarded to Council. This proposal, along with two others, was circulated among Council members scarcely fifteen to thirty minutes before they met to discuss the Committee's recommendations on the ASR editorial board. In that meeting Council proceeded - in a vote of eight to seven - to reject the ranked list provided by the Publications Committee and table their two recommendations to then choose the Wisconsin proposal (see 1998-1999 ASA Council Minutes, July/August 1999 Footnotes and Buroway's Open Forum letter). Douglas Massey, co-author of the highly acclaimed American Apartheid and ASA President-elect, along with a few other Council members, led the charge against Allen's team. It was reported in various fora in which Massey was present that his attack on Allen was vicious and low and included his reading of a confidential tenure-related letter that he had written against Allen's promotion to associate professor years ago. (This has been confirmed by Massey in his recent open letter in September/October 1999 Footnotes. However, he still does not see anything wrong with his action.) It was also reported that Massey stated in that meeting that Allen could not possibly be ASR editor because he had never published an article in that journal. Of course, according to Massey's logic, few sociologists are qualified to edit ASR including many of the Council members who voted on this matter. Massey's requirement would transform the mandate to revitalize the ASR into a mandate to maintain the status quo.
What is Racist About this Case?
We have heard several colleagues state that the Council's decision had nothing to do with racism given that Professor Wilson, one of the chosen editors, is black. This view, however, ignores that in post-civil rights America racial issues are no longer just about us having "symbolic representation" (Marable 1997. See also Professor Bonnie T. Dill's letter, "Race Matters: ASR and ASA," Association of Black Sociologists Newsletter, September 1999). Today more than ever our central concern is about being able to decide which minority or majority person best represents us. The inclusion of intellectuals from historically excluded groups is and should be a fundamental challenge to the status quo orientation of much of the academy. This challenge should not be undermined by attempting to handpick the minority candidates that Council believes to be "most qualified." Although we recognize that Professor Wilson is a fine black scholar with a proven track record of publications in the area of race and ethnicity, his team was not the consensus top team to be at the helm of ASR. Below is our examination of the racist aspects behind this controversy.
(1) We suspect, based on statements by fellow sociologists in session twenty-three of the Association of Black Sociologists meeting at which Massey gave a talk and in the ASA business meeting before the entire ASA Council, that Walter R. Allen and his mostly minority editorial team were rejected because they were considered "too black" and "too political." (Of course, no one in Council said that openly. Instead, they relied on the code words of "qualifications" and "merit.") Although we believe that the Wisconsin team has the potential of doing a good job on diversity, had Allen's team been selected to lead ASR into the twenty-first century, racial minorities and women would have had a central role in shaping the direction of our discipline.
(2) For us, members of the ASA Section on Racial and Ethnic Minorities, the claim that Allen and his team are not "qualified" smacks of elitism which is indistinguishable from white racial privilege (Feagin and Vera 1995). If Allen, Morris, Hill Collins, and Ortiz are not "qualified" to serve on ASR, no one is! Thus, we urge Massey and the narrow majority of the ASA Council to examine how the academic and residential "white ghetto" (Brandt 1972) or "hyper segregation" (Massey and Denton 1993) in which they live may be tainting their cognition, affect, and behavior toward nonwhite colleagues creating what can only be labeled as a "culture of segregation."
Furthermore, as members of the ASA Section on Racial and Ethnic Minorities, we feel that this is the second year in a row that ASA has disregarded our expertise. Last year we were not even invited to submit names of experts on racial and ethnic matters to testify before the President's Initiative on Race. We passed a unanimous resolution condemning this action but Council dismissed it stating that this matter could be "handled informally" (see January 1999 issue of Footnotes). We are still waiting for Council's informal handling of this matter.
(3) We are outraged that Council did not censor Massey for his ostensible unethical behavior. Although Professor Massey is entitled to his views on Allen and his team, we find his reading of a confidential tenure-related letter in the Council meeting inappropriate, highly unprofessional, and hypocritical considering that he and others have been kneeling at the altar of confidentiality in their statements on this matter (see Massey's Open Letter, September-October 1999 Footnotes). In this regard, we find Alejandro Portes' concerns about Michael Buroway's breach of "confidentiality" (see Portes' letter in the July/August 1999 Footnotes), disingenuous since he witnessed and did not find objectionable Massey's appalling behavior.
(4) We are deeply saddened by how a few white and honorary white sociologists can derail the democratic and pluralistic aspirations of our discipline to change the course of our flagship journal. We believe that the majority-vote Council members ought to be ashamed of themselves. Although Council members are elected, so too are Publications Committee members and hence they should have respected their choices. Thus, we find Council's disregard for the Publications Committee's recommendations unacceptable.
(5) We are appalled by the Council's total disregard for ASA members' wishes as expressed in the recent ASA business meeting. There it was resolved and overwhelmingly supported, after a heated yet serious, respectful, and intense discussion, to continue "the ASR editorship under the now immediate-past editor Glenn Firebaugh until a search and a decision on an editor could be implemented"(e-mail message to Section Chairs by Felice J. Levine, August 23, 1999). Soon after this was decided, Council turned its back once again on the membership by tabling our collective will and going ahead with their original plan. Council justified their action by stating that, "the new editors were appointed based on their merit and according to current procedure and the transition to the new office has already occurred" (ibid). This action and their justification are illogical and insulting considering that Council members did not, in fact, follow current procedure. Council rejected the recommendations of the Publications Committee - violating years of Council's practice, allowed Massey to violate ethical norms in the discussion of the candidates, and rationalized its choice for ASR editors as based on the merit of the candidates. We find Council's justification of its unilateral choice unworthy given that the Publications Committee's decision in favor of Allen's team and Jacobs involved these candidates' own distinguished records. It is clear to us that Council feels entitled to construct some records as more "meritorious" than others regardless of what the Publications Committee or the membership at large believe.
Although we believe that Professors Camic and Wilson are amply qualified, respected members of our discipline who could do a formidable job as editors of ASR, we vehemently object to the tyrannical way in which a narrow majority of Council subverted the wishes of the Publications Committee, the over three hundred ASA members who attended a 7:00 a.m. business meeting, and the immense majority of sociologists who are neither submitting their work to ASR nor reading ASR and who would have welcomed the drastic change in policy that Allen's team would have represented. What is at stake here is the need to overcome, "the same inconsequentialities, the same evasions of significant discussions, and the same cultish careerism that are the hallmarks of so much other sociological literature" (Lee and Lee, 1976: 13). Furthermore, we consider the Council's rejection of Allen's team a collective slap in the face of all of us working in the area of race and ethnicity. Finally, the Council's lack of an appropriate and vigorous response regarding Massey's crass behavior is reprehensible.
Given this state of affairs, we recommend the following:
(1) A full investigation of how Council reached this controversial decision by an independently appointed panel of sociologists.
(2) An investigation on President-elect Massey's dubious behavior on this ASR matter. If found guilty of unethical behavior, we hope that he resigns his post for the good of the discipline.
(3) To publish only the articles that are on queue in ASR for the next four to six months while this investigation occurs. The Wisconsin team and their assistants may perform this mostly clerical work.
(4) To charge this independent panel, the new ASA Council under the leadership of Joe R Feagin, and members of the old and new Publications Committee with the sensitive task of reaching a consensus about who should edit ASR over the next three years.
Based on the dismissal of the crucial resolution passed in the ASA business meeting and the response of several ASA officers to our statement in this issue, we believe that if Council is left alone, it will dismiss our proposals. However, we hope to stimulate our fellow sociologists to take some serious action on this matter. We hope that they realize that what is at stake here is not just the direction of ASR but the fate of diversity in our discipline and of democracy in our association. Although we are confident that if Camic and Wilson remain as ASR editors they will do a good job on the diversity front, we also believe that if Council is allowed to impose its will on this matter, this will have a chilling effect on those who are not mainstream methodologically, ideologically, theoretically, racially, ethnically, or because of gender or sexual orientation. The sociologists who have been excluded from ASR for years will undoubtedly feel that the way in which this editorial decision was made signifies Council's resolve to maintain business as usual. Furthermore, although for many Council members the ASR matter is fait accompli, we need to send them a clear message that it is the membership that rules and not the other way around. Thus, we must halt this process regardless of the fact that the "transition to the new office has already occurred." After all, moving an office elsewhere is not too hard to do. Hence we urge sociologists at large to support our position and ask the ASA Council to reconsider its decision regarding the ASR editorial board and proceed as outlined above.
Brandt, Joseph. 1972. Liberating Our White Ghetto. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.
Feagin, Joe R., and Hernán Vera. 1995. White Racism: The Basics. New York and London: Routledge.
Lee, Alfred McClung, and Elizabeth Briant Lee. 1976. "The Society for the Study of Social Problems: Parental Recollections and Hopes." Social Problems 24 (1): 4-14.
Marable, Manning. 1997. Black Liberation in Conservative America. Boston: South End Press.
Massey, Douglas S., and Nancy A. Denton. 1993. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press.
Smith, Robert C. 1995. Racism in the Post-Civil Rights Era: Now You See It, Now You Don't. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Signed by Section on Racial and Ethnic Minorities Officers and members (office designations at time of SREM Council meeting in August 1999):
Rod Bush (Chair)
Robert Newby (Past Chair)
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (Chair-Elect)
Theresa A. Martinez (Secretary/Treasurer)
Charles U. Smith
Shirley A. Jackson
Editor's note: Because this statement was issued by an ASA Section about the actions of ASA Council, the current ASA President, Past-president, and President-elect indicated they wished to respond. All other letters from ASA members follow thereafter.
Response from President Feagin
As President of the American Sociological Association, I have received the statement submitted to Footnotes by the ASA Section on Racial and Ethnic Minorities (SREM). Since numerous sociologists are debating the issues raised in the SREM statement, and in the interest of increasing direct dialogue between the general membership and the Council, I have placed the SREM statement on the agenda for the ASA Council meeting in January 2000. I have also invited the chairperson of SREM to that meeting. The outcome of that discussion will be communicated to ASA members soon thereafter.
Joe R. Feagin, 1999-2000 ASA President
Response from President-elect Massey
In response to the recent statement from the Section on Racial and Ethnic Minorities, I wish to clarify some issues it raised. In doing so, I speak mainly as a private citizen rather than as a representative of the ASA, its Council, or its Officers.
To begin with, I want to assure the ASA members who elected me that I do not plan to resign as ASA President. I believe that, in seeking to identify the strengths and weaknesses ASR editorial candidates, I have acted in accordance with my duty as an elected officer of the association; and throughout I have behaved to the best of my abilities in a manner consistent with its policies, procedures, and ethics.
In the discussion of the ASA Council, I outlined my scholarly reservations about Allen's candidacy for ASR editor, and then to show that this view was not manufactured simply to block a particular candidacy, I redacted two paragraphs from an earlier evaluation of his work that I had prepared, without revealing to whom the evaluation was addressed or in what context it was prepared. It was most definitely not a letter written for his tenure case.
The words I quoted were my own, and as their author I believe I have the right to use them in any way I deem appropriate. But in hindsight I regret that I chose to read directly from my earlier evaluation. While I continue to believe that quoting myself in what was supposed to be a confidential debate, without revealing any identifying information, was proper and ethical, my actions have led to a great deal of misunderstanding, and I deeply regret that they have fed suspicions of unfairness, even racism.
I have never stated that publication in the ASR is mandatory for becoming editor of that journal, nor do I believe this. However, it is fair to examine a candidate's record of publication in well-regarded, peer- reviewed journals, for this experience is critical to an editor's ability to evaluate the efforts of others.
Given the racism that I know to exist in the United States, I understand fully how difficult it is for any of us to know when African Americans are being judged fairly. I only hope that in the long run my record of scholarship, public testimony, and professional service on behalf of the cause of racial justice will speak more loudly than the hurtful things now being said in the heat of scholarly controversy.
Douglas S. Massey, 2000-2001 ASA President
Response from Past-president Portes
The statement by the ASA Section on Race and Ethnic Minorities (SREM) published in this issue of Footnotes makes a number of serious charges against elected officials of the ASA and the decision-making process that led to the selection of the new editors of the American Sociological Review. As immediate Past-president of the Association, I was a participant and eyewitness of all the events described in the statement and thus am in a good position to comment on it. Thus far, I have kept silent about the actual details of these events out of respect for the rules of confidential selection of journal editors which were established to protect both the candidates to these positions and the participants in the selection process.
Those rules have by now been thoroughly compromised; first, by the decision of Michael Burawoy, a former member of the ASA Publications Committee, to publicly reveal details of the process, followed by additional revelations by Publications Committee chair Michael Schwartz and anonymous members of Council itself. Such statements and revelations have not been factual, but accompanied by a partial and frequently tendentious interpretation of the events. For months now, a situation has existed in which members of Council and the Publications Committee who chose to break the rules of confidentiality to which they were bound as officials of the Association have had the field to themselves, constructing ever more elaborate theories of secret conspiracies, institutional racism, and the like. Meanwhile, members of both bodies who have abided by their obligations have been forced to observe these developments in silence.
The authors of the SREM statement are entitled to their opinions, but they are not entitled to the facts. It is not possible to provide a point-by-point commentary because the statement mixes, in various degrees, factual reporting with ad hominem accusations and sweeping declarations of principle. The statement becomes progressively strident, including epithets such as "vicious and low" and accusations of "tyrannical rule" that defy rational discussion. Instead, I provide a brief review of the sequence of events that have, by now, become public knowledge.
On January 8, 1999, members of the Publications Committee met with the sitting editors of ASA journals. Due to recent changes in governance, editors do not participate any longer in Committee deliberations for selection of their replacements, but are invited to offer their recommendations. Among these recommendations, the editors unanimously supported the Camic-Wilson proposal from the University of Wisconsin for the editorship of the American Sociological Review.
On the following day, the Publications Committee turned down this recommendation and selected instead Walter Allen's proposal from UCLA as its top choice. This decision was taken by a split vote and despite strong opposition by the minority.
Neither the editors nor the outvoted members of the Publications Committee made their disagreements public, abiding by the rule of confidentiality governing the selection process.
On February 6, 1999 the ASA Council met to consider the recommendations of the Publications Committee. Upon receipt of the agenda for the meeting days before, several Council members requested to see the other applications for the ASR editorship. Council members were not informed of the disagreement between the editors' position and the Publications Committee's final recommendations. A motion to consider recommendations for each journal editorship separately carried. Thereafter, I sought, as the presiding officer, to insure that procedural rules were scrupulously observed, including sufficient times for discussion and a logical voting order on each proposed candidate and his/her alternates.
After an extensive and, at times, heated but always civil discussion, Council voted to uphold the recommendations of Publications for editors-elect of all journals, with the exception of ASR. In the latter case, it voted in favor of the Wisconsin proposal. This decision coincided with the sitting editors' recommendations, although this information was never introduced during Council's deliberations. The decision was taken by a majority vote. (As presiding officer, I abstained from all votes.)
On the following day, Council members opposed to the ASR decision raised the possibility of reconsideration. This led to another lengthy discussion but, in the end, the original decision stood.
During discussion of the UCLA proposal in the afternoon of February 6, Council member Douglas Massey read a reference letter that he had written years before about the candidate, Walter Allen. The assertion in the SREM statement that Massey somehow violated the rules of confidentiality by this action reveals a profound misunderstanding of the intent and purpose of such rules. Confidentiality of letters of reference in personnel decisions are intended to protect the author from diffusion of information by the institution soliciting the letter. They do not bind the author from revealing his or her opinion if he or she chooses. In the context of a confidential selection process, Massey was fully entitled to express his opinion whether by reading from his own letter or paraphrasing it. Had Massey or any other Council member sought to read a reference letter by a third party, he or she would have been ruled out of order because that would have violated the rights to confidentiality of that author.
Following the Council meetings, the chair of the Publications Committee, Michael Schwartz, was immediately informed and extensive telephone conferences were held between Secretary Bonner, Executive Officer Levine, myself, and Schwartz about the ASR decision. Because of strong sentiments voiced by Schwartz and other Publications Committee members, I convened an ad hoc meeting in Washington DC on May 24th. By near unanimous decision, the Committee passed a series of recommendations to Council designed to govern relationships between the two bodies in the future. At no moment did the majority of Committee members question the ultimate authority of Council in the process of editorial selection. The issue revolved instead about the proper relationship between these two elected bodies of the Association.
A motion introduced by Michael Burawoy for the Publications Committee to express publicly its disagreement with Council's decision was defeated. The majority sided with the view that democratic decisions had been taken at each step of the way and that the confidentiality of the selection process had to be protected.
On June 15th, Burawoy decided to go public anyway with his disagreement with Council's decision, despite the majority vote of the Publications Committee. The particular slant that he put on his revelations triggered a cumulative process leading to the present situation. Assertions made in the SREM statement, and based on second-hand evidence, reveal a clear misunderstanding about the rules of democratic practice and the events as they took place. In that respect, three points deserve comment:
* It is legitimate for scholars to disagree on a case based on different ideas of quality or merit. It is not legitimate to level accusations of racism, institutional or otherwise, any time a decision goes against a member of a particular race or ethnic group. To accept such accusations would put the discipline and the Association in the untenable position of exempting entire categories of people from peer evaluation and review.
No sociologist, regardless of his or her race or ethnic background, should be exempted from evaluation by peers according to scholarly standards. To do otherwise would effectively destroy the principles on which the scientific enterprise is based. Ideally, such evaluations can be arrived at by consensus, but, when this is not possible, the rules of democratic decision-making are there to resolve disagreements.
* Despite strongly held opinions, the Council deliberations that led to selection of the new ASR editors took place in an atmosphere of civility and mutual respect. Participants took very seriously the values of diversity and scholarly excellence that are standard principles of the Association. To label as "racists" colleagues who assumed their institutional responsibilities seriously and worked hard to arrive at the best solution is profoundly misguided. It represents a gratuitous offense to these men and women, elected by the entire ASA membership and charged with responsibility for the governance of the Association.
* The authors of this statement arrogate to themselves representation of all sociologists working in the field of race and ethnic relations by asserting that Council's decision is "Ša collective slap in the face of all of us working in the area of race and ethnicity." I beg to differ. SREM is a section in good standing of the ASA, but participation in it (as in all sections) is voluntary. There is no mandate for the section to represent all sociologists working in this field, nor certainty that it does so. For one, I consider myself a contributor to this area but do not feel represented in the slightest by section officers capable of issuing this statement. I suspect that other sociologists working in this area would react similarly, once they become aware of the facts of the case.
The calls for reversing the election of the new ASR editors, for investigating President-elect Douglas Massey, and for reviewing the actions of Council are unjustified and would be highly destructive if implemented. As indicated in the previous account of events, the selection process, although contested, was carried out in a fully democratic and unimpeachable manner. If we were to investigate reasons for Council to reverse the Publications Committee, we should investigate as well reasons for Publications reversing the editors. While at it, we may also seek to establish the identity of members of both bodies who chose to surreptitiously break the rule of confidential deliberation and selection. All of this would only lead to a downward spiral of mutual recriminations.
To put a halt to this destructive process, I ask all sociologists, regardless of their ethnic or racial background, to uphold the principles of democratic election, governance according to rules, and scholarly standards. Together we must vigorously resist attempts by mobilized activist groups to impose their will on the majority, disregarding democratic principles and properly conducted elections. The future of the discipline and of the American Sociological Association may well hang in the balance.
Alejandro Portes, 1998-99 ASA President
More on the ASR Controversy
I could not help notice that all the letters featured in the Public Forum, "Many Voices Weigh In . . ." in the October issue seemed to ignore the hundreds (if not thousands) of members that (1) were not in support of the ASR editor selection process; and (2) felt the above named process was specifically racist in nature.
I find it laughable that a group of supposed liberals (and mainly whites) can sit, as they often do and declare that not only are they themselves not racist, but neither are any others involved in the controversy. I would submit to you as sociologists that if you closely examine your own behaviors (which have now been made public), look at the people involved, and the way the situation was handled, that it is at least possible that racism was involved.
I would argue that race is always involved, even when there are not people of color involved, and especially when they are. Why? Because we live in a country that was historically structured to accommodate a specifically anti-black racial hierarchy and that is still rife with prejudice, discrimination and racism against blacks and other people of color. Unfortunately, we also live in a society where privileged whites share the power mainly among themselves and a few accommodating others and where whites alone decide who is and is not qualified.
Merely pointing to the existence of racism in itself is not meant to be "demonizing" as Patricia Roos suggests, nor is it reasonable to say that merely because one has "written and spoken so eloquently about inequality and race in America" that the same person cannot also be racist at the same time.
Prejudice and racism are so pervasive that even the most well-meaning white can be guilty of them, even if he or she is unaware of it and/or did not have racist intentions. (I suggest that while Joe Feagin is President that some of us sociologists who are still ignorant about the history and processes of racism in the U.S. take the time to read some of his enlightening works.)
Instead of acknowledging that racism does exist, even in the hallowed halls of academe, even among scholars, and, yes, even among sociologists, we get impassioned pleas from whites asking us to look beyond race, because as they say, race and racism were not involved. All this despite the fact that many close observers of the events, who are also reasonable, and well-educated felt sure that racism was involved. Why can't we as social analysts acknowledge that racism does exist and that it might even exist within the ASA?
Rochelle L. Woods, University of Michigan
A Response to Lucas
Dear Prof. Lucas (whose letter appeared in the September/October "Public Forum"):
I have no problem with your argument that the quantitative researchers, being article producers, have special need for a journal, though not on the grounds of diversity - how about fairness. But please, not as the flagship journal of a multi-faceted, multi-method discipline. If you called it Quantitative Sociological Research (QSR) I would vote for it, if I had a vote.
But then I would also want a companion, Qualitative Sociological Studies (QSS), both on the grounds of fairness, and to give a chance to the many qualitative researchers who do good work but are unable or unwilling to write books.
Herbert J. Gans, Columbia University
On Survey Data
In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (October 15, 1999), Joe Feagin, the current President of the American Sociological Association, includes among his criticisms of the Association some passing comments on the use of surveys to learn about human behavior. He notes as a particular example that "much survey research suggests that white people's attitudes toward African Americans have become much more liberal in recent decades. Yet the brief survey questions typically used in such research are problematic as an indication of the real views of white Americans." He goes on to contrast such "surface-level" surveys with a study using depth interviews of university students: fewer than a third approved of racial intermarriage in the depth interviews, despite a previous survey that had found the figure to be 80%.
There are several things wrong with Feagin's characterization of survey data on racial attitudes. First, studies of white racial attitudes over time do not show a uniformly liberal trend, as the word "liberal" is often interpreted. What they show is that on some types of questions, primarily those having to do with principles of segregation and integration (including questions about approval of intermarriage), there have been major attitude changes in the liberal direction over the past five decades. However, on questions concerning approval of affirmative action, there is little support by whites and no change over time. Questions on the use of government power to prevent discrimination or to create integration present a mixed pattern of results over time. Furthermore, measures of stereotypes indicate that a substantial part of the white population continues to view blacks negatively, for example, as less hard-working than whites. Indeed, Feagin has in other contexts drawn on just such stereotype data from national surveys. Thus, it is incorrect to summarize the available survey data as Feagin does.
Second, although the questions that do show liberalizing trends cannot be taken literally to describe actual behavior, they do accurately reflect broad liberalizing changes in race relations in the United States over the past half century. For example, major universities that in earlier years either discriminated against or ignored African Americans now compete vigorously for black faculty members and students. In the larger society, many indicators of individual behavior show the same broad trends. This even includes racial intermarriage, which, though still at a relatively low level, has shown a definite upward trend over recent decades. Serious histories of race relations in the second half of the 20th century make the overall direction of change clear.
Third, neither of the above points implies that discrimination against African Americans is no longer a serious problem in many areas of American society. Even in areas where much change has occurred, there are non-trivial numbers of whites who give survey responses that indicate extreme prejudice; for example, in 1998 some 13% of white Americans went beyond mere disapproval of intermarriage and favored laws prohibiting intermarriage. Important areas of life like housing (and as a consequence schools) continue to be heavily segregated, though the reasons for this are complex and not easily reducible to specific individual attitudes.
Finally, experienced survey researchers are well aware of the limits of the survey method. The book on trends in racial attitudes that we published in 1997 featured a prominent chapter on the many problems of studying racial attitudes, including effects due to the race of the interviewer, to social desirability pressures on respondents, and to the context of questions within interviews, and we made serious attempts to take such effects into account. Depth interviews are also vulnerable to distortions.
Furthermore, since Feagin does not provide the questions used in either the survey or the depth interviews, it is impossible to know how comparable the two settings are. From a larger standpoint, his reference to arriving at the "real views" of whites by using depth interviews reflects a kind of naďve realism that is inconsistent with discoveries of significant context and interviewer effects. These inconsistencies imply that in everyday life, as well as in surveys and depth interviews, racial attitudes and actions are shaped importantly by the situations in which whites (and also blacks) find themselves.
This letter is not intended as an argument for relying on surveys to understand race in America. On the contrary, with race as with other important societal issues, many methodological approaches are needed, qualitative and quantitative, and where practical a combination of the two. But whatever the method used, disciplined awareness of both its contributions and its limitations are essential.
Howard Schuman, University of Michigan; Charlotte Steeh, Georgia State University; Lawrence Bobo, Harvard University; Maria Krysan, Pennsylvania State University