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Political science report explores racial and class inequalities

Class and race inequalities that persist in the Americas are deeply rooted historically

  • Report combines research of experts in U.S., Canadian and Latin American politics
  • Authors study roles of institutions, social movements, party politics, mobilizing power of group memberships
  • Bright spot’: Some nations have taken on challenge to close ethnic and racial gaps

EVANSTON - Ethnic and racial minorities across the Western Hemisphere are plagued by both socioeconomic and political inequalities that are rooted in the region’s histories of settler colonialism, slavery and racial dictatorship, according to a new report by the American Political Science Association (APSA).

Co-edited by Northwestern University political scientist Alvin B. Tillery Jr., the 2016 APSA task force report, “The Double Bind: The Politics of Racial and Class Inequalities in the Americas,” combines the research of 25 leading experts in U.S., Canadian and Latin American politics in an effort to better understand racial and class inequalities. And although political science is devoting greater attention to the causes and consequences of inequality, recent research on inequality has focused on how rising wealth and income inequality affects political representation.

The comprehensive report asks “How do race and class work together to produce material, political and social inequalities in countries across the Americas?”

“Consider, for example, the report’s finding that 195 years after Mexico was founded as a non-racial democracy, indigenous and Afro-descendant populations continue to experience high levels of inequality in service provision,” said Tillery, associate chair of the political science department in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and co-chair of the APSA task force.

“Being an ethnic or racial minority raises the chances of experiencing poverty, living beyond social provision and having a limited voice in government throughout the nations of the Americas,” he said.

In 13 chapters, the authors grapple with the political and social implications of rising socioeconomic inequality as well as the multifaceted racial gaps that exist throughout the Americas. To examine how race and class inequalities are greatly influenced by the political environment, the authors also study the roles of institutions, social movements, party politics and the mobilizing power of group memberships.

Being an ethnic or racial minority raises the chances of experiencing poverty, living beyond social provision and having a limited voice in government throughout the nations of the Americas.

Alvin B. Tillery Jr.
Associate Chair, Political Science

“The report presents evidence that ethnic and racial minorities living in the Western Hemisphere tend to see their identities as major drivers of the inequalities that they experience in their nations,” Tillery said. “It also shows that some whites have hardened against the broad principle of equality as these nations have adopted efforts to bring ethnic and racial minorities into parity.”

Tillery said the bright spot in the report is that some of these nations have directly taken on the challenge of closing these ethnic and racial gaps in recent decades.

“Some of these nations have been pushed toward reforms through social movements that expanded political membership,” Tillery said. “Others have adopted top-down reforms as part of broader development initiatives.”

Tillery adds that the one major takeaway from studying these reform efforts comparatively is that progress toward racial inclusion can easily stall without sustained support from governments.

“The report suggests that social movement activists like Black Lives Matter protesters in the United States and the indigenous protestors in places like Brazil and Colombia must remain constantly engaged with political actors, both in and out of power, if they are able to sustain the gains that they win through mass actions,” Tillery said.  

View the complete report, executive summary or specific chapters

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