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The Direction of Race of Interviewer Effects among African-Americans: Donning the Black Mask

Darren W. Davis
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 41, No. 1 (Jan., 1997), pp. 309-322
DOI: 10.2307/2111718
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2111718
Page Count: 14
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The Direction of Race of Interviewer Effects among African-Americans: Donning the Black Mask
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Abstract

The discussion that takes place between African-American respondents and interviewers of different races is symbolic of the normal everyday sensitivity to race and strangers of different races. Race of interviewer effects can usefully serve as an indicator of evolving areas of interpersonal tension between African-Americans and whites, and deserve to be treated as a fact of social life and not merely as an artifact of the survey interview. Underlying the potential response bias and estimation problems created by the race of interviewer effects rests a set of coherent beliefs about race and perceived constraints on the freedom of expression. Given the persistence of negative reactions to African-Americans among whites, African-Americans can be expected to be more sensitive to white interviewers. Characteristic of the traditional role-playing behavior meant to appease and accommodate whites, African-Americans out of a sense of fear or intimidation are expected to conceal their true political beliefs and place self-imposed limits on their freedom of expression in response to the white interviewer. Ordinary Least Squares analysis is performed on survey data from the 1984 National Black Election Study. As a sign of deference to the interviewer, African-Americans in response to white interviewers are more likely to acquiesce to mutually contradictory evaluations of both the Democratic and Republican parties, to both Ronald Reagan and Jesse Jackson, and to black officials supportive of both Ronald Reagan and Jesse Jackson. More importantly, alterations in the interviewers' race from the preelection to postelection panel waves reveal that when the change is from an African-American to a different white interviewer, or the same white interviewer, African-Americans are more likely to admit that blacks do not have the power to change things, that blacks cannot make a difference in presidential and local elections, that blacks should not form their own political party, and that whites do not keep blacks down.

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