Politics and race have been intimately intertwined since the inception of notions of racial difference and the beginnings of race-based slavery at the dawn of the modern era. Moreover, race-conscious public policies constructed and reflected racial identities and inequalities since that time, creating what we have called “racial states” (James and Redding, this volume). The color-conscious policies of the past created race inequalities that are durable (Brown, 2003; Tilly, 1998). The current rush toward “race-neutral” or “color-blind” policies that tend to mask race inequalities emphasizes the importance of understanding how politics and race affect each other.
This chapter examines the literature on the causal linkages between race and public policy from the beginnings of race-based slavery to the present. Different theoretical understandings of the interactions between race and politics are important not only because of how they explain racial politics and policies of the past, but because they also shape our understanding of the racial dilemmas of the present. If one thinks that racism has been the primary motivator of racial exclusions and consequent racial inequalities, it may be easier to believe that eliminating racism and state-enforced color-conscious policies will cause racial inequalities to disappear as well. An allied or complementary perspective that views intraclass conflict between workingclass blacks and whites as the prime motivation for black exclusion and race inequalities may lead to color-blind policies that seek to mend intraclass divisions on the basis of universalistic, nonracial policies that serve working class interests as a whole.