No Strangers to Hardship: African Americans, Inequality, and the Politics of Resilience
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No Strangers to Hardship: African Americans, Inequality, and the Politics of Resilience


How do perceptions of racial resilience of African Americans influence the frequency and substance of their participation in American politics? To date, there are few accounts of how racial resilience, or an individual resilience matters in politics. Nor are there accounts of how racial resilience influences political engagement and participation, particularly in costly political acts. This dissertation examines the role of racial resilience among African Americans – a racial group that votes at higher rates compared to non-black minorities, and as a bloc for the Democratic party - and the influence of racial resilience in American politics. This project presents a novel framework and an original measure of racial resilience to investigate how the varied response to adversity – including an orientation to Black triumph, and an awareness of Black economic subjugation – shape political involvement and engagement among African Americans. The main theoretical argument is that African Americans’ experience of prolonged adversity has bestowed a unique worldview of responding to adversity with persistence, which in turn, pushes African Americans to embrace the politics of resilience, which is associated with increased participation in politics. Using surveys, survey experiments, and qualitative data, I create, construct, and validate a novel measure of racial resilience. I explore the demographic contours associated with higher racial resilience. I find that racial resilience is a salient attribute and is consistently associated with higher cost political engagement among African Americans. The findings of this dissertation also have implications for how Black political behavior is motivated through shared group attributes. Furthermore, the contributions of this dissertation expand beyond racial and ethnic politics to understand how politics, today, requires extra-ordinary effort and engagement, and resilience to adversity is central to participation.

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