The Political Color Line in America: Many “Peoples of Color” or Black Exceptionalism?



Despite the successes of the civil rights movement, a largely impermeable color line continues to restrict African Americans from assimilation into the broader American society. In the meantime high rates of immigration have produced an increasingly culturally diverse population. A “people of color” hypothesis suggests that the color line the new immigrants face resembles that imposed on African Americans. A “black exceptionalism” hypothesis suggests instead that the color line will be more porous for them, allowing for greater assimilation over successive generations, including a gradual weakening of politicized racial and ethnic group consciousness. Using data from Los Angeles County Social Surveys, we find that the largest new immigrant group, Latinos, like blacks, show strongly group-interested policy preferences and strong group consciousness. However, both effects are stronger for recent Latino immigrants than for the U.S.-born. We conclude that the new immigrant groups are increasingly likely to assimilate politically into the broader society in future generations, whereas a rather strict color line will continue to restrict blacks and maintain their distinctiveness.