Is Measuring Interracial Contact Enough? Racial Concentration, Racial Balance, and Perceptions of Prejudice among Black Americans


  • All data and coding are available upon request for anyone wishing to replicate this study. This research was supported in part by funding from the American Educational Research Association and the Ford Foundation. The author would like to thank Jack Martin, Brian Powell, Rashawn Ray, Dana Prewitt, Melissa Quintela, Abigail Sewell, Christy Erving, and Eric Grollman for their constructive feedback on earlier drafts of this manuscript.

Direct correspondence to Yasmiyn Irizarry, Department of Sociology, Mississippi State University, PO Box C, 207 Bowen Hall, Mississippi State, MS 39762 (



Contact theory posits that interracial contact can reduce racial prejudice and perceptions of prejudice. This relationship typically has been looked at from the perspective of whites’ views regarding race and racial relations, but few studies have examined the implications of interracial contact for blacks’ perceptions regarding the extent of prejudice and discrimination.


With data from the National Survey of Black Workers, I examine whether opportunities for contact in settings with varying racial concentrations in youth and adulthood are associated with blacks’ perceptions of prejudice. I use racial concentration—measured here as mostly black settings, half-black (racially balanced) settings, and mostly white settings (compared to all-black settings)—as an indicator of opportunities for interracial contact.


Multivariate analyses offer some evidence of the benefits of opportunities for contact in mixed-race and mostly white settings for blacks’ perceptions of prejudice.


Although having opportunities for contact can be beneficial, this evidence is limited to noncompetitive childhood environments, namely residential neighborhoods. Findings highlight the important of accounting for the racial balance of settings where interracial contact takes place.