Church in Black and White: Racially-Integrated Churches and Whites' Explanations for Racial Inequalities

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Virginia Tech

Research by Emerson and Smith (1999) finds that conservative Protestants tend to blame racial inequalities on individual traits like motivation or ability as opposed to structural constraints such as oppression or discrimination. Emerson and Smith have also established that churches tend to be racially homogenous organizations. The purpose of this study is to determine whether or not members of racially-integrated congregations differ from members of racially-homogenous congregations in their explanations for racial inequalities.

I am interested in further exploring interracial relations in the context of United States' Protestant churches, particularly how the level of contact with persons of another race might affect whites' perceptions of reasons for racial inequality. I expect to find that individuals who attend racially-homogeneous churches will be less likely to recognize social constraints that may contribute to socioeconomic inequalities between whites and blacks than those who attend racially-integrated churches. In other words, I expect that attending a racially-integrated congregation will have a positive effect on giving structural-level explanations for racial inequality. Using existing data from the 1994 General Social Survey, I analyze the relationship between attendance in a multi-racial congregation and explanations for racial inequalities. The data do not support the hypothesis.

contact hypothesis, explanations for inequality, Protestant, Racial inequality, multi-racial congregation