Do major events in the political realm affect racial attitudes, and if so, who is most susceptible to these effects? Dr. Tatishe Nteta, assistant professor of political science and 2014 CRF Family Research Scholar, explores this question, focusing on how culture, political trends, and major life cycle events influence individuals as they mature. Professor Nteta primary field of research, political socialization, focuses on the intersections of family, national politics, and race. Barak Obama’s recent ascendance to the White House inspired Professor Nteta (and his colleague Jill Greenlee from Brandeis University) to examine how the current generation of young white adults’ perceptions on race may differ from the racial attitudes of previous generations of whites; he documents his findings in “A Change is Gonna Come: Generational Membership and White Racial Attitudes in the 21st Century”, written for the journal Political Psychology.
Previous research shows that views on race are in part defined by major life cycle events that occur in young adulthood, as events such as the Civil Rights Movement (1954-68) have been shown to have a positive effect on white racial attitudes. Professor Nteta’s research explores if the recent election of Barack Obama has similarly influenced the racial views of white Americans, most notably the nation’s youngest generation of white Americans. “While much media attention has been devoted to how Obama’s election is evidence of the nation’s increasingly liberal views on race, our research explores whether the election of the nation’s first African American president has been an engine of change in the nature of white racial attitudes.”
Relying on the predictions of the impressionable years hypothesis, he suggests that for those who are between the ages of 18 and 25, major national events will have a profound influence on an individual’s racial attitudes. According to this theory, this age period is integral to the development of one’s political and social beliefs because it is, for many, the first moment one is physically and socially separated from key agents of socialization, such as one’s parents, teachers, peers, and church leaders. Children's perceptions and beliefs on issues like race and politics are strongly shaped and influenced by one's family and immediate community. For most Americans, 18 years of age is when separation from those early socialization agents first occurs, either through the adventure of college or entry into the workforce; although individuals carry artifacts and biases from their family’s conditioning, views on race and politics during this crucial time period are highly malleable.
Professor Nteta’s research points out that there are marked differences in the racial attitudes of whites who came of age during Barak Obama’s presidency, a generation he dubs the “Obama Generation, and the racial views of older generations of whites. Like the generation of whites who came of age during the Civil Rights Movement, members of the Obama Generation are statistically more likely to hold racially liberal viewpoints when compared to older generational groupings. “Our results suggest that the ascendance and eventual election of Obama may have led to the formation of a new generational grouping, and that this generation’s racial attitudes represent the culmination of the nation’s steady march toward racial reconciliation and equality.”
Most recently, as a current CRF Family Research Scholar, Professor Nteta will be attempting to shed light on how the experience of fatherhood affects men’s political and gender viewpoints. There is a large body of scholarly research that explores if and how fatherhood changes a man’s political and gender opinions, and increasingly this literature has examined if the experience of having a daughter has a unique impact on a man’s political and gender opinions. Interestingly, some of this research has found that fatherhood engenders more liberal political and gender viewpoints and behaviors, while other research suggests it generates more conservative attitudes and activities.
In order to adjudicate between these two competing findings, Tatishe argues that more rigorous quantitative and qualitative methods are needed to uncover the true role that fatherhood may play in the development and change in men’s political and gender views. In so doing, Professor Nteta in his time at CRF plans to develop a longitudinal survey of men’s political and social attitudes and behaviors that seeks to uncover if life cycle events, such as the experience of having a daughter, does engender changes in men’s political and gender attitudes and behaviors.
In addition to expanding knowledge on how families affect and are affected by political events, Professor Neteta’s future research will provide new data on the dynamics process of political socialization that will assist scholars interested in further exploring the intersection of politics and family. The Center for Research on Families is excited to have him our team and looks forward to supporting this significant program of research.
This article originally appeared on the Center for Research on Famliies Website.
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