Posted on September 26, 2021

The U.S. Is More Racially Diverse Than Ever. Will People of Color Unify Politically?

Efrén Pérez, Washington Post, August 31, 2021

In early August, the U.S. Census Bureau confirmed what many ordinary Americans have long intuited: The United States is a significantly more racially diverse nation than it was before. Yet the dominant narrative around this result remains one of White decline, with an assortment of racial “minorities” picking up this demographic slack. Especially well-represented were Asian Americans and Latinos, groups that nearly doubled their population size to 25 percent.

Some observers assume that demographics are political destiny. In this view, since all people of color presumably think alike, their political views are surely unified, cohesive and unvarying. {snip}

My research shows this concept rests on unrealistic assumptions about people of color, a large and diverse group who are not necessarily natural political allies. {snip}


In recent research, I found that a greater sense of solidarity among people of color leads many African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos to support policies that would be useful for one of those subgroups, even if it is not relevant to their own. For instance, when thinking of themselves as “people of color,” they are more likely to support #BlackLivesMatter (a Black issue); a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants (a Latino issue); and more H1-B visas for high-skilled immigrants (an Asian American issue).

This sense of solidarity with people of color can be sparked by reminding non-Whites about what they hold in common. In spring 2021, my research team and I undertook two online experiments, one with 641 Asian American adults and another with 624 Latino adults {snip}

We divided each group into two. Asian Americans and Latinos in the control group read an article about the gradual extinction of giant tortoises. The rest read about a group being treated as foreign and un-American, much as happens to members of their own community. Asian Americans read about Latinos, and vice versa. We then asked all participants whether the problems that African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos face are too different for them to be allies; whether they supported a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; and whether they supported more H1-B visas for highly skilled immigrants.

Among those who read about tortoises, Asian Americans were nearly 9 percent less likely than Latinos to support a pathway to citizenship. But when we reminded them of their shared experience of being treated as foreigners, not only did that gap disappear, but both groups become substantially more likely to support such policies.

Similarly, when Latinos read about tortoises, they were about 6 percent less likely than Asian Americans to support more generous policies toward highly skilled immigrants (e.g., increasing number of H1-B visas). But after reading about another group marginalized as foreign, the gap again disappeared, and both Asians and Latinos become more likely to support such policies.