America's Material Racial Inequality: Legacies and Policy Coalitions

Photo by Peter Burka / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This project, undertaken with Professor Rogers M Smith (University of Pennsylvania) develops an analysis of how two distinct racial policy alliances – one advancing race targeted policy responses to inequality, the other opposing any active policy justified by a colour-blind framework – dominate the discussion of material racial inequality in American politics; and how the language of these opposing frameworks dominates political rhetoric about enduring material racial inequality. 

The race-targeted policy alliance includes most Democrat party elected officer holders, unions, civil rights reformers, the military, large employers and the 4 Supreme Court justices (usually in the minority on court decisions dealing with any aspect of racial equality policy). The colour blind coalition is dominated by Republican Party elected officeholders, small businesses, conservative foundations and think tanks, and the 5 Supreme Court justices led by Chief Justice Roberts, who regularly vote against active policies advancing racial equality.

The project provides a means of understanding the background behind continued racial injustice in the United States - which has been highlighted in recent years by incidents in which African Americans have been killed by police officers, and by the 2013 Shelby County ruling which found pre-clearance to be unconstitutional. The resurgence and entrenchment of racial segregation sustains the division between racial policy alliances

The project has resulted in Still a House Divided (PUP 2012) and a series of major articles including papers published in the American Political Science Review, Du Bois Review, Political Research Quarterly, and Journal of Politics. A discussion of the two alliances and post-Ferguson developments appeared in: Le Monde Diplomatique in the Janvier 2015 issue entitled “Pour les Afro-Americains, amer bilan d’une presidence noire,” which can be accessed at:

King and Smith are now developing a four city study of the extent to which the two national racial policy alliances are reproduced in urban politics over the last two decades, and will develop an empirical measure of how these alliances have advanced or thwarted policies aimed at reducing material racial inequality in environmental policy, education policy including school curriculum, set aside programmes and other policy areas.


Shelby County v. Holder and white political power in modern America.  With Rogers M. Smith.  Du Bois Review, forthcoming.

'Without Regard to Race’: Critical Ideational Development in Modern American Racial Politics. With Rogers M. Smith. Journal of Politics. Vol 76 (2014): 958-971.

America’s civil rights state: Amelioration, Stagnation or Failure? in Developments in American Politics 7. London: Palgrave, 2014: 263-283.

Still a House Divided. Race and Politics in Obama’s America. With Rogers M. Smith.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013.

Racial Orders in American Political Development (with Rogers M Smith) American Political Science Review 99 (2005): 75-92.

Barack Obama and the Future of American Racial Politics, (with Rogers M Smith) Du Bois Review, 6 (2009): 25-35.

Tile image: Peter Burka, Black Lives Matter, Flickr creative commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0

Principal Investigator

Professor Desmond King




Mellon Fund, Nuffield College and DPIR

Project Start / End

Mar 2013 - Apr 2017

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