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Faculty Research Working Paper Series
Maya Sen
Assistant Professor of Public Policy
phone: (617)495-8628
The Political Legacy of American Slavery
Acharya, Avidit, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen. "The Political Legacy of American Slavery." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP14-057, December 2014.
Abstract
We show that contemporary differences in political attitudes across counties in the American South trace their origins to slavery’s prevalence more than 150 years ago. Whites who currently live in Southern counties that had high shares of slaves in 1860 are more likely to identify as a Republican, oppose affirmative action policies, and express racial resentment and colder feelings toward blacks. These results cannot be explained by existing theories, including the theory of racial threat. To explain these results, we offer evidence for a new theory involving the historical persistence of racial attitudes. We argue that, following the Civil War, Southern whites faced political and economic incentives to reinforce racist norms and institutions. This produced racially conservative political attitudes, which in turn have been passed down locally across generations. Our results challenge the interpretation of a vast literature on racial attitudes in the American South.
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