Race, Class, and What Else? Policies and Politics in Four American Cities

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Since the 1960s, the study of policy and politics in American cities – and to a considerable degree, in the American national government – has revolved around the role of race or the interaction of race and class. My own work has largely followed that path. This project, however, examines the degree to which race/class hierarchy should remain the dominant paradigm in research on inequality in the United States. I consider four policies in four large American cities in order to see how well race/class intersection explains their trajectories.

The policy arenas are policing (especially “stop-question-frisk” in New York City), land use development (especially the BeltLine in Atlanta), school reform (especially charter schools in Los Angeles), and fiscal policy (especially public sector pension funding in Chicago). I find that race/class interaction matters, but not uniformly and not straightforwardly. It is integral to, even determinative of, implementation and impact of two of the four cases, but has an attenuated, almost submerged, role in the other two. With regard to school reform, the politics of geography and institutional boundaries matter most, and with regard to pension funding, the politics of time horizons and generational injustice dominate. We need to develop more systematic analyses of when and why race/class interactions do, and do not, explain important swaths of American politics and policy-making.