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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Political Science

Year Degree Awarded

2016

Month Degree Awarded

September

First Advisor

Dr. Brian Schaffner

Second Advisor

Dr. Tatishe Nteta

Third Advisor

Dr. Linda Isbell

Subject Categories

American Politics | Other Political Science | Political Science

Abstract

How can African Americans be described simultaneously by political scientists as one of the most liberal and the most authoritarian groups in the United States? This conundrum frames the puzzle at the core of this dissertation.

I argue that the political behavior of many African Americans is caught in a tug of war between their racial identity and their predisposition to authoritarianism. When the issue at hand engages African Americans’ authoritarian predisposition, authoritarianism can trump racial identity, produce attitudes that defy conventional wisdom, and dash the common theoretical assumption that African American political behavior is homogeneous. Counter to some of the accepted theories of political science, I demonstrate that African American authoritarians are less likely to agree their individual fate is linked to their racial identity, African American political behavior is not always more liberal than Whites, and African American worldviews and political behaviors, when viewed through the lens of authoritarianism, are quite often heterogeneous and differentiated.

Based on these findings, I contend that any theory of authoritarianism must include African Americans in its analysis or at least present very persuasive arguments for their exclusion. The fact is that 65 years after Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswick, Levinson, and Sanford’s Authoritarian Personality was published, the study of authoritarianism finds itself once again at a crossroads. Authoritarianism was originally conceived as a universal personality trait whose scope recognized no cultural, racial, geographic, or political boundaries. But the central theories of authoritarian activation and polarization today are predicated on data that exclude the most authoritarian racial group in America – African Americans – from analysis.

It is time for political science to revise the contemporary research on authoritarianism to include African Americans. This is not an abstract exercise. It is a theoretical necessity. The result will not only improve the study of authoritarianism; it will also advance the broader inquiry that is political science as some of the discipline’s theoretical certainties become shibboleths, the collateral damage of an empirical inquiry into American Authoritarianism in Black and White.

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