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Jennifer Chudy - With Sympathy: Rethinking American Racial Politics

Jennifer Chudy, Assistant Professor of Social Sciences and Political Science at Wellesley College
Encina Hall West, room 400

There is racial inequality in America, and some people are distressed over it while others are not. This is a book about the white Americans who are. More specifically, I focus on white racial sympathy over Black Americans' suffering and its consequences for American politics. Reversing course from a long tradition of studying the powerful and pernicious effect of white racial prejudice on public opinion, this talk, based on a book manuscript, considers the other side of the coin: the possibility that non-trivial proportions of white Americans are distressed over Black suffering and that this racial sympathy carries important political consequences. I introduce the concept of racial sympathy by drawing on psychology, political science, and political theory research. Racial sympathy is a stable attitude with diverse origins and can be found throughout the white electorate. From affirmative action to policing, sympathy shapes white Americans’ views on an impressive range of redistributive and criminal justice policies. Racial sympathy can be activated too. The political expression of racial sympathy is dynamic, and the book considers the circumstances under which racially sympathetic white Americans channel their attitude into their political opinions and behavior. I consult surveys, experiments, participant observation sessions, and interviews to substantiate my findings. Each of these distinct methods demonstrates that sympathy is a present and potent force in American politics.


Jennifer Chudy studies race and ethnicity in American politics. Within this broad field, she focuses on White racial attitudes generally and the attitude of racial sympathy - defined as White distress over Black suffering - specifically. Racial sympathy is a distinct, but understudied, White racial attitude with important political consequences. Using multiple methods including survey research, experimental studies, participant observation, and long-form interviews, her book project examines the origins and depths of this phenomena as well as the conditions that give rise to its political expression. Her 2021 article in the Journal of Politics summarizes this work. She has also published research on guilt and prejudice among White Americans.