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Black Politics: How Anger Influences the Political Actions Blacks Pursue to Reduce Racial Inequality


Although Blacks are homogeneous in their support for racial equality, research shows that they are conflicted about the political strategies their group should adopt to advance its interest. At times, Blacks rely on racial group specific behaviors (e.g., working on behalf of Black organizations) to alleviate racial inequality, while at other instances they depend on non-racial group specific behaviors (e.g., working on behalf of the Democratic Party). What is unclear from the literature are the conditions under which Blacks engage in behaviors that specifically help their racial group over actions that are more universalistic in nature. We argue that experiencing anger about race should boost Blacks’ participation in donating to indigenous Black organizations and protesting rather than giving to universalistic organizations and voting. To test our expectations, we utilize a lab experiment and a national survey experiment. The findings show that feeling angry about race increases Blacks’ willingness to donate to Black organizations and protest. We also find that angry Blacks, highly supportive of Black community nationalism, are the strongest participants in these types of actions. Meanwhile, Blacks who feel angry about race are not more engaging in non-racial group specific acts.

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  1. 1.

    We define Black organizations as organizations and movements that seek to specifically empower Black Americans. These include but are not limited to Black political organizations such as the NAACP or Black Lives Matter. They also include Black social organizations such as Black churches and Black sororities and fraternities.

  2. 2.

    According to a 2015 NBC/Survey Monkey/Esquire poll, a majority of Blacks reported feeling angry about the police violence directed at Blacks.

  3. 3.

    The random assignment of subjects to conditions was successful: there were no significant differences across cells of the design in the proportion of socio-demographic or partisan variables.

  4. 4.

    The news stories are presented in Figs. 7, 8, and 9 in the Appendix section.

  5. 5.

    The reliability of the coders was fairly high: Cronbach’s alpha for anger = .73 and hope = .66.

  6. 6.

    We ran a simple t-test to see if these differences were statistically significant. Relative to the control condition, the test shows that subjects in the anger condition (t-statistic = 3.95, p ≤ .001) mention anger at a significantly higher rate.

  7. 7.

    Black nationalists, in the anger condition, are not more likely to express anger than Blacks who are not nationalists (β = .187, p = .77). We find a similar result to the emotion induction task in study 2.

  8. 8.

    Davis and Brown (2002) find that Black nationalism falls on one dimension instead of two dimensions. The difference between their results and Brown and Shaw’s (2002) findings largely stems from the use of different measures (Carey 2013).

  9. 9.

    We recode the scale into three equally distributed categories to reflect low, medium, and high nationalism.

  10. 10.

    The donations and protest variables are coded where don’t know = 0. When we exclude the don’t knows from our analysis, the results are essentially the same.

  11. 11.

    The regression coefficients are in Table 4 in the Appendix section. The baseline is the control condition. We exclude the hope condition from the analysis.

  12. 12.

    The predicted probabilities are calculated by manipulating the emotion variables while holding all the other independent variables at their observed values in the data and then averaging over all of the cases.

  13. 13.

    We were unable to calculate the interactive effect for donating to the DNC. There was not enough power because some of the cells were empty.

  14. 14.

    Given that there is a general tendency to overreport intention to vote and given that Blacks tend to overreport turnout at even higher levels than other racial groups (Jenkins et al. 2017) it is quite possible that we do not observe a treatment effect on vote intention due to ceiling effects.

  15. 15.

    In our sample, there is substantial variation on age (25% were 18–34, 46% 35–54, 29% were 55 and over), gender (58% female), partisanship (70% Democrat, 22% Independent, and 8% Republican), and education (22% high school degree or less, 37% some college, 40% college graduate). However, Blacks in our sample are more likely to have a college degree than Blacks in the national population.

  16. 16.

    In wave 1, 671 respondents participated. Our re-contact rate for wave 2 was 66%. Several subjects were dropped from the analysis because they failed to follow proper instructions. The results are essentially the same if these respondents are included.

  17. 17.

    Respondents were not actually given the opportunity to donate to these organizations. We informed participants in the debriefing that this question was a hypothetical scenario. Even so, 70% of respondents decided to donate and 30% of participants choose not to donate. Participants considered our measure as a valid form of participation.

  18. 18.

    The prompt for the control condition states “Now we would like to know your thoughts about Race-Relations in the United States. These thoughts could be about experiences that have occurred in the past or will happen in the future.”

  19. 19.

    The reliability of the coders is high: Cronbach’s alpha for anger = .91 and hope = .85.

  20. 20.

    We ran a t-test to see if these differences are statistically significant. Relative to the control condition, the test shows that subjects in the anger condition (t-statistic = 7.98, p < .001) mention anger at a significantly higher rate. They also mention anger at significantly higher rate than subjects in the hope condition (t-statistic = 13.56, p < .001).

  21. 21.

    The differences between the hope condition and the control condition (t-statistic = 10.98, p < .001) and anger condition (t-statistic = 13.88, p < .001) are statistically significant.

  22. 22.

    For the three dependent variables, we included respondents who did not want to donate to any of the organizations in the analysis. They are coded as 0. When we exclude these respondents (no donations) from the analysis, the results are essentially the same.

  23. 23.

    The OLS regression coefficients are in Table 5 in the Appendix. The baseline is the control condition.


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The authors thank Heather Hicks and Julian Wamble for excellent research assistance, and the workshop attendees at Princeton University, Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Maryland, and the National Capital Area Political Science Association for helpful feedback. The data and replication code can be found at Political Behavior’s Dataverse webpage.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Antoine J. Banks.



See Figs. 5 and 6 and Tables 4, 5 and 6.

Fig. 5

Study 1 manipulation check

Fig. 6

Study 2 manipulation check

Table 4 The effect of the anger condition on political action
Table 5 The effect of the anger condition on donating to Black organizations and universal organizations
Table 6 Average level of contribution to each organization

Experimental Manipulation

See Figs. 7, 8, and 9.

Fig. 7

Anger condition

Fig. 8

Hope condition

Fig. 9

Control condition

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Banks, A.J., White, I.K. & McKenzie, B.D. Black Politics: How Anger Influences the Political Actions Blacks Pursue to Reduce Racial Inequality. Polit Behav 41, 917–943 (2019).

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  • Emotions
  • Black politics
  • Political participation