Disentangling Discrimination: The Impact of Political and Societal Discrimination on Democratic (Dis)Engagement
Oskooii, Abdol-Razagh Kassra
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How does discrimination impact the political behaviors of racial and ethnic minority groups in democratic societies? Are all types of discrimination the same? The direct relationship between discrimination and behavior is surprisingly understudied. The few studies that have focused on this topic suggest that discrimination motivates individuals to take action. However, these studies have primarily focused on what I classify as "political" discrimination: how laws, policies, or campaign rhetoric impact behaviors. What is missing from the literature is how interpersonal interactions between rank-and-file members of the society impact people's orientations toward politics. I argue that while political discrimination has the capacity to make politics more salient, motivating individuals to take action for substantive or expressive purposes, the same conclusion can not be drawn for individuals who feel devalued in their communities. Taking an interdisciplinary theoretical approach, I argue that individuals exposed to widespread societal discrimination will become more pessimistic than their counterparts to believe that desired outcomes can be achieved through democratic engagement. Drawing from four nationally representative surveys and an original discrimination experiment, I find support for my hypotheses across three groups in two different contexts: African-Americans, Muslim-Americans, and Ethnic Minorities in Great Britain. My study contributes to political science scholarship by showing that the source of discrimination plays a powerful role in whether individuals engage or withdraw from politics. As such, it is simply misguided to assume that all types of discrimination lead to similar behavioral outcomes. My study also holds important implications for democratic theory: if citizens are unable or unwilling to participate in politics due to interpersonal experiences with rejection, they may be denied crucial resources and opportunities as their preferences and concerns can be overlooked by policymakers. This spiral of marginalization has a profound impact on the future of race relations in democratic societies.
- Political science 
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