Convergence and Divergence in Leisure Style among Whites and African Americans: Toward an Interracial Contact Hypothesis

Article excerpt

Drawing upon structural theory and social group perspectives, this study examined two propositions developed to explain the relationship between interracial contact and leisure preferences among African Americans and Whites. The first proposition stated that as interracial contact increases, the greater the probability of observing similarity in the leisure preferences of African Americans and Whites. The second stated that the probability of observing similarity in the leisure preferences will be greater among Whites with high or low interracial contact than observing similarity among African Americans with high or low interracial contact. Data to evaluate the propositions came from an on-site survey of Chicago (IL) park users. As hypothesized, Black and White respondents with high interracial contact reported very similar leisure preferences. Also, among African Americans, there was little similarity in the leisure preferences between individuals with high interracial contact and those with low interracial contact. Further, as expected, there was high similarity among Whites with high or low interracial contact. In general, the results of the study highlight the importance of considering social interaction, and interracial contact specifically, in explaining racial differences in leisure participation. The study also demonstrates the importance of examining internal differentiation of African Americans and its implications for leisure lifestyle choices.

KEYWORDS: Race, ethnicity, personal community, interracial contact, lifestyle, social groups


Over the past two decades an increasing amount of scholarship has been devoted to identifying key factors and social forces that contribute to divergent patterns of leisure preferences among African Americans and Whites. [1] Relying heavily on Washburne's (1978) analysis, research has generally centered on two primary factors: marginality and ethnicity. Marginality emphasizes socioeconomic differences between Blacks and Whites associated with historical patterns of discrimination as the key determinant of differences in preference and/or participation. Ethnicity refers to different patterns of preferences or participation that can be explained by divergent values, norms, and socialization practices associated with Whites and Blacks, independent of socioeconomic factors. The conventional approach to testing the ethnicity hypothesis has been to interpret residual differences in preference ratings or participation rates between Blacks and Whites found after controlling for socioeconomic status as ethnic or subcultural effects. Increasingly, scholars have recognized the limitations of these explanations (e.g., Floyd, 1998) and have called for alternative approaches that further understanding of specific processes and mechanisms under lying racial and ethnic variation in leisure behavior.

West (1989), Phillip (1994), and Floyd (1998) have voiced the need to recognize the role of historical and contemporary race-based discrimination as a major force in shaping and constraining leisure participation among African Americans. Despite progress on a number of social and economic fronts (e.g., voting rights, housing, access to education, and more tolerant attitudes among Whites), African Americans--irrespective of socioeconomic mobility--are still subject to interpersonal and institutional forms of racism and discrimination (Feagin & Vera, 1995; Massey & Denton, 1993). The physical separation of African Americans and Whites in a variety of social settings, such as friendships, occupations, and residential areas, serves as a distinct marker of the current state of U.S. race relations (Jackman & Crane, 1986). Extensive documentation has been made of residential segregation in the U.S. Massey and Denton (1993) provided a detailed treatment of the historical and contemporary forces leading to the rise a nd persistence of residential segregation in American society. …