Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Perceptions of Discrimination in a Recreation Context

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Perceptions of Discrimination in a Recreation Context

Article excerpt


Recently the effect of perceived discrimination on recreation participation has been the subject of a number of empirical investigations. West (1989) found that African Americans in the Detroit area were less frequent users of regional parks partly because of perceptions of prejudice and discrimination. Blahna and Black (1993) in a series of focus group interviews found that discrimination was a significant inhibitor of park use among African American and Hispanic college students in the Chicago area. Floyd, Gramann, and Saenz (1993) reported that perceived discrimination among Mexican Americans tends to be negatively correlated with use of some public recreation facilities in the Southwest U.S.

In these studies discrimination is treated as an explanatory variable in relation to recreation behavior. This approach reflects the longstanding concern with matters of equality and equity regarding minority access to public recreation facilities. For example, the marginality hypothesis has been used to explain "under-participation" of minority groups in wildland recreation (Washburne, 1978). The marginal status of African Americans in the U.S. society attributed to historical patterns of discrimination is hypothesized to negatively impact their recreation participation. This paper represents a different approach to and rationale for examining perceptions of discrimination in recreation settings.

In this analysis, perceived discrimination is treated as a dependent variable in order to understand how perceived discrimination varies across different segments of an ethnic minority group. This analytical strategy could lead to policy actions that are designed to address specific discrimination concerns rather than broad actions based on assumptions of homogeneity within minority groups. Investigating perceptions of discrimination in a recreation context also contributes to an extensive literature on intergroup relations, particularly the present state of inter-ethnic relationships in the U.S.

Theoretical Framework

Two competing theoretical perspectives provide empirical expectations with respect to perceptions of discrimination. The first, known as the ethnic enclosure hypothesis, is largely based on Gordon's (1964) theory of ethnic assimilation. Assimilation refers to "a process of boundary reduction that can occur when members of two or more societies or of smaller cultural groups meet" (Yinger, 1981, p. 249). According to Gordon, this progresses along seven dimensions (cultural assimilation, structural assimilation, marital assimilation, identificational assimilation, attitude receptional assimilation, behavioral receptional assimilation, and civic assimilation), albeit at different rates. Of these seven dimensions, Gordon suggested that cultural assimilation is the first to occur. However its achievement does not necessarily lead to the subsequent types. Structural assimilation is viewed as the key subprocess as intergroup interaction begins to occur in primary group relationships (e.g. friendships, family). Its occurrence is thought to lead to the remaining types of assimilation. Thus, behavioral receptional assimilation, the absence of discrimination, should be predicted by increased cultural and structural assimilation. In other words, assimilation theory suggests that as ethnic minority group members acquire greater knowledge of the dominant culture, become socially integrated, and experience upward social mobility they should experience greater acceptance among majority group members and perceive less discrimination.

An alternative view, the ethnic competition hypothesis, makes the opposite prediction. This perspective grew out of the work of Glazer and Moynihan (1963) and others who have argued that ethnicity is an emergent phenomenon aroused in the defense of social or economic interests. Recently, it has been highlighted in the work of Portes and colleagues. The hypothesis suggests that increased knowledge of the dominant culture and increased socioeconomic standing leads to greater perception of discrimination and more critical assessments of the dominant society (Portes, 1984; Portes, Parker & Cobas, 1980). …

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