Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

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

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

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

Article excerpt


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 underlying 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 (ackman & 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 and persistence of residential segregation in American society. Their poignant characterization of current levels of black segregation in the largest U.S. cities as "American Apartheid" aptly describes the social distance between White Americans and African Americans. In an analysis of segregation patterns in 232 metropolitan areas for the period of 1980-1990, Farley and Frey (1994) found that while "modest declines" in segregation were observed for metropolitan areas with substantial black populations, segregation of African Americans remained much greater than for Hispanic and Asian Americans. They concluded:

most whites are uncomfortable when numerous blacks enter their neighborhoods. Also, few whites will move into neighborhoods with many black residents. The conservative attitudes of whites and their fear of becoming a minority in a neighborhood limit the desegregation than can occur (p. 40).

Because there is a general tendency for Blacks and Whites to be spatially separated, there is a greater chance of social isolation, particularly with regard to Blacks, and fewer opportunities for interracial social interaction (Massey & Denton, 1993; Sigelman, Bledsoe, Welch, & Combs, 1996). No previous study in the leisure studies literature has considered the impact of this cleavage on leisure preferences or participation.

The purpose of this study was to explore the question of whether interracial contact holds significant implications for explaining differences in leisure activity preferences among African Americans and Whites. Two propositions were developed to outline a conceptual link between interracial contact and leisure activity preferences. …

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