Race has been and remains one of the most divisive and salient issues in American politics. It is this distinction that has, in effect, rendered race-related policy proposals unsuitable for the standard legislative process. It has also constrained reformers’ ability to secure passage of strong civil rights laws. In short, because of the enormous discord it engenders, race cannot be governed through conventional decisionmaking apparatuses. Nor can these structures yield policies capable of altering persistent race-related educational, employment, and housing inequalities. The preceding chapters have analyzed trends in civil rights politics and policymaking that demonstrate what is, in essence, a fundamental incompatibility between race and conventional governance structures.
This chapter presents a more systematic analysis of the politics of race and their effect upon civil rights lawmaking during the modern civil rights period. It summarizes much of what has already been explained, but utilizes a mostly quantitative, longitudinal analysis to illustrate the book’s main arguments. The first section presents an overview of the changes in the regional and partisan conflicts that have lain at the center of racial politics. It also assesses the political significance of these divisions over time. The impact of racial politics upon the parliamentary aspects of civil rights policymaking is discussed in the second section. Finally, the last section examines the substantive policy impact of racial politics. There the question of just how the dissension engendered by race has come to bear upon the content of civil rights legislative proposals is addressed.