The Contemporary Politics of Racial Policymaking
The substance of contemporary racial politics is very different from that of years past. The most fundamental change in racial politics that has occurred since the seventies is the disappearance of regional divisions relative to race. At the same time that the regional division concerning race has vanished, something quite different has occurred as far as the party system is concerned. Here the cleavage has deepened. More specifically, in previous decades Republicans had begun to take a more proactive conservative racial stance by actively pushing for alternative policies more in line with their preferences. Recently, they have gone beyond reactionary measures. Instead, they have undertaken initiatives to reduce the federal government's overall civil rights laws and have vigorously pursued dismantling of affirmative action in particular. Republican control of the presidency for much of the eighties, along with control of both houses of Congress as of 1995, brings into clearer view both the increased polarization of parties around race and the continued prominence of race within national American politics.
What remains as an essential characteristic of racial politics, moreover, is its contentiousness. As a consequence, the procedural and policy outcomes engendered by the "new" politics of race mirror in important ways those wrought by the historical politics of race. Specifically, the effect of existing racial dissonance upon the bargainability of the eighties and nineties racerelated legislative proposals is largely the same as that of previous decades. All that has really changed in this regard is the openness of civil rights proceedings and negotiations, so that much of it now occurs outside of public view. Behind the scenes, partisan racial conflict continues to significantly