Letters for Black Lives: Co-ethnic Mobilization and Support for the Black Lives Matter Movement

Published date01 June 2019
Date01 June 2019
Subject MatterArticles
793222PRQXXX10.1177/1065912918793222Political Research QuarterlyArora and Stout
Political Research Quarterly
2019, Vol. 72(2) 389 –402
Letters for Black Lives: Co-ethnic
© 2018 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
Mobilization and Support for the
DOI: 10.1177/1065912918793222
Black Lives Matter Movement
Maneesh Arora1 and Christopher T. Stout2
Previous research demonstrates that individuals are more open to persuasion from people who share their race.
However, it is not known whether this relationship holds for Asian Americans. We address this shortcoming by
exploring how the race of an author influences support for, and perceptions of, the Black Lives Matter (BLM)
movement. Drawing from literature on opinion formation and social identity theory, we expect that whites will be
most persuaded by whites, while Asian Americans will not be particularly persuaded by co-ethnic messengers due
to relatively low levels of group identity. To test our hypotheses, we use two online surveys that oversample Asian
American respondents who are randomly assigned letters in support of BLM written by either an Asian American
author or a white author. Similar to previous research, we find that whites are more likely to respond to appeals from
co-racial individuals. However, we find that Asian Americans respond positively to co-ethnic and white messengers.
Further analysis reveals that Asian Americans’ lower levels of in-group preferences compared with whites explains
why they do not respond to co-racial individuals similarly to other groups.
Coethnic mobilization, Black Lives Matter, AAPI, Survey experiments
There are certainly reasons to expect why Asian
Americans may function differently. For example, Asian
In 2016, a group of Asian Americans wrote an intergen-
Americans exhibit lower rates of linked fate and group
erational letter expressing their support for the Black
consciousness than other racial/ethnic minority groups
Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The original letter was
(Junn and Masuoka 2008). Furthermore, there are strong
written in English and was directed toward the broader
divisions among the Asian American pan-ethnic commu-
Asian American community in an attempt to increase
nity down national origin, linguistic, religious, and cul-
support and amplify the message of BLM. The motiva-
tural lines (Masuoka 2006, Wong et al. 2011). Finally,
tion for these letters is that messages coming from a co-
and related to the previous points, Asian Americans tend
racial author will be most effective in altering public
to display weaker in-group preferences relative to other
opinion. Letters for Black Lives, as the group has become
racial groups. For example, recent surveys have shown
known, is one of several organizations founded and led
that Asian Americans have as high opinions of and strong
by nonblacks who are supporting the BLM movement.
feelings of closeness to whites as they do to their own
The hope that letters from co-racial messengers can
racial group (Pew 2012; Wong et al. 2011). By exploring
alter the attitudes of individuals is not uncommon in social
the influence of Letters for Black Lives on attitudes
science literature. Namely, numerous studies demonstrate
toward the Black Lives Matter movement, we gain addi-
that whites and blacks are much more likely to adapt to the
tional insight into the impact of racial opinion leaders on
preferences of co-racial opinion leaders (see Kuklinski and
Hurley 1994; Nelson, Sanbonmatsu, and McClerking
1University of California, Irvine, USA
2007). So much so that when presented with evidence that
2Oregon State University, Corvallis, USA
contradicts their current beliefs, both blacks and whites are
more likely to move in the direction of co-racial elites (Tate
Corresponding Author:
Maneesh Arora, Department of Political Science, School of Social
2010; Tesler 2016). While previous research shows that co-
Sciences, University of California, Irvine, 3151 Social Science Plaza,
racial individuals can alter public opinion, it is not known
Irvine, CA 92697, USA.
whether Asian Americans follow this same pattern.
Email: Maneesha@uci.edu

Political Research Quarterly 72(2)
Asian American public opinion based on a real-world
Race and Changing Political
To assess whether Asian Americans are more likely
to adopt the attitudes of co-racial individuals, we begin
There are numerous studies that demonstrate that indi-
by reviewing literature on the role that the race of politi-
vidual’s attitudes are malleable if political messengers
cal elites plays in opinion formation. Through this
who are trusted and liked by a person shift their opinion
review, we argue that whites will display a strong pref-
(Lenz 2009; Page, Shapiro, and Dempsey 1987; Zaller
erence for individuals who share their race and will be
1992). For example, Zaller (1992) argues that individuals
more willing to adapt to their position compared with
take cues from others they trust when deciding their atti-
messengers of a different race/ethnicity. We then discuss
tudes on particular issues. However, the influence of mes-
why Asian Americans may be unique from other racial/
sengers on individual attitudes is determined by how
ethnic groups in that they may not display a strong pref-
positively or negatively the messenger is perceived by the
erence for messengers who share their race. We argue
that this disconnect is driven by Asian Americans’ lower
This is in part a rational decision among individuals
levels of pan-ethnic group consciousness, lower levels
who do not have a significant amount of time to explore
of mobilization, and weaker preferences for in-group
each policy in detail. Instead, by taking cues from opinion
individuals relative to those of another race. As a result,
leaders who they feel warmly toward, they can be more
Asian Americans may be equally as likely to adopt the
confident in their position without devoting too much
position of a co-racial messenger as they would a white
energy to learn about any given topic (Zaller 1992). When
individuals are confronted with new information, which
To test these hypotheses, we commission two survey
conflicts with their existing beliefs, they generally try to
experiments with an oversample of Asian American
reconcile this disagreement with evidence to confirm
respondents. The experiments expose individuals to dif-
their pre-existing opinion (Taber and Lodge 2006).
ferent letters written to mimic those from the website
However, when individuals are more trusting of the infor-
Letters for Black Lives. The only change we make to
mation source, they tend to fight this disagreement less
these letters is the race of the author. We find that in both
and justify their acquiescence to this new opinion (Lenz
surveys, Asian American respondents were much more
2009; Levendusky 2010).
If individuals are more swayed by messengers they
supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement when
view favorably, it follows that individuals may be more
they read a letter written by either a white or Asian
persuaded by others who share their race than those from
American author compared with those who read no letter.
another racial group. A plethora of research demonstrates
In the most recent survey, we find that whites were only
that individuals display a preference for individuals who
more persuaded to be supportive of the Black Lives
share their racial identity (Bobo and Zubrinsky 1996;
Matter movement when they were presented an article
Schuman et al. 1997). Moreover, several studies show
with a co-racial author.
that individuals are much more likely to find racial in-
We further assess our hypotheses using causal media-
group members as being more trustworthy than racial
tion analysis (see Imai, Keele, and Tingley 2010; Imai
out-group members (Barreto and Nuno 2011; Simpson,
et al. 2011). In particular, we assess whether changes in
McGrimmon, and Irwin 2007). The combination of this
attitudes about the Black Lives Matter movement tied to
higher level of trust and preference for co-racial individu-
the race of the author are attributable to how the respon-
als may make individuals more likely to follow the opin-
dent feels about the author. For Asian Americans, we find
ions of co-racial messengers.
no significant mediating effects. This indicates that dif-
Along the same lines, Crano (2001) argues that indi-
ferences in perceptions of the co-racial or white author
viduals are much more receptive to claims from individu-
did not influence how Asian Americans responded to the
als who share their identity even if these opinions tend to
treatment. For whites, we find that a significant and sub-
be opposed to their own. This is in part driven by the fact
stantial portion of their greater likelihood of being per-
that individuals are much more open-minded and willing
suaded to support BLM when presented a letter from a
to hear arguments from individuals who share their race
white author is driven by their warmer feelings toward
(Mackie and Hunter 1999; Turner et al. 1987). Moreover,
the co-racial messenger. The results provide additional
when individuals are confronted with information from an

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