Trust in Black America

Race, Discrimination, and Politics

295 pages

48 illustrations

February, 2012

ISBN: 9780814758656



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Shayla C. Nunnally is Associate Professor of Political Science and African American Studies at the University of Connecticut.

All books by Shayla C. Nunnally

The more citizens trust their government, the better democracy functions. However, African Americans have long suffered from the lack of equal protection by their government, and the racial discrimination they have faced breaks down their trust in democracy. Rather than promoting democracy, the United States government has, from its inception, racially discriminated against African American citizens and other racial groups, denying them equal access to citizenship and to protection of the law. Civil rights violations by ordinary citizens have also tainted social relationships between racial groups—social relationships that should be meaningful for enhancing relations between citizens and the government at large. Thus, trust and democracy do not function in American politics the way they should, in part because trust is not color blind. 

Based on the premise that racial discrimination breaks down trust in a democracy, Trust in Black America examines the effect of race on African Americans' lives. Shayla Nunnally analyzes public opinion data from two national surveys to provide an updated and contemporary analysis of African Americans' political socialization, and to explore how African Americans learn about race. She argues that the uncertainty, risk, and unfairness of institutionalized racial discrimination has led African Americans to have a fundamentally different understanding of American race relations, so much so that distrust has been the basis for which race relations have been understood by African Americans. Nunnally empirically demonstrates that race and racial discrimination have broken down trust in American democracy.


  • "Shayla Nunnally has written a groundbreaking study of the development of trust among Black Americans. Trust in Black America is empirically sound and theoretically sophisticated. It is a foundational study that should be read by anyone interested in race and racial politics in the United States."

    —Marion Orr, co-editor of Power in the City

  • “Given the dramatic racial and ethnic changes in American political life in the last generation, Nunnally’s work substantially expands our understanding of the varied ways in which people learn and experience politics. Trust in Black America complicates Political Science’s definition of trust with an exploration of African Americans’ internalization and externalization of race. This is a perfectly reasonable conceptualization except that Nunnally is the first to have done so. Her subtle and detailed framework of racial reasoning, moves the discussion of race beyond Black and White, into the layered views African Americans hold toward Latinos and Asians in the increasingly complex American population. This volume is a work of lasting significance.”

    —Dianne Pinderhughes, author of Black Politics after the Civil Rights Revolution

  • Trust in Black America fills a long-overdue gap in the race and politics literature. As a concept, political trust has been around a long time, but it's seldom applied to race. But as the title suggests, Nunnally also explores the broader contours of trust, including its social and contextual variants, with stunning results. Given its focus upon trust writ large, something I'd never seen in political science--until now, Trust in Black America is a must read for anyone who cares about American politics.”

    —Christopher S. Parker, author of Fighting for Democracy

  • "This is an innovative and highly intellectual book best suited for graduate students, scholars, and those generally interested in the connections among race, politics, and psychology."

    —A.R.S. Lorenz, CHOICE

  • "This book arrives at a propitious moment.  Recent partisan polarization and its racial inflections raise important empirical and normative questions about political trust and its relationship to race.  With this in mind, Shayla Nunnally's Trust in Black America attempts to develop an account of trust that combines structuralism and methodological individualism, and in the process, she hopes to redefine our understanding of the American racial order and revise our thinking about trust."

    —Michael Javen Fortner, Political Science Quarterly