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Race and Politics: Normative Orders and the Explanation of Political Difference: the Simpson Verdict, the Million Man March and Colin Powell

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Normative expectations may be divided between social values that define the nature of desirable social orders in terms of right and wrong and cultural norms that constitute meaning. In contrast to normative expectations, which are stable in the face of situational change, cognitive expectations are malleable when contradicted by their environment. Certain political responses of blacks in the USA may be explained in terms of these normative orientations. Most blacks share a commitment to mainstream values, a set of cognitive expectations that implies an inability to implement those values, in part owing to the persistence of racism, and an oppositional cultural identity. This configuration of normative orientations led most blacks to support the O.J. Simpson verdict; they could rationalise the evidence against him as a consequence of police racism and, given the way the trial was presented, they could identify with Simpson as part of their oppositional culture. Most blacks supported the Million Man March as part of this same oppositional culture, but also as an affirmation of their mainstream normative commitments. Many blacks were lukewarm to Colin Powell because he seemed to act outside their oppositional culture and because the attitudes of whites towards his achievements suggested that the racism most blacks perceive as part of their everyday lives was a delusion.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 1997

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