Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Sean Richey

Second Advisor

Toby Bolsen

Third Advisor

Judd Thornton


This dissertation seeks to understand the causes of racial liberalism among white Americans, including overtime shifts therein. Drawing on intergroup emotions theory from social psychology, I propose that negative ingroup-focused moral emotions—namely white shame and guilt—are important factors in the formation of racially liberal attitudes, such as white support for race-based affirmative action and government assistance. I further argue that not all whites are equally susceptible to such emotions; that those inclined towards structural attributions for inequality (e.g. white liberals) are more likely to experience them; and that the racial attitudes of such whites are thus more elastic than those of others. Finally, I contend that the salience of these emotions varies as a function of the availability of racial equalitarian media messaging that speaks to black-white status differences in terms of past and/or present white racism. Using cross-sectional, time series, panel, and experimental data, I test these propositions across multiple empirical chapters. I find general support for the theory across multiple methodologies. In the main, the findings suggest that, net of other attitudinally important variables (e.g. racial resentment, social dominance orientation), white racial attitudes would be far more conservative in the absence of collective shame and guilt; that overtime increases in white racial liberalism temporally follow increases in the availability of racial equalitarian media messaging, particularly among white liberals and Democrats; and that racial equalitarian media messaging elicits white shame and guilt, which, in turn, increase the expression of racially liberal attitudes and policy preferences. Taken as a whole, the findings have important implications for the existing literature on white racial attitudes, which remains overwhelmingly focused on negative or prejudicial intergroup orientations.


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