Racial discrimination, interpretation, and legitimation at work

Ryan Light*, Vincent J. Roscigno, Alexandra Kalev

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research on race stratification and employment usually implies discrimination as a key mechanism in race stratification, although few if any analyses bring attitudes, employee-employer interpretations, and established discriminatory behavior into a singular analysis. In this article, the authors do so and offer a relational account of how discrimination operates, drawing on a large sample of verified racial discrimination cases. Building on racial stratification literature and theory on "color-blind" racism, the analyses focus on employee and employer interpretations and then use dyadic analyses coupled with qualitative case immersion to shed light on the relational nature of discrimination and how employers justify such conduct. Findings highlight significant interpersonal disjunctures in descriptions of common events as well as the ways in which employers evoke broad organizational and societal ideals of meritocracy-ideals that often fall by the wayside in concrete decision-making pertaining to and in evaluation of minority employees.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-59
Number of pages21
JournalAnnals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • beliefs
  • discrimination
  • gender inequality
  • legitimation
  • racial inequality
  • relational approach
  • workplace


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