Structured Ignorance and Organized Racism in the United States

A theory of structured ignorance is developed and applied in an analysis of variation in the number of racist organizations in U.S. counties in 1997 and 2000. The theory identifies forms of structural differentiation that would make the worldview constructed within racist organizations seem plausible to a critical mass of individuals. I argue that racial and ethnic heterogeneity, industrial heterogeneity, income inequality, and changes in the economic structure within local communities provide "evidence" that may appear to be consistent with white supremacists' claims if individuals lack an alternative interpretation. Educational inequality, however, inhibits racist organizing by facilitating the exchange of information that could be used to reject the white supremacists' claims and by promoting passive acceptance of the existing order.