Study Finds White Americans Believe They Experience More Racism Than African Americans
Jan. 3 2013
There’s a saying that “the new racism is to deny that racism exists.” If that is the case, it may explain a study conducted by researchers from Tufts University’s School of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Business School. Their findings claim that self-described white Americans believe they have “replaced blacks” as the primary victims of racial discrimination in contemporary America.
The authors say that their study highlights how the expectations of a “post-racial” society, predicted or imagined in the wake of Barack Obama’s presidency, has far from been achieved.
The study finds that while both Caucasian and African Americans agree that anti-black racism has decreased over the last 60 years, whites believe that anti-white racism has increased. Moreover, the study finds that the majority of Caucasians believe that anti-white racism is a “bigger problem” than what African Americans face.
Tufts Associate Professor of Psychology Samuel Sommers, PhD is the co-author of the article “Whites See Racism as a Zero-sum Game that They Are Now Losing,” from the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. He comments that ”It’s a pretty surprising finding when you think of the wide range of disparities that still exist in society, most of which show black Americans with worse outcomes than whites in areas such as income, home ownership, health and employment.”
The study was conducted by Sommers and co-author Michael I. Norton of Harvard asking a roughly equal national sample of 209 Caucasians and 208 African Americans to indicate, on a scale of 1 to 10, the extent to which they felt blacks and whites were the targets of discrimination in decades spanning from the 1950s to the 2000s. The scale’s ranking of 1 indicated “not at all” while 10 indicates “very much.”
Both groups reported roughly the same things for the 1950s, with neither believing Caucasians experienced much racism at all during that turbulent decade. Both similarly agreed that at the same time, there was substantial racism against African Americans. Both groups also agreed that racism against African Americans has steadily decreased over time. But here’s where the study gets interesting. Caucasians surveyed believe that the discrimination faced by their African American neighbors has decreased much more rapidly than the African American respondents. Furthermore, they believe that while African Americans now have it better, they – the Caucasians surveyed – have taken their place as the primary targets of discrimination.
“These data are the first to demonstrate that not only do whites think more progress has been made toward equality than do blacks, but whites also now believe that this progress is linked to a new inequality – at their expense,” Norton and Sommers explain.
An astounding 11% of Caucasian respondents assigned the maximum rating of 10 to the seriousness of anti-white discrimination. Compare that with only 2% who reported the same of anti-black racism. Caucasians, the study found, often believe that racial equality is “a zero sum game,” where one group gains at the expense of others.