White People Face the Worst Racism?

According to a new study, they think so. 

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Whites believe that they have replaced blacks as the primary victims of racial discrimination in contemporary America, according to a new study by researchers at Tufts University's School of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Business School.

The authors of "Whites See Racism as a Zero-Sum Game That They Are Now Losing" found that both whites and blacks agree that anti-black racism has decreased over the last 60 years. That sounds pretty reasonable. But the kicker is that whites surveyed believe that anti-white racism has increased and is now a bigger problem than anti-black racism:

Norton of Harvard asked a nation-wide sample of 208 blacks and 209 whites to indicate the extent to which they felt blacks and whites were the targets of discrimination in each decade from the 1950s to the 2000s. A scale of 1 to 10 was used, with 1 being "not at all" and 10 being "very much."

White and black estimates of bias in the 1950s were similar. Both groups acknowledged little racism against whites at that time but substantial racism against blacks. Respondents also generally agreed that racism against blacks has decreased over time, although whites believed it has declined faster than blacks do.

However, whites believed that racism against whites has increased significantly as racism against blacks has decreased. On average, whites rated anti-white bias as more prevalent in the 2000s than anti-black bias by more than a full point on the 10-point scale. Moreover, some 11 percent of whites gave anti-white bias the maximum rating of 10 compared to only 2 percent of whites who rated anti-black bias a 10. Blacks, however, reported only a modest increase in their perceptions of "reverse racism."

"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," note Norton and Sommers. Whites see racial equality as a zero sum game, in which gains for one group mean losses for the other.

The belief that anti-white bias is more prevalent than anti-black bias has clear implications for future public policy debates and behavioral science research, say the authors.

A co-author of the study called the results "surprising." That's putting in mildly. But maybe we've missed the way white Americans have been systemically deprived of access and opportunities. Maybe we've overlooked all the times whites have been targeted by implicit and explicit race-baiting attacks, whether they're playing professional sports or seeking elected office. Maybe we didn't get the memo on the way the legacy of discrimination against white Americans continues to manifest itself in worse outcomes in income, home ownership, health and employment for them, the way white people are told they're "objectively" ugly, and the disgust so many Americans felt the last time a white person ran for president.

Oh, wait, none of that has happened? So we're talking about white people being victimized by things llike affirmative action, the Smithsonian's new black museum and scholarships for minorities? In that case, perhaps the study should be renamed, "Whites Have Forgotten What Racial Discrimination Actually Is." Until then, we'll just put these bewildering results in the old "Blame it on the small sample size" file.

The study appears in the May 2011 issue of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.

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