Thursday, February 4, 2016

Racism as a Zero-Sum Game

Kevin Drum highlights a fascinating bit of research from sociologists by Michael Norton and Samuel Sommers about how whites and blacks perceive the history of racism in America. As you can see, both white and black Americans agree that anti-black racism was pervasive in the 1950s and that things have gotten better on that front. The curves for the history of anti-black bias are not really so different. The huge difference comes in the perception of bias against whites. Black Americans see this as an insignificant problem, although it is interesting that enough respondents recognized that it might exist for the average value to rise to a 2 out of 10. White Americans, meanwhile, think anti-white bias is a real and growing thing; in fact they think it is now a worse problem than anti-black bias. Norton and Samuel did not break down their data by the politics of their respondents, but you can bet that conservative Republicans are much more likely to think this way.

Norton and Sommers call this "zero sum thinking," that is, if blacks are getting more of the pie, then whites must by definition be getting less. They quote Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who once said, in a the confirmation hearing for a Supreme Court justice,
Empathy for one party is always prejudice against another.
I think this is pretty much to be expected, given how things are going in America. If white Americans felt that the country were going gangbusters and everyone could look forward to a better future, they would probably worry less about gains made by blacks and Hispanics. But hardly anybody feels that way. People feel besieged, and a majority of whites worry that their children will be worse off than they are. In that circumstance, any help given to someone else feels unfair; where is my help?

Many white Americans look around and see that rich people have all kinds of advantages, and minorities have affirmative action, and they think, we have nothing. Nobody is looking out for us. This attitude has been widespread at least since 1968, when Nixon appealed to the "silent majority." Personally I think it is crazy to believe that nobody is paying attention to the problems of the white middle class, who have been at the focus of every election in my life and no doubt most of them before I was born. But if you feel like you are losing at life, as millions of Americans do, you look around for reasons. You wonder why there is no government program to help people like you. And when somebody like Donald Trump comes along and says that it isn't your fault, that what we need is to take American back to its great days, you may be tempted to listen.


G. Verloren said...

How easy it is to call another's shoes more comfortable than one's own, so long as you've never walked a mile in them.

leif said...

man, this is just sick. so few people get that an egalitarian approach is the safest, most secure for all.