Evolution of Racism in the USA
* Report: The Social Construction of Racism in the United States. Eric Kaufmann, April 7, 2021
By Coleman Hughes:
"Bigotry is real. Yet the public perception of bigotry has surpassed the reality to such an extent that it has become a moral panic. White supremacy is said to be rampant. Black people should fear for their lives when going for a jog, one New York Times op-ed argued.
Yet as political scientist Eric Kaufmann lays out in this paper, the public has a mistaken perception of how much racism exists in America today. This misperception is not only driven by cognitive biases such as the availability heuristic, it is also driven by ideas. Critical race theory and intersectionality—formerly confined to graduate seminars—have seeped into corporate America and Silicon Valley, as well as into many K–12 education systems. With their spread has come an increase in the misperception that bigotry is everywhere, even as the data tell a different story: racism exists, but there has never been less racism than there is now.
If America’s racial tensions ever heal, it will be because we were able to align our perceptions with our reality and leave moral panics at the door.
This paper begins with a version of Tocqueville’s paradox: at a time when measures of racist attitudes and behavior have never been more positive, pessimism about racism and race relations has increased in America.
Why? An analysis of a wide variety of data sources, including several new surveys that I conducted, suggests that the paradox is best explained by changes in perceptions of racism rather than an increase in the frequency of racist incidents. That is, ideology, partisanship, social media, and education have inclined Americans to “see” more bigotry and more racial prejudice than they previously did. This is true not only regarding the level of racism in society but even of their personal experiences. My survey findings suggest that an important part of the reported experience of racism is ideologically malleable. Reports of increased levels of racism during the Trump era, for example, likely reflect perception rather than reality—just as people have almost always reported rising violent crime when it has been declining during most of the past 25 years. In addition, people who say that they are sad or anxious at least half the time, whether white or black, are about twice as likely as others to say that they have experienced racism and discrimination.
None of this means that racism is an imaginary problem. However, efforts to reduce it should be based on strong empirical evidence and bias-free measures. The risks of overlooking racism are clear: injustice is permitted to persist and grow. Yet there are also clear dangers in overstating its presence. These go well beyond majority resentment and polarization. A media-generated narrative about systemic racism distorts people’s perceptions of reality and may even damage African-Americans’ sense of control over their lives.
Key Findings Include:
Eight in 10 African-American survey respondents believe that young black men are more likely to be shot to death by the police than to die in a traffic accident; one in 10 disagrees. Among a highly educated sample of liberal whites, more than six in 10 agreed. In reality, considerably more young African-American men die in car accidents than are shot to death by police. —Ideology, not education, influences the extent to which people are incorrect on police shootings and traffic accidents.
—Black Trump voters are almost 30 points more likely to get the question right than black Biden voters.
—Conservative whites are almost 50 points more likely to get it right than liberal whites.
—African-Americans who strongly agree that white Republicans are racist are 40 points more likely to get the question wrong than those who strongly disagree that white Republicans are racist.
Black Biden voters are twice as likely as black Trump voters to say that they personally experienced more racism under Trump than under Obama. Black Trump voters reported a consistent level of racism under both administrations. Black respondents who strongly agree that white Republicans are racist are 20–30 points more likely to say that they experience various personal forms of racism than African-Americans who strongly disagree that white Republicans are racist.
Reading a passage from critical race theory author Ta-Nehisi Coates results in a significant 15-point drop in black respondents’ belief that they have control over their lives.
A slight majority of African-Americans and whites overall felt that political correctness on race is demeaning to black people rather than necessary to protect them. Among blacks, the difference between liberals and conservatives was 3 points (51% of the liberals thought it was demeaning vs. 54% of the conservatives). Among whites, however, there was a nearly 20-point divide between liberals and conservatives (43% of the liberals thought it was demeaning vs. 62% of the conservatives).
Liberal African-Americans with a college degree are nearly 30 points more likely to find a statement by a white person such as “I don’t notice people’s race” or “America is a colorblind society” offensive than African-Americans without degrees who identify as conservative. Among whites, the gap between liberals and conservatives is 50 points.
When asked to choose between a future in which racially offensive remarks were so heavily punished as to be nonexistent and one where minorities were so confident that they no longer felt concerned about racial insults, black respondents overall preferred, by a 53%–47% margin, the resilience option. White liberals preferred the punitive option, by a 71%–29% margin; black liberals chose the second option by just 6 points, 53%–47%.
In general, African-Americans’ opinion on race issues appears to be less affected by ideology and partisanship than white opinion. In a 2015 Pew survey, 20 points separated “very conservative” and “very liberal” African- Americans on whether racism is a very big problem. The gap between “very conservative” and “very liberal” whites was 65 points; the gap between “very conservative” and “very liberal” Hispanics and Asians was 40 points.
Exposure to social media and other media appears to be related to survey respondents’ views of both the national prevalence of racism and their personal experience of it."