The Bias of Poverty
Chicago -- Scholars from the Harvard Business School and Tufts University's Department of Psychology recently confirmed the obvious in contemporary American race relations. The title of their report, 'Whites See Racism as a Zero-Sum Game That They Are Now Losing' pretty much says it all.
Published late last month in the journal Perspectives on Psychological
Science, the report by Michael Norton and Samuel Sommers says whites believe
that as bias against blacks decreased in the last six decades, intentional
discrimination against whites has increased. Whites now see anti-white bias as
a bigger societal problem than anti-black bias.
Claims of reverse-racism are as old as the first anti-discrimination
laws. And with the recent economic insecurity, it is not surprising that
majorities are looking to blame minorities for real and perceived stunted
Sometimes, they can even point to concrete evidence of bias.
In March, when census data were released, there were headlines
practically predicting the end of the white race. Between hearing about the
population explosion of Hispanics and the drastic drop in the numbers of white
children, it is no wonder Caucasians are feeling insecure.
In the two weeks before the
authors findings were published, and in the thick of the worst employment
situation since the Great Depression, a few of these out of the ordinary news
stories went viral. Last month the Dots clothing store chain agreed to pay
$246,500 to a group of at least 23 white applicants in Hobart, Ind., after the
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued for explicitly denying
them jobs because of their race.
Near the same time, four white Philadelphia teachers filed federal
race-bias lawsuits accusing their black principal of creating a hostile work
environment by requiring them to read an article that made the claim that white
teachers do not have the ability to teach African-American students and letting
black teachers ignore rules that their white counterparts had to follow.
These are exceptional cases -- the EEOC has handled almost 600,000
race-based discrimination claims just since 1992, almost all involving
And let us not forget that the anti-white narrative targets other
minority groups: Asian immigrants are said to steal high-tech jobs from
qualified white graduates, illegal Latin American immigrants are seen as taking
manual labor jobs that U.S. citizens would do if they were paid a fair wage,
and students who are not proficient in the English language are blamed for
drawing time and financial resources away from the usually white students who
But for every indicator that whites are having a harder time in life,
there are many others that unquestionably show that whites still have a
tremendous edge over nonwhites in income, educational attainment and rates of
incarceration. And, of course, there are plenty of rigorous studies documenting
various minority group's high levels of feeling discriminated against, too.
That all groups feel aggrieved by other's treatment of them based on their race
is a sort of a sad equality unto itself.
This is why Norton and Sommers' conclusion presents us with an
opportunity to take some of the laser focus off racial discrimination and
instead move on to the issue underlying the angst: socio-economics. It's time
to recast our current societal tensions as stemming primarily not from racial
bias but from a lack of economic opportunities that, frankly, don't
Poverty is the No. 1 circumstance that determines a person's range of
life opportunities. Despite the larger percentage of poverty that blacks,
Hispanics and Asians experience compared to whites, by raw numbers there were
almost 19 million whites living in poverty at the end of 2009 compared to 12
million Hispanics, 10 million blacks and 1.8 million Asians.
If Norton and Sommer's research has a wide-ranging impact on
anti-discrimination laws, it might offer the opportunity to redefine
discrimination more equitably. Thinking about financial advantages and
disadvantages, rather than in racial or ethnic terms, when re-evaluating laws
related to affirmative action and equal treatment is probably the best way to
forge ahead in a soon-to-be minority-majority country.
© 2011, Washington Post Writers Group