How do White People Perceive Racism in 2011? [Reader Forum]

Readers from a variety of perspectives chime in on a new study, which indicates that whites now think themselves more discriminated against than blacks.

By Channing Kennedy May 31, 2011

This week, Asraa Mustufa wrote for us about a new study from researchers at Tufts and Harvard Business School, in which 208 black people and 209 white people were surveyed about their perceptions of racial attitudes in the United States. Both groups felt that racism toward blacks was substantial in the 1950s and relatively minimal for whites. However a good number of white respondents felt that these days anti-white racism is on the rise. It’s the idea that racial progress is a zero-sum game — that in order for one group to get ahead, another must suffer.

As you can imagine, this report made for some serious Colorlines commenter bait, with both regular community members and first-time visitors chiming in with some great points about language, perspective, and unattended social systems. Do click through to read the full threads and respond from your own areas of expertise (unless systemic racism has been solved by the time this publishes, in which case, forget it).


This reminds me of a study done in an elementary school classroom. When teachers called on students at random, they consistently called on boys more than girls and boys perceived this as fair. When teachers used a process where they consciously called on girls and boys at an equal rate, boys perceived this as "unfair."

The agent of oppression (ie., whites or males) receives ignorance of their behaviors as a consequence of the institutionalized ism. Whites’ perceiving things as "discriminatory" when a social dynamic is actually changing to be more equal is like a reflex after being raised under unequal circumstances, even if the person may intellectually favor equality.

Mary Beth Beckman:

[…] As a white woman, I have experienced racism, but not to the scale that I know racism against blacks exists. I’m embarrassed of the US in general almost all the time. We’ve got an ignorant populace and rich mofos benefitting from this ignorance and encouraging it. Ick.


A poor, exploited rural white person living in Appalachia or the Deep South still benefits from white privilege. Yes, they are discriminated against. But in my opinion it is classism, NOT racism. Yes, race is a constructed concept, but it still wields considerable power. Us pretending that it doesn’t exist won’t make it go away, just make us blind to its affects.

I, as a person of color with considerable access to different institutions of power such as education, am more privileged than some poor white person living in West Virginia close to a mountain top removal site. That doesn’t mean that racism doesn’t exist, and I’m sorry, racism doesn’t affect white people. Yes, they may be discriminated against, but racism to me equals prejudice + power. People of color don’t have the institutional power needed to be racist towards white people.

Race was constructed to keep poor people of color and poor whites from working together.

Health Equity MI:

What about institutionalized racism? Who is bearing that burden? Considering the health disparity numbers I have seen, I would say that is a type of racism white Americans probably don’t feel — and might not have knowledge of. The results of this study indicate that the general population does not have a grasp on the extent and depth racism exists in our society.

Rafael Shimunov:

As we become more segregated as a nation I fear that our exposure to myths are increasing together with our experience with realities decreasing. We see more black Americans sell out stadiums, concerts, the box office, and win the two most visible position of power 1) the White House and 2) our children’s headphones. Then we witness less (if not zero) situations involving the exponentially larger truth on the ground, like infrastructure inequity, the cradle to prison pipeline, the real unemployment rates in our cities, and infant mortality comparable to wartorn nations.

Sometimes the media gets it right and puts that story in someone’s face unexpectedly, providing the only alternative to the myths on a rare occasion. But we as media consumers are increasingly choosing our own media, just as we chose "our own" community by making it untouchable to others. Add telecommuting and, apart from someone launching an Equity Virus with some screensaver stats, John Smith can go through his entire life wondering why he can’t find a job while everyone else is making it. He knows he works hard, and he has no reason to believe working hard won’t result in success, not in America. So it must be because of something or someone else, right?

Ironically there is a free market belief that unharnessed capitalism only creates wealth, thus one person’s gain does not take from another, it is created. Conservatives who believe that any upward movement for black Americans means something was taken away from them should be challenged if they also believe unabashed capitalism has no losers. You can’t have both arguments.

Katherine Ellington:

Well then, there’s the acknowledgment of the existence of racism. Clearly there’s an opportunity here for framing.


[…] There have been many studies done that show actual palpable physical damage done to minorities as a result of institutionalized racism and societal neglect. Maybe "reverse discrimination" does exist against whites, but I have yet to see any statistics at all that shows their standards of living has suffered because of their mere existence as white people in this country.

Malice sucks, yes. Prolonged, sustained, institutionalized malice kills.


No cause to be alarmed. It’s just a crazy person with a study they mis-interpreted, like that weird Asian guys’ study on how black women are ugly.

And a well-deserved last word to kornfeld.

I am so tired of whites playing the "reverse racism" card. Whatever happened to personal responsibility?


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