Research highlight

Society: Measuring perceptions of “reverse racism” in the United States

Nature Human Behaviour

December 10, 2019

Americans generally do not believe that decreases in racial discrimination against black people translate into rising bias against white people, reports a new paper in Nature Human Behaviour. The study indicates that discrimination has declined over time for both black and white Americans. However, perceptions of the size of the discrimination gap between black and white people varies by race and political affiliation.

Political polarization and far-right movements across the West are thought to be partly driven by beliefs that white people face discrimination in societies that supposedly favour non-white persons. Recent experimental research suggests that some white Americans believe that decreases in discrimination against black Americans have been accompanied by increases in discrimination against white people, a type of zero-sum thinking. However, previous studies have been small and non-representative of the US population, and it is unknown how widespread these zero-sum beliefs are.

Megan Earle and Gordon Hodson analysed four large national datasets to evaluate both the actual extent of discrimination reported by different groups and perceptions about these experiences. They found that all groups recognised that black Americans experience more discrimination than white Americans, and, overall, respondents did not believe that discrimination has reversed. However, beliefs in the size of the gap in discrimination experienced by the two groups varied among different groups. White respondents and Republicans believed that the difference in levels of discrimination was smaller than black respondents and Democrats did. White respondents, Republicans, and white Republicans also perceived a smaller gap than was actually reported based on personal experiences of discrimination.

The study suggests that belief in ‘reverse discrimination’ is not as widespread as previously reported, but race and political party are associated with different perceptions about the scale of discrimination faced by different groups in America.

doi: 10.1038/s41562-019-0777-1

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