June 29, 2007

White People Don't Underestimate Racism. Duh.

I recently read this article about a recent study. Unfortunately, the study itself was not available online for free but the article got me thinking. Here's an excerpt from the article.

To White Americans, giving up television is a hardship; being Black is not. That's the upshot of a series of studies by researchers at The Ohio State University.

As part of the studies, Whites of different ages and geographic regions were asked how much they deserved to be paid for living the rest of their lives as an African-American.

Respondents generally requested less than $10,000 to become Black. However, they said they'd have to be paid $1 million to give up television for the rest of their lives.

"The costs of being Black in our society are very well documented," says study co-author Philip Mazzocco. "Blacks have significantly lower income and wealth, higher levels of poverty and even shorter life spans, among many other disparities, compared to Whites.

"When Whites say they would need $1 million to give up TV, but less than $10,000 to become Black, that suggests they don't really understand the extent to which African-Americans, as a group, are disadvantaged," says Mazzocco.

In another scenario, the references "White" and "America" were omitted, and participants were asked to select between being born a minority or majority in a fictional country called, "Atria." They were warned of the disadvantages that the minority group faced — the same disparities faced by Black Americans — and they said they should be paid an average of $1 million to be born a minority.

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Interesting study.*

Wait, so according to this article white people don't understand racism? They (we) deny it? How shocking!

The article goes on to interpret the article, saying that the study shows that it's not that white people don't care - they just don't understand and they need to be taught.

I think that it's great that people are working to study this issue quantitatively but the analysis does not seem to be enough. It's important to dig deeper. It's to white people's advantage to not know what's going on. After all, that way they can continue doing what they are doing and remain on the top.

I don't think it's fair to just act like by no fault of their own white people are uninformed. The implication there seems to be that racism hasn't ended yet because black people haven't put enough effort into educating white people about today's circumstances.

White people don't know what's going on because they aren't looking, listening, or paying attention.

That's what I think of this article, what do you think? It's also worth reading in the article because the researchers did some interesting work on slave reparations, too.

My question to you all is do you think studies like this are useful? Do you think that people are wasting their research on the obvious or do you think that as a tool to point out white people's blindness very clearly, they are useful? Do you think it is intentional that the analysis (and seemingly the study itself) does not focus on the ways that white people may be intentionally ignorant, or the way people with power intentionally set up a world where many white people do not learn this information? Or is that just legitimately a topic for another study?

*While I can see some flaws in the study's methodology as reported in this article, like that in one part, the study asked how much they would have to be paid to "live the rest of their lives," and in the other part they were asked about being born one race. Maybe the numbers show that white people think all racism happens in childhood? Still, the disparity between what white people thought in an American context versus what they thought in some hypothetical context that happens to be the same as an American context is stark enough that there is clearly something going on here.

3 comments:

Sam Jack said...

Maybe the people in the study thought it would sound racist to demand a lot of money to be black. I mean, if someone had asked them what they thought the average total economic disadvantage of minority status were, you'd get a different answer.

But I can see how people might take it as, "Do you think it would be so icky to be a minority that you would have to be paid lots of money to make the switch?" I would answer 'no' to that, but that isn't the same as underestimating racism, is it?

Scott said...

I'm thinking I agree with the possibility presented in the first comment.

While I wholeheartedly agree that white America doesn't grasp the reality of being black in this country, upon first reading the question presented, I could picture the average person looking at it not as a question of living the life of a nonwhite person, but having her skin color (with no mention of the privilege she's used to).

wannatakethisoutside said...

Perhaps interpreted this way, this study displays another outlook of us as white people finding a way to turn racism around. For example, when we worry about trying not to say something that "sounds racist," we end up analyzing racism in this country as if it's all about us - and by thus become concerned about being "accused" of racism.

In order to avoid dealing with it, we try to turn it around so that we are the (potential) victims - the victims of hurtful accusations of racism.

Just another interesting way to look at these questions.