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New Report: The Social Construction of Racism in The United States

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press release

New Report: The Social Construction of Racism in The United States

April 7, 2021
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NEW YORK, NY – Recent data show racist attitudes and behaviors in the U.S. are on the decline; so why do Americans believe that our country is becoming progressively more racist? By analyzing a wide variety of scholarship and data sources—including original surveys of his own—Manhattan Institute’s (MI) adjunct fellow,  Eric Kaufmann, suggests that an important part of the reported experience of racism is ideologically malleable. But ideology, though arguably the largest factor, is only partially at fault for spreading the false narrative of growing racism. Partisanship, social media, and education have also inclined Americans to “see” more bigotry and racial prejudice than they previously did.   

In his new report, “The Social Construction of Racism in the United States,” Kaufmann finds that the solution to the public’s misinformed perception is to recognize first, that racism has been amplified by ideological and media construction; and second, that it is partly in the eye of the beholder.   

Across a range of surveys Kaufmann finds that:   

  • Ideology—and, to a lesser degree, social media exposure and university education—has heightened people’s perceptions of racism.

  • Depression and anxiety are linked to perceiving more racism.

  • The level of racism in society reported by whites appears to be driven more by political leaning than the level reported by blacks.

  • Liberal whites are more supportive of punitive Critical Race Theory (CRT) postulates than blacks, who aspire to agency and resilience.

  • CRT appears to have a detrimental effect on African-Americans’ feeling of being in control of their lives.

  • As much as half of reported racism may be ideologically or psychologically conditioned, and the rise in the proportion of Americans claiming racism to be an important problem is largely socially constructed.  

None of this means that racism has been eradicated, but the policy approaches that Kaufmann suggests diverge from those based on the narrative of “systemic” racism that is increasingly prevalent in professional settings. Rather than use shaming or punitive and virtue-signaling measures like CRT, Kaufmann suggests using race-neutral, less contentious initiatives like mentoring, nudges such as nameblind CVs, and randomized control trials to ascertain which interventions work.  

As Kaufmann discusses, the dangers in overstating the presence of racism 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. While it is difficult to totally rid our society of racism, a change in our perception of it would benefit both our local communities and national social fabric.   

For more information or to speak with Eric Kaufmann, contact Leah Thomas at lthomas@manhattan-institute.org 

Click here for the full report

KEY RESULTS FROM ORIGINAL SURVEYS CONDUCTED FOR THIS REPORT 

  • 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. 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 experience 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 white 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 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%.

  • Exposure to social media and other media appears to be related to survey respondents’ view of both the national prevalence of racism and their personal experience of it.

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