Sidebar to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ important article, here’s a scienterrific post from NYMag:
The word discrimination immediately conjures up visions of hostile acts, from mid-century “whites only” signs to redlining practices that stymie African-Americans’ attempts at home ownership.
But an important new paper soon to be published in American Psychologist argues that “in present-day America, discrimination results more from helping ingroup members than from harming outgroup members.” In other words, racist outcomes can arise without much actual racism, simply through the very human tendency to help out people with whom you have something in common.
The co-authors, Anthony Greenwald and Thomas Pettigrew, came to this conclusion after reviewing a wide range of past research on discrimination, from theories of ingroup bonding to a classic study of white- and black-sounding actors calling random numbers and posing as stranded motorists. It’s a provocative finding given that discussions of discrimination in the United States usually center on the idea of one group actively oppressing another. The authors acknowledge that this still occurs (and there is plenty of scholarly evidence about the impact of implicit racism, even among folks with no overt hostility toward racial minorities), but offer up their theory as a means of explaining why we have so many harmful disparities between racial groups despite the facts that explicitly racist policies have been outlawed and public-opinion polls have shown big jumps in tolerance in recent decades…
Yeah, I think Greenwald & Pettigrew may underestimate the level of overt racial animus in modern Americans. But it’s important to recognize how many “majority-Americans” can still honestly believe “I’m not a racist, I’m totally okay with the one Black guy in my office and that Latino family who shows up at our church, and it’s just an unfortunate coincidence those are the only people of color with whom I interact on a regular basis.” Just as a lot of fundamentalists change their mind about the sinfulness of homosexuality when a member of their own family comes out as gay, I suspect a lot of that “big jump in tolerance in recent decades” is less about social uplift and more about how many of us white people have neighbors, co-workers, and family members who are people of color. And I think it’s another argument in favor of “reparations” to involve, for instance, mortgage support for low-income families moving into nicer neighborhoods. Or properly funding Pell grants (or the equivalent), so that not only do striving Black youngsters like Michelle Obama attend Princeton with the ivory-white legacy scions, but some equally determined miners’ kid from West Virginia or Idaho goes to Northwestern, rooms with a Black kid from Chicago, and grows up to be less of a bigot than his parents.