Misc, Race, Social Issues, Spring 2016 Articles

For Whites, Perceptions of “Reverse Discrimination” are on the Rise

Fifty years after the civil rights era, racial discrimination remains a real and vexing force in American society today. While majorities of blacks and whites believe that progress has been made towards racial equality for minorities, recent polls suggest that many white Americans may view this progress to be linked to a new inequality- at their expense.

As noted in a previous Pack Poll article, 43% of white students at State believe that they face equivalent levels of discrimination compared to blacks and non-black people of color. Our polling results are in line with the Public Religion Research Institute’s (PRRI) American Values Survey of 2014, which focused on examining Americans’ perception of racial inequality. That study found that despite holding economic and social advantages, more than half (52%) of white Americans agreed that discrimination against them has become as big a problem today as discrimination against blacks and other people of color. By contrast, fewer than three in ten Hispanic (35%) and black Americans (29%) agree with this sentiment.


There are also, however, striking generational and class divisions among white Americans in regards to the issue of racial discrimination. In comparison to white Millennials, older white Americans are more likely to believe that discrimination against white Americans rivals the problem of discrimination against other racial minority groups.

Similar results are found between white working-class Americans and white college-educated Americans, where 58% of white working-class Americans as opposed to 37% of white college-educated Americans agree that discrimination is just as big a problem for white people. Moreover, the belief about discrimination against white Americans has remained fairly constant in recent years. While 45% of Americans in 2014 agreed that discrimination against white Americans became equivalent to the level of discrimination against other racial minority groups, a close number of 44% agreed to the same statement back in 2010.


The widespread perception that “reverse discrimination” against whites is at odds with the wide range of disparities that exist in society.  Blacks and non-black people of color, for example, experience worse outcomes than whites in areas such as income, homeownership, employment, education, and health. Unemployment rates have historically been much higher for blacks and non-black people of color, which contributes to their lower levels of income and wealth. Whites have roughly 10 times the wealth of blacks and other racial groups, making blacks and other non-black people of color less likely to own the roof over their heads. Such factors also contribute to disparities in education and health, leaving blacks and minorities without the same educational opportunities as whites and with issues in health that lead to a shorter life span starting before birth.


Since objective data are lacking, whites may possibly feel this way due to their lack of awareness of how race in America functions.  Some scholars go so far as to credit whites’ denial of current discrimination against non-whites as an indicator of prejudice itself.  Alternatively, the chasm might be a product of the growing anxiety about America transitioning into a minority-majority nation-where the meaning of whiteness may change significantly.


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