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Researcher: Some White Americans Fear Bias

There are seven active white-nationalist groups in Indiana, and just as many chapters of the Ku Klux Klan in the state, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. (in.gov)
There are seven active white-nationalist groups in Indiana, and just as many chapters of the Ku Klux Klan in the state, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. (in.gov)
December 28, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS -- The number of white Americans who believe they are being discriminated against is rising. How is this affecting the country?

According to a recent poll, 55 percent of white Americans believe their group experiences racial discrimination. Clara Wilkins, an assistant professor of psychology at Wesleyan University who studies prejudice, said this perception has grown rapidly since Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.

For many, his election was a sign of racial progress. But, Wilkins said, a subset of white Americans saw this as upsetting the social order. While it may seem counterintuitive, her research found that people who believe the country is fair and just also are more likely to perceive discrimination against white people after Obama's election.

"For people who think society is fair, they're the ones who sort of tend to think that the order of society where whites have greater access to wealth, power, status, etc., that is legitimate and it's fair and it's not based in bias,” Wilkins said. "And so, if you reject those beliefs - you think that it's not fair - then those are the people who actually welcome social change."

As Wilkins noted, the reality is that vast inequalities in wealth and electoral representation still exist for racial minorities. She said the growing number of hate groups nationwide since Obama's election is one of the dangers from the perception of prejudice against white people.

The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies seven so-called pro-white organizations in Indiana.

Wilkins and her colleague at Wesleyan have been able to measure the growing perception of bias. In one of their studies, participants either read an article on racial progress or one that had nothing to do with race. Those who read the article on racial progress were more likely to believe white people experience discrimination.

And according to Wilkins, further research shows this group isn't likely to stay on the sidelines.

"The problem is that for these people who really think that the order of society should be a particular way, what they experience by perceiving bias is that they should do something to re-establish that order,” she said.

Wilkins said demographic projections showing that white Americans will become the minority in the next few decades contributes to the idea that white people are under attack. She said while fighting back against this perception is hard, the best way might be to downplay notions of competition between different groups in America.

More information on Wilkins's findings is available at TheConversation.com.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IN