September 1, 2017


Racist behaviour is declining in America (The Economist, Sep 1st 2017)

Research by Leonardo Bursztyn of the University of Chicago and colleagues suggests that Mr Trump's November win has certainly helped embolden white supremacists to go public. Before the election, the researchers offered survey participants a cash reward if they authorised a donation to a strongly anti-immigrant organization on their behalf. One group were told the donation would be in complete confidence, while the second group that the surveyor would know about their choice and discuss it with them in a future session. The group told that their donation would be anonymous was more likely to take the reward and authorise the donation than the group who were told their decision would be (comparatively) public. Mr Bursztyn and colleagues repeated the experiment after the election, and the gap between the groups disappeared. 

The researchers report that Donald Trump's election victory did not make participants more xenophobic--but it did make those who were already xenophobic more comfortable about expressing their views without the shield of anonymity. The Charlottesville protest matches that result: racists were willing to march in public, but there weren't very many racists. Only about 500 people were involved and they were rapidly outnumbered by counter-protestors. In Boston, counter-demonstrations to a subsequent "free speech" rally organized by alt-right groups drew at least fifteen times the people who turned up to the rally itself. And while those with racist views may have become freer about expressing them, a recent Marist poll suggests only 4% of Americans say they 'mostly agree' with the white supremacy movement (there is greater evidence of professed racist views amongst supporters of Mr Trump). 

Long-term trends, meanwhile, suggest a decline in both professed racist views and racist acts. On a range of survey measures including reported discomfort about living next to someone of a different race, or opposition to inter-racial marriage, Americans appear far less racist than in the past. Only 4% of Americans supported inter-racial marriage in 1958. By 1997 that was 50%; today it is 87%. Inter-racial marriages climbed from 7 to 15 percent of all marriages between 1980 and 2010. And racially and ethnically motivated hate crimes reported to the FBI fell 48% between 1994 and 2015. Because local law enforcement agencies aren't required to report hate crimes to the FBI and because they can only report to Washington if the crime has been reported to them in the first place, the FBI statistics are a considerable underestimate of the problem. But the trend is still revealing.

One reason for changing attitudes may be greater exposure to positive images of minorities.

Posted by at September 1, 2017 6:49 PM