Often Our Feelings Trump the Facts (355)

NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard University School of Public Health recently polled a national representative sample of Americans about their experience of being on the receiving end of discrimination when interacting with police, applying for jobs or seeking promotions, renting apartments or buying homes, or when going to a doctor. All minority groups reported some experience of discrimination in those situations. What caught my attention was 55% of white people polled perceived that they too we’re victims of discrimination. Few of those poll respondents, however, could report they’ve experienced it themselves. They just feel it exists. One white man polled said such discrimination has been going on for decades and it’s getting worse. When asked how he knows that to be true he gave an example from his own experience. He said he lost out in a promotion at work when a younger African-American candidate, rather than he, was selected to be a finalist for the promotion. So, the African-American got the job rather than him? No, the promotion eventually went to another white man, but this man still felt he was being discriminated against because he was white.

Even though very clear data show that white people are persistently better off financially and educationally than minority groups, there’s still a feeling among many white Americans that anti-white discrimination is real. Of the poll respondents who insisted this was true, very few of them could point to any specific experience where they or someone they knew experienced it. And even when an example was given, like the one above about a work promotion, it turns out there was no anti-white discrimination occurring – the job eventually went to a white man. But the man still felt like he was a victim of anti-white discrimination. This canard of anti-white discrimination defies credulity. All one must do is look at who leads our government, businesses, and yes, churches, to see there’s no evidence to back this up. We should never be afraid of the facts, come what may, cost what they will, because only then can we address what’s really going on. So, what’s really going on?

Well, one further insight from the poll may shed some light on why this feeling persists among these respondents. Their income level was a great predictor for how they reacted. The lower the white person’s income, the more likely they perceived discrimination in applying for a job, getting a raise or promotion at work, or in applying for college. Former president Lyndon Johnson once observed: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” The idea there’s wide-spread and growing discrimination against white people is just another classic misdirection, the kind to which Mr. Johnson referred. Working-class folk see how hard it is for them to make ends meet. They’re being left behind in the economy and educational opportunities are increasingly beyond their financial reach. Rather than address the real wage stagnation these folks are experiencing or their ballooning costs for higher education over the last 40 years, we’re told who to blame: “It’s those darn minorities who are getting all the goodies.” The facts, of course, don’t bear this out, but too often for us our feelings trump the facts.



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