In my lifetime the shift toward equality has been remarkable. Until the late 1960s the preferential treatment of whites and men was so normal that questioning it made headlines. That form of white male privilege is gone. Quite a few white men are so upset at the loss of that privilege that they now complain about discrimination.
On the online debate forum Debate.org, you can read dozens of white male complaints about discrimination against them. A study by Harvard and Tufts sociologists in 2011 quantifies this white certainty that they are now the underprivileged. White and black men and women were asked to rate the amount of discrimination against both ethnic groups. They all agreed that through the 1960s, there was significant discrimination against blacks and virtually none against whites. But then opinions diverge. Whites believe that discrimination against blacks has now nearly disappeared, while discrimination against themselves has greatly increased, well past the amount against blacks. The researchers summarized: “Whites believe...the pendulum has now swung beyond equality in the direction of anti-white discrimination.”
White feelings of discrimination are more common among the working class, according to a 2012 survey: about 60% of white working-class Americans said that discrimination against whites is as great as discrimination against blacks and other minorities, while 39% of college-educated whites believe that.
Those feelings are much more likely among conservatives, older Americans and people in the South.
Such beliefs are comforting to whites, especially men, who are dissatisfied with their lives. It’s all because of discrimination against them! Racist whites were delighted about the results of that study. On the neo-Nazi website Stormfront, one responder had a great idea, expressed in a typically racist manner: “Someone should make a youtube video with White and Black equally qualified job applicants (or even make the White person more qualified to be even more realistic) and drop some hint that one applicant is a Negro. I guarantee that the Black job applicant will be getting a call back while the White applicant is plain out of luck.”
Well, someone has done that, or something like it. In response to job ads in newspapers, the National Bureau of Economic Research sent out 5000 resumes with names that sounded black or white, like Lakisha and Jamal, or Emily and Greg. Although the resumes were the same in every other respect, “white” names received 50% more callbacks than “black” names. That racist result was true across a variety of industries, including employers who advertise “equal opportunity”. Having a “white” name was equivalent to eight more years of experience for a “black” applicant.
A similar study this year of possible racism was done by sending a white and a minority tester of the same age and gender posing as a possible home renter or buyer. Across 8000 tests in 28 cities across the US, blacks were shown 11% fewer rentals and 17% fewer homes than whites. Whites were likely to be offered lower rents, or quoted lower prices. This was a significant improvement over the first time this study was done in 1977, but still far from equality, much less anti-white discrimination.
Some people wondered whether the election of Barack Obama meant an era of racial equality had finally arrived. We know better now. Suppose Hillary is elected President in 2016. Would that mean that women’s equality has been achieved? I know some white men who would probably go further – they would say that being a woman is an advantage, that another nail has been put into the coffin of white men, now always at a disadvantage.
Too much attention is paid to the few women and the few African Americans who manage to reach high positions. What counts is the next election, the next promotion, the next hire. Will a woman have an equal chance? Will an African American have any chance?
Would Hillary’s election mean that a woman, Republican or Democrat, has an equal chance as a man in the next election? Of course not.
All the complaints about affirmative action and the whining by white men that they now suffer from discrimination imply one thing – that less qualified women and minorities are being unfairly put in front. But it’s very hard to find any such examples. Much more likely is that less qualified white men get the nod. Hence the slow pace toward equality of opportunity.
We have not reached equality, much less some fantasy world where having been the object of discrimination forever gives one extra power. We have reached a point far enough away from unquestioned white male privilege that the reduction in that advantage is being felt. None of the complainers can cite a single study that shows any real privilege for minorities or for women. But that won’t stop the whining.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, November 26, 2013