Study: White people react to evidence of white privilege by claiming greater personal hardships (Participation)

Frustrated man (Shuttershock)

In a study published in the November issue of Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, L. Taylor Phillips and Brian S. Lowery point out that progress on racial equality is limited by the fact that many whites deny the existence of inequities.

“Despite this reality, policy makers and power brokers continue to debate whether racial privilege even exists and whether to address such inequity,” the researchers noted. “One reason for this inaction might be an unwillingness among Whites to acknowledge racial privilege — acknowledgment that may be difficult given that Whites are motivated to believe that meritocratic systems and personal virtues determine life outcomes.”

“However, claiming personal life hardships may help Whites manage the threatening possibility that they benefit from privilege.”

The researchers argued that understanding the reaction to evidence of racial inequality was important because whites who did not feel that they personally benefited from their ethnicity would be less willing to support policies that were designed to reduce racial inequality.

Subjects in the study were separated into two groups. The group that was shown evidence of white privilege “claimed more hardships than those not exposed to evidence of privilege,” the study found.

A second experiment suggested “that people claim more life hardships in response to evidence of in-group privilege because such information is threatening to their sense of self.” Researchers observed that whites who read self-affirming statements before completing the survey claimed less hardships, and they found that self-affirmations could actually reverse the denial of white privilege.

“Furthermore, Whites’ claims of life hardships mediated their denials of personal privilege, supporting our hypothesis that hardship claims help people deny they personally benefit from privilege — that White privilege extends to themselves,” Phillips and Lowery wrote. “Importantly, these denials of personal privilege were in turn associated with diminished support for affirmative action policies — policies that could help alleviate racial inequity.”

Researchers recommended that efforts to reduce racial inequalities also include the education of advantaged populations.

“Our work suggests that privilege reduction efforts might need to focus not only on convincing or educating advantaged group members about privilege, but also on reducing the feelings of self-threat this information induces,” Phillips and Lowery explained. “The existence of hardships does not reduce racial privilege, since racial privilege entails comparison to someone of a different race with equivalent hardships. People may erroneously think privilege entails complete ease in life and that the presence of any hardships denotes an absence of privilege.”

In conclusion, the study postulated that whites may claim hardship “to maintain not only a positive sense of self, but also the material benefits associated with racial privilege.”

“Whites’ claims of hardship might also serve to legitimize the racial advantages they enjoy, and thereby justify a system that benefits their group.”

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6 comments

  1. I can’t really understand what the article means? does it mean that the whites are being unrealistic by saying they suffer a lot of hardships because of their race, or that by being this type of race you deserved more or less hardships?

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    1. It is pointing out that when confronted with research and evidence, personal experience is used to dismiss the evidence. It also points to different ways privilege is being imagined and defined

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  2. I believe this study does a lot to help out society. Privilege is such a huge controversy that it is important to recognize your privileges and act differently because of them. Just like race it is important to talk about it openly without getting too personal. The only way to get this society moving in a positive direction would be to acknowledge the privileges and change your actions based upon then. Me being blonde and full-blooded Mexican I have encounter a lot of privilege. I was hired for a Spanish speaking job over someone fluent in Spanish because I fit the “look” of a company. (Of course the company promoted white, blonde, and skinny girls which is why the darker mexican did not get the job). Because of my false racial appearance and “White” name I am treated significantly better then my sibling who are all darker than I am. I even took notice to it during school events and how even teachers were most likely to pick on a white kid to answer a question then my brother.

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  3. It is important that one must recognize that white privilege is socially constructed and that together as a society we have to make it clear to those who are not aware and break down the stereotypes and prejudice that comes with race. If society once built the idea of race, white privilege etc. and is continuing to do so we must change that now. This study has helped society to realize the concept and all aspects that relate to white privilege.

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  4. This article is very interesting because i have personally noticed this happen in my life. This reminds me and makes me think of how many people are oblivious and take for granted the lives they have. You see people everyday “giving up” because a test is too hard or because they are so stressed from their homework load, but they have no idea. This article really connected with me because personally i try to accept that i have a more privileged life than many have had, and because of this i try to give back through charity and volunteering, and etc. Instead of being blind to the fact that they’re privileged compared to many and trying to hide and say they’re not, they should try to bring equality instead of hiding behind inequality.

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  5. This article is very interesting to me because a month or so back I saw an article post on Facebook talking about white privilege. All the comments on the post denied white privilege and said it was just propaganda. I think this stems from people not being educated about what white privilege actually entails and also from people living in a small bubble. I even hear people in my family making comments without being informed. I can see why people would automatically deny white privilege. It’s hard to admit that you benefit from your race. It makes you feel guilty. As said in the article, the advantaged group needs to be educated on this matter in an appropriate manner so they do not feel threatened. There should be classes in high school like CES 101 that teaches these types of things. I know I wasn’t fully educated on white privilege or some of the topics we talk about. Some people live in a very sheltered world and are not aware. Instead of dismissing the issue, having self-pity and being defensive, people should recognize the issue and then see what they can do to help the situation.

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