White Americans long for the 1950s, when they didn’t face so much discrimination (Double Participation)

 November 17 at 1:30 PM

Yes, you read that headline correctly.

In a new poll released by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) on Tuesday, a whopping 43 percent of Americans told researchers that discrimination against whites has become as large a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minority groups. And an even bigger share of Americans — 53 percent — told pollsters American culture and “way of life” have mostly changed for the worse since 1950.


The two would appear to be related. Here’s how.

First, there are some real and large differences in the way that different groups of Americans answered those two questions up above. Half of white Americans — including 60 percent of the white working class — told researchers that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem today as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. Meanwhile, 29 percent of Latinos and 25 percent of black Americans agreed. White Americans feel put-upon and mistreated — and large shares of non-white Americans do not seem to have any knowledge of the challenges that white Americans say they face.

Of course, there are always aspects of other people’s lives that we do not or cannot understand. But the sheer size of the racial/ethnic gap concerning perceived discrimination against white Americans is particularly interesting because there is very little in the way of objective evidence of this discrimination and the disadvantage that typically follows. On just about every measure of social or economic well-being, white Americans fare better than any other group.

That’s true of housing and neighborhood quality and homeownership. That’s true of overall healthhealth insurance coverage ratesquality of health care receivedlife expectancy and infant mortality. That’s true when it comes to median household earningswealth (assets minus debt), retirement savings and even who has a bank account.

That’s true when one actually looks at who is graduating from college, who holds the bulk of the nation’s high-paying and management jobs and who does not. That last point really has to be made clear. Look closely at the chart below. Notice a pattern? Asian Americans out-earn all other groups, but not by much, despite, as a group, obtaining more education. And black women and Latinas both have more education than their male counterparts. But that doesn’t show up in their earnings.

White Americans are, as a group, born healthier and live longer and get better health care, jobs, education and housing in the years in between. Yet half of white Americans believe that discrimination against them is as big a problem in their lives as it is for those of people of color. But there’s just no evidence to back that up.

What does exist is ample evidence of continued-but-shrinking racial and ethnic inequality in many arenas and utter stagnation and backsliding in others. Basically, what’s changed since the 1950s — outside of technological innovations such as this here Internet — is that white Americans no longer have an exclusive or almost-exclusive hold on the best housing, jobs, schools or the ballot box.

Doubt that those changes are driving the differences of opinion outlined above? Consider this.

A full 60 percent of black Americans and 54 percent of Latinos told PRRI researchers that American culture has mostly changed for the better since the 1950s. In contrast, only 42 percent of white Americans agreed. In fact, 57 percent of white Americans told pollsters that the American way of life has mostly changed for the worse over the past 60 years.

Yes, nearly 60 percent of white Americans believe that life in America before the advent of the cassette tape, the ATM, IVF, the hand-held calculator and the bar code was better than it is today. Apparently life was very good for these Americans,  when segregated public facilities were a legal requirement in the South and Southeast and a social norm in many other places. Most people of color could not obtain credit or a loan from most “mainstream” banks. Most women of all races and ethnicities  could not do so either. This was a vastly different America, one where life was not at all easy for a whole lot of people. Still, this is the America for which apparently many white Americans long.

That this is understood as a better “way of life” is, to say the least, disturbing.

Those inclined to view all things about America through an optimistic lens will will inevitably start by questioning the validity of the data. That is a nonstarter here. PRRI is a respected research organization that meets rigorous polling standards. The survey gathered the opinions of f 2,695 randomly selected adults (age 18 and up) living in the United States including all 50 states and the District of Columbia. So the sample here also is not small.

Finally, if your explanation for the poll’s findings includes the idea that white Americans might have answered without giving much thought to (or simply don’t know) when legal segregation ended, when and to what degree other gender, racial and ethnic disparities began to shrink and which remain, please think again. To believe the things highlighted in the PRRI poll, one either has to be tragically misinformed, unwilling to accept widely available facts or utterly unconcerned with the conditions that shape many Americans’ lives.

None of those options are good.

Janell Ross is a reporter for The Fix who writes about race, gender, immigration and inequality.


  1. I just think that it is really interesting how selfish people can be. Many of the people in the survey were not considering what life would be like for other people. Since the white race is still financially secure they are not really loosing in any way. The fact that they do not have as much control as they used to in the 1960’s is great. In order for our society to become better we need to embrace diversity and understand that other people have important perspectives. One group of people should not be taking control over the rest of the people who are apart of the United States.


  2. Very interesting article. First off, I found it particularly interesting how 64% of Republicans think that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. While as 71% of the Democrat party believes the opposite. I think of course there is at least a little bit of discrimination against whites present, but people should get over it because it’s nothing like discrimination against blacks and other races. Think about what they have to go through daily. I also found it interesting that 57% of white Americans told pollsters that the American way of life has gotten worse over the past 60 years. Personally, I disagree. I think it’s gotten better. While there’s still racism and tons of issues in our nation, I think life has gotten better because blacks and other minorities have the same opportunities as whites, unlike in the past. Shouldn’t significantly less segregation, fair voting rights, and equality for everyone, be a good thing?


  3. The fact that 60% of white american families believe that the United States has gotten worse shows that racism still exists today. The improvement of life for other minorities does not give the white american race and edge that existed for them before. Before more people joined in the fight for equality white american’s practically had everything handed to them on a silver platter, whether it be housing, or loans, even jobs. Minorities still have a long ways to fight the disparities placed on them before whites see that they are equal and need to work just as hard to get a job, loan, or house.


  4. This article just shows how uneducated many Americans truly are. The fact that 60% of white Americans believe America has gotten worse since the segregation times just shows their inability to grasp what equality does or should look like and confusion between worsening times and no longer being a white supremacist. It is articles like this that make me embarrassed to be white because people will tie this arrogant and ignorant way of thinking to how all whites view the world, and that is 100% invalid. The education system has deeply failed these people if they think America was supposed to be dominated by white people, when its creation was specifically created to be a melting pot of all cultures religions and ways of life.


  5. This article is very good, I can not believe how Americans believe all this, I think they believe that America is the best country in the world and feel superior , and only over the years and as the world is changing , think that everything is breaking down . Hence the power of racism and unequal what they think about people who spend working hard to survive and still fail to demonstrate a stable salary , and they like nothing and have a job with good pay and stable , just to be white .


  6. Overall this is a particularly interesting article about white privilege and the manners in which it shapes individual’s perceptions about both themselves and the people that surround them. The fact that individual’s perceptions of how they view the US (which become increasingly negative over time) seem to coincide with certain advancements in American society. Among these are the slow, and still incomplete, deconstruction of institutionalized white supremacy. One could argue that this trend of viewing American society’s transformation in a pessimistic fashion is the result of factors other than changes in the country’s racial hegemony, but the statistics suggest the contrary. In the same timespan that white Americans viewed as the gradual devolution of American society, Latino and Black Americans saw cultural changes as a positive progression. As is the case with all postcolonial revolutions, the removal of the reigning class from its position of supremacy is met with fierce observation, which can be viewed through a number of different lenses.


  7. This article just shows how uneducated many Americans truly are.The fact that individual’s perceptions of how they view the US (which become increasingly negative over time) seem to coincide with certain advancements in American society. I find that really funny and sad also how 64% of Republicans think that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. While as 71% of the Democrat party believes the opposite. This needs to change for the rep of the united states


  8. As many have stated above this either shows that Present-day Americans are either too uneducated to see how different it would be for many people or they are too ignorant to see the inequalities that many faced during that time. This idea of it being their ignorance can be supported by the amount of Americans that believe that Whites are being discriminated equally as blacks and other minorities even though we know this isn’t true.


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