Anti-Black messages are so persuasive in American society that a third of Black Americans hold an anti-Black bias as well.
We have shifted from a biological racism to cultural racism. Sixty years ago most people in American believed that Blacks were biologically inferior, made-by-God inferior. Today there is a cultural racism that says Black parents are not giving their children the right values, and it’s often offered as a reason for why Blacks are not doing well as other groups. It associates “Black” with a range of negative assumptions that are so deeply embedded in American culture that people who hold them are not bad people. They’re just ‘good Americans,’ because it’s what American society has taught them. Researchers put together a database of what the average college-age American would read in their entire lifetime, a database of 10 million words from books, newspapers, magazine articles, various documents. They found that when the word “Black” occurs, what tends to co-occur is not only ‘poor’ and ‘violent’ and ‘religious’ but also ‘lazy’ and ‘cheerful’ and ‘dangerous.’ Being violent, lazy and dangerous, other research shows, are widely held stereotypes about Blacks. All racial ethnic minority groups are stereotyped more negatively than Whites, with Blacks viewed the worst, followed by Latinos who were viewed twice as negatively as Asians. Southern Whites are viewed more negatively than Whites in general. There is a hierarchy.
“This is quite often a person who has sympathy for the bad things that have happened in the past, but that person is still an American who has been fed stereotypes of Blacks that are so ingrained in the culture. So despite holding no explicit racial prejudices, they nonetheless hold implicit bias deep in their subconscious. So when they meet an African American, although consciously they are not prejudiced, the implicit biases operate in the background to shape their behavior, leading them to treat that person differently. This behavior is activated more quickly and effortlessly than saying ‘I’ve decided to discriminate against this person.’ This is the frightening point: Because it’s an automatic and unconscious process, people who engage in this unthinking discrimination are not aware of the fact that they do it. They are not lying to you when they say, ‘I didn’t treat this person differently, and I treat everyone the same.’ The research suggests that 70 to 80 percent of Whites fall into this category.
If you ask people if they hold explicit racial biases, just over 10 percent of the public are willing to say ‘Yes, I am prejudiced.’ But the people who are really set up to perpetuate discrimination are the people who would say, ‘That’s not me; I would never discriminate against a Black person, because that’s not the way my mother raised me.’ The people who say, ‘I would never do it’ are the ones perfectly set up to do it.
Across every sector if society, you get this pattern of systemic discrimination. When you take two African-American males and two White males, dress them similarly, judge them of equal attractiveness and send them to apply for jobs, carrying identical resumes, a White male with a known criminal record is more likely to get a callback than an African-American male whose record is clean. Devah Pager at Princeton University, who conducted these studies, says this even understates the degree of discrimination that exists because African Americans who are called back for a job are often offered a job inferior to the one they applied for. They are channeled downward. They might get told, ‘The job you applied for is not available, but we have another one that we can give you.’ Whites were found to be channeled up. ‘You applied for X job and we have a better job for you.’
Similar studies in getting the best price for a car or renting an apartment found Blacks again at a disadvantage. No other racial population has been as residentially segregated as African Americans. Your access to virtually every desirable resource, from schools to supermarkets to medical care, is linked to where you live. In fact, many health researchers are now saying that your ZIP code is a stronger predictor of your health that your genetic code.
Across every therapeutic intervention, ranging from the most simple procedure—a patient comes into the emergency room with a mild stroke, does that patient get aspirin or not?—to very sophisticated diagnostic procedures, African Americans and other minorities receive fewer procedures and poorer quality care than Whites.
I have shared this research at medical schools, and the initial reaction is, ‘I can’t believe it.’ I have to remind them that this is published, peer-reviewed scientific data.
The tragedy is that at every level of income and education, there is a racial gap in health. So if you look at poor African Americans and poor Whites, poor African Americans are doing worse.
The Black middle class does not enjoy as good health as the White middle class.
Whites now perceive that they face more blocked opportunity and discrimination than Black people. Any infringement—any reduction of the benefits that their group has historically receive—send them into a siege mentality, the belief that they are under attack because things are going to be shared more fairly than in the past. You saw this siege mentality when president Obama ran for office. You see it in the deadlocked Congress. You see it in the rhetoric of the Tea Party: ‘We have to take back our country; we are losing control.’ There is this sense of threat and fear of how much things have changed, and people are lashing out and trying to go back in time. But what Whites have failed to realize is that they have been the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action, because White women have been the prime beneficiaries and those earnings have gone back into White households. It is so shocking when you say that because that is not the public discourse around affirmative action. The differential in pay between White men and White women is smaller than gaps between Blacks and Whites.
Excerpts from “No, You’re Not Imagining It,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson and Harvard sociologist Dr. David R. Williams in Essence Magazine