Menus Subscribe Search

Findings

minority-majority

(Photo: imanolqs/Shutterstock)

Notion of Minority-Majority Nation Exacerbates White Racism

• March 18, 2014 • 4:00 AM

(Photo: imanolqs/Shutterstock)

In a study, reminders that whites will soon lose their majority status in the U.S. triggers negative feelings toward minority groups.

It’s common knowledge that the U.S. is well on its way to becoming a minority-majority nation. If current trends hold, whites will represent less than 50 percent of the population by the year 2042.

It would be reasonable, if optimistic, to think that the resultant rubbing of shoulders with people of other races could reduce prejudice, since it’s harder to demonize someone we’re familiar with.

Reasonable, but wrong.

At least, that’s the conclusion of newly published research. It finds discussion of the coming racial shift evokes higher levels of both explicit and implicit racism on the part of white Americans.

A reminder of this demographic reality can prompt whites to feel their social status is threatened—a fear that “evokes more negative attitudes toward racial minority groups,” according to Northwestern University psychologists Maureen Craig and Jennifer Richeson.

“These findings suggest that rather than ushering in a more tolerant future, the increasing diversity of the nation may actually yield more intergroup hostility,” the researchers write in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Those who read about the coming demographic shift showed higher levels of racial bias, expressing “a greater relative preference to be in settings/interactions with other whites than racial minorities.”

Group threat theory” was coined as an idea in the 1960s, and has been studied extensively since. As Craig and Richeson note, one of its core concepts is that majority-group members feel increased threat as the size of the minority population increases, “due to concerns regarding competition over economic resources.”

While overwhelming evidence backing up that proposal has been found over the decades, the researchers note that it may reflect “the attitudes of an earlier, more racially prejudiced era.” In the wake of the election—and re-election—of President Obama, some commentators have claimed racism is dead or dying. So is the perceived-threat-breeds-prejudice model still valid?

In four experiments, Craig and Richeson present evidence that the answer is: Very much so.

In the first (which, like the others, featured a small sample), 86 white Americans recruited online read one of two newspaper articles. Half read a piece noting that ethnic and racial minorities will comprise a majority of the population within 30 years. The others read a story describing the current ethnic breakdown of the U.S. population.

They then responded to a series of statements designed to measure explicit racial bias. On a one-to-seven scale (“strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”), they reacted to such assertions as “It would bother me if my child married someone from a different ethnic background.”

The results: Those who read about the coming demographic shift showed higher levels of racial bias, expressing “a greater relative preference to be in settings/interactions with other whites than racial minorities.”

In two additional experiments, 27 and 30 white Americans, respectively, read either an article about the coming minority-majority status of the U.S., or a piece that describes a comparable racial shift occurring in the Netherlands. They then completed a quick-reaction test that measured implicit bias against one of two minority groups.

Those who read about the changing racial make-up of the U.S. revealed more anti-Asian and anti-black bias than those who read about a similar change taking place in Europe. Members of these groups were thought of less favorably despite the fact that a different minority population, Hispanics, was specifically mentioned in the story as the most important contributor to the demographic shift.

A final experiment, featuring 415 white Americans as part of a nationally representative survey, found a link between such bias and participants’ responses to the statement: “If they increase in status, racial minorities are likely to reduce the influence of white Americans in society.” Fear of this decreased influence was directly related to an increased level of racial hostility.

So can anything be done to mitigate this damaging dynamic? Craig and Richeson believe so.

They contend the peril felt by many whites is exacerbated by the way the media, and even the Census Bureau, are framing the nation’s changing demographics. They suggest that presenting the data in a different way—“perhaps no longer separating non-Hispanic whites from all other groups”—could reduce the perceived threat, which in turn would dampen racist reactions.

By emphasizing the coming end of the while majority, media accounts may lead some whites to think they are being swallowed up by “a monolithic non-white group,” the researchers write. In fact, even after 2043, whites “will remain the largest single racial group in the nation”—a position that virtually assures a high level of societal clout.

If the narrative can somehow shift to reflect that reality, it will reduce the perceived sense of danger—and the racism that it spawns.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

July 29 • 11:23 AM

Where Should You Go to College?


July 29 • 10:29 AM

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.


July 29 • 10:00 AM

The Monolingual American: Why Are Those Outside of the U.S. Encouraging It?

If you are an American trying to learn German in a large German town or city, you will mostly hear English in return, even when you give sprechen your best shot.


July 29 • 8:00 AM

The Elusive Link Between Casinos and Crime

With a study of the impact of Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino, a heated debate gets fresh ammunition.


July 29 • 6:00 AM

What Are the Benefits of Locking Yourself in a Tank and Floating in Room-Temperature Saltwater?

After three sessions in an isolation tank, the answer’s still not quite clear.


July 29 • 4:00 AM

Harry Potter and the Battle Against Bigotry

Kids who identify with the hero of J.K. Rowling’s popular fantasy novels hold more open-minded attitudes toward immigrants and gays.


July 29 • 2:00 AM

Geographic Scale and Talent Migration: Washington, D.C.’s New Silver Line

Around the country, suburbs are fighting with the urban core over jobs and employees.


July 28 • 4:00 PM

Border Fences Make Unequal Neighbors and Enforce Social Inequality

What would it look like if you combined Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, demographically speaking? What about the United States and Guatemala?


July 28 • 2:00 PM

Are Patient Privacy Laws Being Misused to Protect Medical Centers?

A 1996 law known as HIPAA has been cited to scold a mom taking a picture of her son in a hospital, to keep information away from police investigating a possible rape at a nursing home, and to threaten VA whistleblowers.


July 28 • 12:00 PM

Does Internet Addiction Excuse the Death of an Infant?

In Love Child, documentary filmmaker Valerie Veatch explores how virtual worlds encourage us to erase the boundary between digital and real, no matter the consequences.


July 28 • 11:11 AM

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.


July 28 • 10:00 AM

Hell Isn’t for Real

You may have seen pictures of the massive crater in Siberia. It unfortunately—or fortunately—does not lead to the netherworld.


July 28 • 8:00 AM

Why Isn’t Obama More Popular?

It takes a while for people to notice that things are going well, particularly when they’ve been bad for so long.


July 28 • 7:45 AM

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.


July 28 • 6:00 AM

Hams Without Ends and Cats Tied to Trees: How We Create Traditions With Dubious Origins

Does it really matter if the reason for why you give money to newlyweds is based on a skewed version of a story your parents once told you?


July 28 • 4:00 AM

A Belief in ‘Oneness’ Is Equated With Pro-Environment Behavior

New research finds a link between concern for the environment and belief in the concept of universal interconnectedness.


July 25 • 4:00 PM

Flying Blind: The View From 30,000 Feet Puts Everything in Perspective

Next time you find yourself in an airplane, consider keeping your phone turned off and the window open.


July 25 • 2:00 PM

Trophy Scarves: Race, Gender, and the Woman-as-Prop Trope

Social inequality unapologetically laid bare.


July 25 • 1:51 PM

Confusing Population Change With Migration

A lot of population change is baked into a region from migration that happened decades ago.


July 25 • 1:37 PM

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.



July 25 • 11:07 AM

The West’s Groundwater Is Being Sucked Dry

Scientists were stunned to discover just how much groundwater has been lost from beneath the Colorado River over the past 10 years.


July 25 • 10:00 AM

Shelf Help: New Book Reviews in 100 Words or Less

What you need to know about Bad Feminist, XL Love, and The Birth of Korean Cool.



July 25 • 8:00 AM

The Consequences of Curing Childhood Cancer

The majority of American children with cancer will be cured, but it may leave them unable to have children of their own. Should preserving fertility in cancer survivors be a research priority?


Follow us


Subscribe Now

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.

The West’s Groundwater Is Being Sucked Dry

Scientists were stunned to discover just how much groundwater has been lost from beneath the Colorado River over the past 10 years.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.