Race and Income? Rich, White People See No Problems

Little Rock   According to researchers at Yale University, it’s the old story with a twist. It’s not “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” but “see no evil, hear no evil, and speak all evil,” at least when it comes to creating a mental dreamscape for the rich and most white Americans when it comes to understanding the persistent gap in economic progress for African-Americans.

A new study published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal by Yale researchers finds that people, especially wealthier, white people have convinced themselves that African-Americans are making great progress over recent decades in narrowing the economic divide created by years of discrimination. The researchers found that across all groups in their study the progress made by African-Americans was overestimated by 25%. Lower income whites came closest to understanding the gap still persisted, and wealthier whites missed the reality by the largest margin. All this in the words of the lead researcher, Professor Jennifer Richeson, was “shocking,” because it was so at odds with reality, because in their view, how can you solve a problem, if you are in denial that the problem even exists.

All of this comes in the wake of recently released Census Reports based on the true facts rather than the alternative reality being seen from above with rose-colored glasses. The US Census finds that African-Americans are the only group that has not made progress since 2000, even as others have advanced. Furthermore, the federal figures indicate that African-Americans are pretty much in the same place on the economic divide measure inequality as they were 50 years ago.

Describing the impact of the disconnect between what whites and the more wealthy think of progress, Richeson described the self-delusion this way:

So many of us grew up hearing this story about America that basically said there was slavery and then that was fixed. Martin Luther King marched and then that was fixed. And then we had Obama. That’s a nice, clean story that makes everyone feel good even though it’s shockingly inaccurate.

The researchers found that the myth of an American meritocracy was most delusional among the wealthiest Americans who want to believe that their success, wealth and position in society is based on something they earned, rather than privilege and advantage, especially if achieved as the result of de facto discrimination. Yet the facts of the Census indicate that African-Americans only gained $5 of citizen wealth for every $100 gained by other groups.

Meanwhile as the researchers observe, and our own daily lives and work establish every day, persistent discrimination in bank lending, housing and educational segregation have no effective policy or programmatic cures, so the inequality widens, rather than shrinking even as the economy improves. The crisis is exacerbated when we also consider their average survey gap would have departed reality to an even more distant white people planet, if the current occupants of the White House and Congress had been among the survey groups.

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