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Study: ‘White Privilege’ Lessons Make Liberals Less Empathetic to Poor Whites

by | May 30, 2019

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Tyler O’Neal at PJ Media writes,

All those college classes on “white privilege” may have been extremely wrong-headed, and not just because they may be false. As it turns out, “white privilege” classes do not make liberals or conservatives more sympathetic to the plight of black people. Instead, these classes only make liberals less empathetic toward poor whites, and more likely to blame them for their own poverty.

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Published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General in April, the study divided people into two groups: liberals and conservatives were given a short lesson in “white privilege” and then asked to read a story about an unfortunate man; or they were given the story without the lesson. Half the respondents read a story about a poor white man on welfare in New York and the other half read about a poor black man on welfare.

Conservatives who learned about white privilege were no more sympathetic to the poor black man than conservatives who had not learned about white privilege. Learning about white privilege did not make liberals more sympathetic to the poor black man. It did, however, make them less sympathetic to the poor white man.

“What we found startling was that white privilege lessons didn’t increase liberals’ sympathy for poor Black people,” Erin Cooley, an assistant professor of psychology at Colgate University and one of the study’s authors, wrote in Vice. “Instead, these lessons decreased liberals’ sympathy for poor white people, which led them to blame white people more for their own poverty. They seemed to think that if a person is poor despite all the privileges of being white, there must really be something wrong with them.”

Cooley movingly wrote about her own experiences in this regard. Her fiancé is white and grew up poor. “Given a career focused on race, I was fixated on the privileges of being a white man. I couldn’t stop myself from mentioning that white male poverty wasn’t exactly the worst injustice out there.” Yet she still acknowledged that her fiancé faced systemic barriers in his path toward becoming a successful professor. “Still, the fact that he was a poor white man had escaped my empathy radar. I wondered whether this might be connected to my liberal worldview.”

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