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The Science Of White Privilege

Thom Hartmann discusses a recent article by the New York Times, When Whites Get a Free Pass.

While discussing a recent New York Times article on white privilege, progressive radio show host Thom Hartmann asks:

Could we have a situation called racism without racists and misogyny without misogynists? Until we start addressing and dealing with these more subtle biases, we've got a serious problem in this country.

Yes, and as Thom noted, despite what the Bill O'Reilly's of the world would have us believe, racism, sexism and racial bias does still exist in America and has not gone away after electing our first bi-racial president, not that that comes as a surprise to any of the regular readers here. The study was interesting since it took at look at how those biases really do affect all of us in our everyday lives in a way that's not all that easy to measure.

Here's a portion of the article: When Whites Get a Free Pass:

THE recent reunion show for the 40th anniversary of “Saturday Night Live” re-aired a portion of Eddie Murphy’s 1984 classic “White Like Me” skit, in which he disguised himself to appear Caucasian and quickly learned that “when white people are alone, they give things to each other for free.”

The joke still has relevance. A field experiment about who gets free bus rides in Brisbane, a city on the eastern coast of Australia, shows that even today, whites get special privileges, particularly when other people aren’t around to notice.

As they describe in two working papers, Redzo Mujcic and Paul Frijters, economists at the University of Queensland, trained and assigned 29 young adult testers (from both genders and different ethnic groups) to board public buses in Brisbane and insert an empty fare card into the bus scanner. After the scanner made a loud sound informing the driver that the card did not have enough value, the testers said, “I do not have any money, but I need to get to” a station about 1.2 miles away. (The station varied according to where the testers boarded.)


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With more than 1,500 observations, the study uncovered substantial, statistically significant race discrimination. Bus drivers were twice as willing to let white testers ride free as black testers (72 percent versus 36 percent of the time). Bus drivers showed some relative favoritism toward testers who shared their own race, but even black drivers still favored white testers over black testers (allowing free rides 83 percent versus 68 percent of the time).

The study also found that racial disparities persisted when the testers wore business attire or dressed in army uniforms. For example, testers wearing army uniforms were allowed to ride free 97 percent of the time if they were white, but only 77 percent of the time if they were black.

This elegant experiment follows in a tradition of audit testing, in which social scientists have sent testers of different races to, for example, bargain over the price of new cars or old baseball cards. But the Australian study is the first, to my knowledge, to focus on discretionary accommodations. It’s less likely these days to find people in positions of authority, even at lower levels of decision making, consciously denying minorities rights. But it is easier to imagine decision makers, like the bus drivers, granting extra privileges and accommodations to nonminorities. Discriminatory gifts are more likely than discriminatory denials. Read on...

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