What whites think about their own race is the focus of a first-of-its-kind national survey by researchers in the University of Minnesota’s department of sociology. From a telephone survey of more than 2,000 households nationwide, results show that there is more recognition among white people of their own racial identity and the social privileges that come with it than was previously thought.
The assumption behind prior scholarship and diversity training initiatives was that whites overlooked their own race.
“It’s sort of like having an accent,” said the study’s co-author, University of Minnesota associate professor Doug Hartmann. “For some white Americans, racial identity is so fixed, so taken for granted, that ‘race’ becomes something other people have.”
In fact, the researchers found that a majority of whites (74 percent) felt that their own racial identity was important to them, and that a similar majority were able to see prejudice and discrimination as important in explaining white advantage. At the same time, minorities are more likely to see their racial identities as important and to see structural reasons for racial disparities.
The research also suggests that awareness of white identity and awareness of white privilege are not the same. “The fact of the matter is that people claim white identity for defensive as well as progressive reasons,” said survey co-author Paul Croll, University of Minnesota graduate student.
Age and income have little impact on a white person’s awareness of their racial identity, the study found. But Southerners and social conservatives place more emphasis on their racial identity than other white Americans, while those with more education place less. Republican and male respondents most strongly resist claims that discrimination in legal and financial systems can explain white advantage. Additionally, respondents–regardless of their racial identity–believed strongly in the importance of individual effort, hard work and family upbringing in achieving success.