A new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology argues that trainings regarding so-called “white privilege” may actually decrease sympathy for less-affluent whites, especially among social progressives.
Writing in Quillette, Zaid Jilani notes that Colgate University’s Erin Cooley and her research team looked at participants’ reactions to the classic Peggy McIntosh thesis about the “Invisible Knapsack.”
What the researchers found is that among social liberals—i.e., participants who had indicated that they hold liberal beliefs about social issues—reading a text about white privilege did nothing to significantly increase their sympathy toward the plight of poor blacks. But, as Cooley told me, “it did significantly bump down their sympathy for a [hypothetical] poor white person.” (Among conservative participants, there was observed no significant change in attitudes at all.)
What accounts for this? One possibility is that social liberals are internalizing white-privilege lessons in a way that flattens the image of whites, portraying all of them as inherently privileged. So if a white person is poor, it must be his or her own fault. After all, they’ve had all sorts of advantages in life that others haven’t.
Jilani points out that the existence of various forms of disparate treatment suffered by minorities is not proof of an “all-encompassing pattern of white privilege.”
“If we extend the logic of privilege beyond the issue of race,” he says, then what about the fact that 93% of those in federal jails are men? Is this a form of “female privilege”? Would it be helpful to the men incarcerated for women “to proclaim awareness of their ‘privileged’ status?”