ERIC KAUFMANN: What this study finds is that people’s perception of racism and the reality of racism has been diverging, especially the past five years or so. So for example, what you see in the major newspapers like “The New York Times” or “The Washington Post,” there has been an explosion of the terms racist, white privilege, white supremacy, and so on, and that has been documented in terms of word counts.
That seems correlated with a big shift to the left in terms of, particularly white liberal attitudes on race. And what that seems to produce is a big, big distortion, again, of people’s perception of the size of this problem.
To give you a concrete example rooted in indisputable fact, I asked the question in my survey to both black and white respondents, what is more, which is the more likely cause of death for a young black man in America? Is it a car accident or is it to be shot by the police? It is a clear fact that it is about 10-1 with car accidents over a police bullet, and yet eight-in-ten African-American Biden voters and seven-in-ten whites who believe… white Republicans are racist actually said it was police that were more likely to be the cause of death for young black men. So this is leading people to have a distorted picture of reality. And that feeds into a whole series of political attitudes.
BEN DOMENECH: You know, Eric, I think this is a situation where so much of the media conversation, the focus on these stories, which are truly tragic and terrifying and horrible, has created this outsized feeling that this is something that happens on a daily basis in America. We have heard from the president tonight about systemic racism being this virulent strain that runs through American life.
What can be done to reset this and try to get back to what the facts actually are about the level of this problem in America?
ERIC KAUFMANN: We’ve been tracking attitudes, for example, with interracial marriage. As recently as 1990, 50-60% of white Americans were opposed to interracial marriages and it’s now 10%.
If you look at the shootings of African-Americans, 60-80% decline since the 1960s.
We don’t hear about these facts. So the first thing is let’s put the facts out there and get people to reason statistically and not emotionally. That is the first thing.
Secondly, if you look at what Biden says, he could have brought the nation together by talking about Tony Timpe, the white man whose life was pressed out of him in 2016 by Dallas police officers. You could talk about the fact that as many white people are killed as black people.
But no, instead, choosing to turn this into a conversation about systemic racism and racialize what is not clearly a racist issue. This is an issue of police brutality, perhaps, but it is not obviously a racist issue and racializing that fuels this diversion of perception away from statistical reality.
BEN DOMENECH: Eric, your book “White Shift” is an important political text and everyone should read it.
I want to get your reaction to what this would look like, politically, in terms of the ramifications of this movement. The president says that is something that can’t stop here. They want to push forward in terms of various legislation, and the like. I worry that that risk creating another summer that looks like last year, in terms of inevitably, a black man will be shot by a police officer, as we just saw this past week. It is going to happen again. And I worry that we will see a repeat. What can we do to avoid it?
ERIC KAUFMANN: You’re right because in a way there are two problems. One, it introduces divisiveness, when you have sweeping generalizations about whole categories of people, like Americans and police officers and white people and so on.
But secondly, in terms of helping African-Americans themselves. One of the questions I put to black survey respondents — I had half of them read some Ta-Nahesi Coates, a critical race theory-inspired author, and half of them read nothing. Those who read Coates, their belief that they can make their life plans work out dropped 15 points.
And you see those cities that had BLM marches and protests, there was a 20% increase in the murder rate between 2014-2019. Some awareness of the downstream cost of this on the black community and on the United States as a whole surely is necessary to inject a bit of context and a bit more rationality into what has kind of become, what John McWhorter said, almost as a religion of anti-racism, as a symbolic crusade rather than one grounded in facts and logic.
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