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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Measuring the cost of racism

Stanford researchers had test subjects read an article about survivors of Hurricane Katrina, then decide how much federal aid they thought victims should receive, and for how long. What the subjects didn't know was that they were being tested for racism: the race of the people profiled, mentioned only briefly in the article, was randomly switched between black and white.

The result? The subjects gave $1000 less aid when the victims were black than when they were white. Worse, though Democrats chose to grant thousands of dollars per victim more than Republicans, Democrats had a wider gap between the aid sizes for white victims and black victims. (To see if you too have an easier time thinking of white people in positive terms than black people, try Harvard's Implicit Association Test.)

During the Gingrich/Clinton welfare reform debate, there was attention in the liberal press to the gap between the welfare queen stereotype and the reality that most welfare recipients are white. It seemed that racist assumptions were so pervasive that white poor people were condemned to suffer the effects alongside black poor people.

The Stanford study is further evidence of this type of racism, one that punishes blacks so much it spills over to poor whites. Thanks in part to a neglect honed by racism, whites also also lose the right to vote for life in most states after going to jail for felonies, are also left to languish in overcrowded schools, and are also being ignored (still) in New Orleans by the federal government.

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