CAMBRIDGE, MA — For White Americans, adopting a Black child, marrying a Black partner, or befriending a black coworker may no longer provide the cover for racism it used to. New research from Harvard political scientists Fernando De Goya, Vincent Van Leeuwen, and Rim Shehadi finds that the presence of a Black person in a racist White person’s immediate circle does little to reduce that White person’s existing racism.
Some of the study’s most staggering statistics are precipitant from long-running social, economic, and political challenges Black Americans have faced for 400 years. The study noted that among White males married to Black women who believe them to be of inferior mental capacity, 87 percent still hold the same belief after ten or more years of marriage. A similar finding shows that 68 percent of White parents that have adopted Black girls are equally likely to touch “any Black woman’s” hair without permission after ten or more years of parenting. In the workplace, 68 percent of White professionals continued to discriminate against “Black sounding names” when reviewing candidate applications for job openings in spite of ten or more years of friendship with Black colleagues
Of those White Americans sampled in the experiment, 100 percent of participants were found to have made “8,000 or more” superfluous references to these relationships per year as the “only necessary proof” of their status as “anti-racists.”
“It kind of started with politics,” Shehadi said. The group had observed current Democratic Presidential nominee, Joe Biden’s incessant references to his service as Vice President to the country’s first Black President as a defense to his support for policies that have disproportionately affected Black Americans, such as the 1994 Crime Bill.
“We were watching the Democratic debates earlier this year and listening to observers. People seemed to be less concerned with Biden’s role in issues like the 1994 Crime Bill than they were his disinterest in recognizing that he may have made a mistake in favor of reminding everyone that he served as Vice President for the country’s first Black President,” she added.
Shehadi’s colleagues noted that it wasn’t just Biden who set the wheels in motion.
“When New York City Mayor, Bill DeBlasio was running for office a few years ago, he ran an ad that heavily featured his Black son’s afro as a testament to his expertise within matters of racial justice. But he later came under fire for failing to hold the NYPD accountable for police brutality toward Black citizens and sidelining voices of Black members of his leadership team,” explained De Goya.
White Democrats and Republicans alike seem to be guilty of this error. During a House Oversight Committee Hearing in 2019, then-Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC) asked Black Housing and Urban Development Staffer Lynn Patton to stand up, as a silent rebuke of charges that Donald Trump is a racist president. Meadows’ usage of Patton as what Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib called a “prop” coexists alongside his role in the 2012 birther conspiracy, where he accused former President Barack Obama of falsifying his birth in the United States on the basis of the color of Obama’s skin.
Ultimately the study was about digging beneath the political surface in search of truth.
“It seemed clear to us that these White politicians were still quite racist in spite of their connections to Black Americans and we wanted to test if this was just political posturing or a symptom of a deeper societal problem. It, unfortunately, seems like the latter.” Van Leeuwen concluded.
The study has been met with mixed reviews, with Donald Trump tweeting on Tuesday that “HARVARD IS CANCELED!!!.”