Is Reverse Racism the New Racism?

A sensitive topic that is nonetheless an important one, the history of racism in America is something that cannot be ignored by serious students of law or economics. In recognition of the harms of the past, a number of laws have been passed and programs put into place with varying degrees of effectiveness and popularity to combat historical biases against particular racial classes. Among them, affirmative action is probably foremost in the public consciousness due to the controversies it has spawned and legal challenges it has faced. However, have programs such as affirmative action gone too far? Have the scales shifted to the extent that what pundits are calling 'anti-white bias' is as big a problem for society as more traditional forms of racism?

This is one of the many questions that are being asked following the release of a study by Professors Michael Norton and Samuel Sommers of Harvard and Tufts, respectively. From the abstract:

Although some have heralded recent political and cultural developments as signaling the arrival of a postracial era in America, several legal and social controversies regarding‘‘reverse racism’’ highlight Whites’ increasing concern about anti-White bias. We show that this emerging belief reflects Whites’ view of racism as a zero-sum game, such that decreases in perceived bias against Blacks over the past six decades are associated with increases in perceived bias against Whites—a relationship not observed in Blacks’ perceptions. Moreover, these changes in Whites’ conceptions of racism are extreme enough that Whites have now come to view anti-White bias as a bigger societal problem than anti-Black bias.

For those who think that the white individuals in the study are potentially merely reacting to perceived slights againt them, that anti-white bias is simply not as big a problem as other forms of racism, point taken. However, the analysis can't end there as the Supreme Court has already weighed in on the topic in at least one instance, Ricci v. DeStefano. There, it was held that white firefighters were denied job opportunities based on their race when no promotions were given because no blacks passed the promotions exam (there is no prize for guessing which side of the 5-4 opinion each justice came in on...). Therefore, in at least one case, in the opinion of the only group of individuals whose opinions matter, a program intended to combat bias created a new one. The New York Times' 'Room for Debate' page continues the discussion here.

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