Welfare Benefits and Racism

People on the left such as NYT columnist and economist Paul Krugman have long held the view that white Americans resented minorities at least in part because they felt that they received more government benefits than whites did.  A new study now shows him and others right. Having been conducted by academics however, the phrasing of the findings is put in more cautious language. Robb Willer professor of sociology and social psychology at Stanford and Rachel Wetts of UC Berkeley call this the welfare backlash. They explain that as minorities make up an increasing percentage of the population, the demographics stoke the fears of lowered social status and increases resentment among whites who then end up feeling that indeed minorities benefit from aid and social programs more than they actually do. The authors warn that this finding may increase the likelihood that as they put it “policies restricting or curtailing welfare programs” may be enacted in the coming years. And given the proclivities of this Congress and this administration, that is a well-placed concern.

Besides highlighting and explaining the reasons for a known concern, the study also helps us understand aspects of racism.  Non-whites experience discrimination while whites look at the same situation without understanding how that experience can contribute to racism. It is helpful therefore to have a clearer sense of how certain forms of racism can manifest themselves. It then becomes an opportunity for whites to grasp why non-whites feel the existence of a racial divide so keenly.