Can We Increase the Number of White People Who Support Doing Something About Racism and Discrimination

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These is indeed a difficult questions. There is no question that explicit calls to address the problem of racism are being used by conservative forces to ramp up support for Republicans. The behavior of elected officials is largely selected by the consequences that is most important to them — votes. We are not likely to make much headway with Republicans until it becomes possible for some of them to win elections with more moderate positions on race. What is badly needed is more research on how you can get people who have traditionally voted Republican to embrace reforms that are needed. There is certainly some evidence from polling to suggest that such people are out there, though the events of the past month have reduced the number of white people who support doing something about racism.

What would be helpful is research on how we can influence middle-of-the-road white people to support policies that would reduce practices that are harming Black people in other members of minority groups. The work of Rev. Barber may be one example of what can be done.

I was reading this morning about the cover-up by the leadership of Rochester government regarding the police killing of Daniel Prude. It made me particularly sad. More than 50 years ago there were riots in Rochester because of police brutality. I was a student at the University of Rochester and I worked with the organization the black community created, with the help of Saul Alinsky.

Paluck and Green wrote a good review of research on reducing discrimination. One of their main conclusions was that there’d been far too little research in the real world — and schools, and communities, and workplaces. Programs like cooperative learning in schools have a strong record of reducing divisions between white and minority students. Entertainment media such as the Harry Potter series have been shown to reduce discrimination.

One of the things we should be doing is calling for more research being done in real world settings. This is another instance in which not enough research is being funded on the social determinants of health. We know unequivocally that exposure to discrimination produces physiological responses that shorten lives. On that basis NIH should be funding the kind of research the Paluck and Green call for. I know that there is increased concern at NIH about these issues. It would be useful to have congressional committees hold hearings on this issue, since NIH officials cannot advocate, but can respond when asked.

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