STUDY: White liberals’ sympathy for poor whites DECREASES after white privilege lessons, sympathy for blacks stays same

  • Professors and a scholar out of the University of Kentucky, Colgate University and New York University conducted a study on white privilege.
  • They found that white liberals who were educated about white privilege had less sympathy for poor whites and an unchanging sympathy for blacks.

A new study by three professors and one scholar reveals that when white social liberals learn about white privilege, it decreases the amount of sympathy they have for poor whites, with their sympathy for blacks stagnating.

Authored by researchers from the University of Kentucky, Colgate University and New York University, the study, “Complex intersections of race and class: Among social liberals, learning about White privilege reduces sympathy, increases blame, and decreases external attributions for White people struggling with poverty,” was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

“Social liberals showed significantly less sympathy for Kevin when he was described as white"   

“Why might lessons of White privilege exacerbate negative impressions of poor Whites?” the study asks. “One possibility is that perceivers implicitly play the ‘oppression Olympics’ — that is, they draw upon default hierarchies of groups in order to mentally rank who is worst off and prioritize one group over other groups.”

[RELATED: ‘White Privilege Checklist’ appears in Minnesota dorm]

In their paper, the professors and scholar state that they “simply hope to provide data that illuminate what the consequences of [white privilege] lessons are.”

The academic paper was comprised of two studies. The first one tasked participants with reading a short reading on white privilege -- a control group did not receive the reading -- and the second one asked participants to rate the sympathy they felt toward “Kevin,” who is poor, on welfare, and has been to jail multiple times, but were “randomly assigned” to learn whether he was white or black.

Kevin’s race had a significant impact on how participants answered the question and showed that “social liberals showed significantly less sympathy for Kevin when he was described as white...as compared to black,” according to the professors and scholar.

“Across two highly powered studies, we find that learning about privilege based on race may sometimes lead to reduced sympathy for White people experiencing poverty,” the study says.

“As a result, social liberals who think about White privilege (vs. control) may become more likely to blame poor White people for their poverty.”

Cooley, a Colgate professor who co-authored the study, commented on the study to the Greater Good Magazine, a project of the University of California-Berkeley.

“What we found is that when liberals read about white privilege...it didn’t significantly change how they empathized with a poor black person—but it did significantly bump down their sympathy for a poor white person.”

"If you compared any given poor white person to a poor person of color, would you necessarily be able to say one had it worse off than the other? No, of course not," the professor told Greater Good. She suggested that conversations about white privilege included the caveat "this doesn’t mean that white people don’t have individual struggles...because a lot of people hear it as that.”

[RELATED: Prof claims ‘civility’ is a euphemism for ‘white supremacy’]

Campus Reform spoke with Peter Wood, president of the conservative nonprofit National Association of Scholars, about the study.

“In general, I don't put much stock in this sort of ‘research,’” Wood said. “Small samples, easily manipulated variables, and vapid generalizations.”

But the president proceeded to address his interpretation of the apparent findings.

“The whole ‘white privilege’ concept is a wedge, meant to heighten the boundaries between whites and other ethnic groups,” he told Campus Reform. “The intended point of the wedge is to instill remorse, shame, and guilt among whites. It succeeds in doing that for a few, but it very likely provokes other reactions among many: annoyance, skepticism, and resentment are probably high on the list--combined with the realization that these feelings must be hidden for the sake of getting along [with] the ‘woke’ activists.”

[RELATED: Poli sci dept nixes ‘White Privilege is a Myth’ student event at, cites ‘fake facts’]

“Cooley and her colleagues probably touched the tip of that iceberg in their research,” Wood continued. “Empathy can stretch only so far.  Attempting to guilt people into empathizing with those who are unlike themselves is a doubtful strategy.  Emphasizing commonalities is the way to build empathy.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @asabes10



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Adam Sabes
Adam Sabes | Mississippi Senior Campus Correspondent

Adam Sabes is Mississippi Senior Campus Correspondent, and reports liberal bias and abuse on campus for Campus Reform. He is a junior at Mississippi State University, where he is majoring in Journalism. He also contributes to Red Alert Politics. 

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