Another day, another study reflecting the sexist, racist, and perilously privileged state of life in America.
Over the last week, reports have held a maddening mirror to our faces:
The Anti-Defamation League put the intersection of misogyny and white supremacy on front street. Pew showed us how we really value men and women. The Public Religion Research Institute affirmed our fears: Republicans aren’t here for diversity. And The Washington Post slugged us with an uppercut: the killings of black people hardly ever lead to arrests, and nowhere is that more evident than right here in Boston.
It’s not shocking how divisive things are, given systemic supremacy. But as I wake up to report after report, story after story, and my own lived experience of bias — my Lucky Charms aren’t feeling so lucky next to these studies. The milk’s gone bad.
So I called up sociologists to make sense of it all. Is there any good to come out of all of these saddening stats or should we curl up in a ball and cry now?
“These are scary times,” says Pawan Dhingra, a sociologist and Professor of American Studies at Amherst College. “There’s no question. You feel it in the way people vocalize resentments and racist views. But the reason I don’t curl up in a ball and get depressed is part of what they are resisting and responding to are gains being made by traditionally marginalized groups.”
The studies reflect that many Americans have a sense of entitlement. They believe they deserve something and other people are taking it away, Dhingra says.
As they feel a loss, the walls of bias go up.
Dhingra’s example: A white working-class couple raising kids believe if they work hard, they should be able to send their kids to college. But they can’t. The cost of college is too high. But instead of blaming rising costs, Dhingra says that couple might look at multiculturalism and affirmative action as the causes. As more companies celebrate inclusivity, people are blaming diversity for their lack of upward mobility.
When you step back and look at these studies, a lot of the disparity is rooted in privilege.
White privilege, the kind that means when a white person is murdered in Boston, police have made an arrest almost 90 percent of the time. For blacks, only 42 percent of the murders involve arrests, the starkest disparity among a major US city, The Washington Post found.
Male privilege. The kind that allows 92 percent of Americans to find powerful to be a negative trait for women, as reported by Pew.
White, male privilege. As the country looks to a future where the minority will grow into the majority, the racial resentment is evident. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, 31 percent of Americans think this demographic change will have a negative impact. Among Republicans, the number is even higher — 50 percent.
“There’s a primal scream that says, ‘What about me? This is my space,’ ” says Sarah Sobieraj, a sociologist and assistant professor at Tufts University. “That’s part of what got President Trump elected, white men feeling vulnerable. Instead of punching up at economic inequality and globalization, they punch down to women, people of color, and immigrants.”
We can no longer look at women or marginalized communities and expect them to simply have an optimistic outlook, she says. High self-esteem and leaning into the revolution aren’t the quick fix. It’s clear there are institutional problems that make it hard.
But she believes this recognition will lead to change.
“#MeToo is not a phenomenon where all of a sudden women were being raped. All of a sudden, women came forward and that conversation about power and abuse is important in changing things.”
But as we see gains toward equality and opportunity, Sobieraj says those seeking to maintain power see a threat to their authority. It affects everyone.
“It’s not a huge leap from ‘women’s quest for equal rights threatens my stature as a man’ to ‘minorities’ and women’s quests for equal rights threaten my stature as a white man,” the Anti-Defamation League reports.
That fact is more reason not to cry on the bathroom floor and give up. This is our country, too. We answer their screams by speaking truth to power. We protest. We vote. We won’t back down.
One day studies will show our tenacity led to freedom.
Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter@sincerelyjenee.