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Questioning white losses and anti-white discrimination in the United States


Political polarization and far-right movements across the West are thought to be partly driven by beliefs that white people face discrimination in societies that supposedly favour non-white people. We compared perceptions of racial discrimination with reported discrimination experiences in large, US national samples to shed light on the veracity of such beliefs. Regarding experiences, we find that white people consistently experienced less discrimination than black people, and that declines in anti-black discrimination have not coincided with increases in anti-white discrimination. Regarding perceptions, respondents overall did not express zero-sum discrimination beliefs. Moreover, black respondents and Democrats perceived that black people face much more discrimination than white people, whereas white respondents and Republicans perceived a smaller discrimination gap between black and white people, relative to reported discrimination experiences. Overall, improvements for black people do not seem to coincide with disadvantages for white people, and discrimination perceptions differ from reported discrimination experiences. Implications for racial attitudes, political polarization and voting behaviour are discussed.

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Fig. 1: Mean amounts of discrimination perceived to be faced by black and white people among different respondent groups.
Fig. 2: Percentages of black and white participants who reported having experienced workplace discrimination between 2002 and 2018.
Fig. 3: Number of hate crime victims between 1996 and 2017.
Fig. 4: Mean discrimination experiences reported by white and black people estimated using full information maximum likelihood.

Data availability

All data are publicly accessible online. Data from Sample 1 can be found at Data from Sample 2 can be found at Data from Sample 3 can be found at Data from Sample 4 can be found at Names for variables used in the present investigation are listed as they appear in the datasets in the Supplementary Information.


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The authors received no specific funding for this work.

Author information




M.E. and G.H. conceived the project, analysed the data and wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Megan Earle or Gordon Hodson.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Primary handling editor: Aisha Bradshaw.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–2 and Supplementary Methods.


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Earle, M., Hodson, G. Questioning white losses and anti-white discrimination in the United States. Nat Hum Behav 4, 160–168 (2020).

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