Whites identify with race, study says

A University study is intended to make people more aware of racial attitudes.

by Amber Schadewald

A survey released by the University’s sociology department is opening eyes to the issue of racial identity, rebuking researchers’ belief that white isn’t perceived as a race.

A telephone survey of 2,000 American households found that more white people are aware of their own race than previously assumed, according to study authors.

White people have been in the majority in the United States, which meant race was not always obvious, said Joe Gerteis, University sociology professor and co-author of the study.

The study found that 74 percent of white people believe their race to be important; 37 percent answered somewhat important and 37 percent answered very important. Although those figures encompass a majority, it is considerably less than the 72 percent of nonwhites who said their race is very important.

The survey was the final part of the American Mosaic Project, a three-year project funded by the David Edelstein Family Foundation, which looked at diversity, difference and discrimination in the United States.

When asked about racial inequality, 62 percent of white people said they believed prejudice and discrimination against nonwhites had put them at an advantage, the study said. Seventy-nine percent of nonwhites agreed.

In total, the survey questioned 1,000 white people, 500 black people, 400 Hispanic people and 100 members of other groups.

Fewer than half of white people said U.S. laws and institutions contributed to disadvantages for black people. But 81 percent of nonwhites believed they do.

Gerteis said there has been a historic reduction in racism, but society has yet to completely rid institutions of its effects.

“(U.S. society has) done a good job of realizing that personal discrimination is a bad thing, but whites still don’t seem able to see or understand the institutional or systemic side of racism,” Gerteis said.

Paul Croll, sociology graduate student and co-author, said he’s excited about the study because it will help people think about race and white advantage in new ways.

“A lot of people hear the topic of race and shut down,” Croll said. “They don’t understand that just because they’re not personally racist, doesn’t mean that they’re not part of a racial system.”

Many of the white people surveyed said that because every race is equal, people get ahead in life based on their own abilities and effort, Gerteis said.

Some students on campus agreed and said they don’t think race plays a big part in society today.

“It’s all about individual skills,” said University first-year student, Youa Yang. “Judging on race just isn’t as important today.”

Success is not affected by racial identity, said Josh Detko, a first-year nursing student.

Detko said he thinks the survey is a good way for people to express opinions, but he doesn’t think it will make much of an impact on society.

“I don’t think I’m ever really aware of my ‘whiteness,’ ” Detko said. “I don’t think it plays that big of a part in who I am.”

Croll said the survey was intended to get a broad idea of how Americans view their race and more specifically, what white people think about being white.

By making more people aware of their racial identity, Croll said, he hopes more people will be able to identify and work against the white privilege that still exists.

Amy Kaminsky, a gender, women and sexuality studies professor, said the survey was a great idea and said she’s proud to be a part of an institution that conducts this kind of research.

“The more we can understand about race, the better position we are in to create an equalitarian society,” she said.