Honors Thesis Spotlight: Examining the Relationship Between Education and White Racial Resentment

Since the foundation of the United States, racism has been a systematic issue deeply rooted within long-standing principles. Laws and practices such as slavery, Jim Crow laws, and Black codes are just a few examples of the overt racism in the country’s system. In recent times, racism in America has transformed from outward aggression to symbolic and resentful ideas. Instead of being outwardly racist to African American citizens, white citizens build up racial resentment which stems from the need to feel socially superior. Racial resentment is the idea that white Americans who have antiblack and traditional American values fuel hateful backlash towards African Americans.

Racial resentment allows racism to exist under the pretense of having American morals. For instance, in a state-level survey, the researchers found that racial resentment (tested through the Racial Resentment Survey) existed in the reluctance of white Americans to vote for President Obama and through their view of his economy (2012). Even in 1970, some white southerners held resentment towards the Civil Rights Movement because they were not socially in power anymore. Nixon used these southerners racial resentment to win votes by proposing ideas about fighting the “War on Drugs” and being “tough on crime.” He used it as a disguise to further their resentment and even became a dog whistle for white supremacists.

The government also displays racial resentment in the form of how Congress members interact with one another. Research has found that Republican members of Congress who come from districts with high levels of racial resentment harshly criticize President Obama’s plans more often than Republicans who come from areas with lower racial resentment. Additionally, Americans criticize welfare due to misconceptions about the main beneficiaries: Black Americans. This is how symbolic racism permeates social policy. It helps to deny marginalized groups equal participation in politics, which has a negative impact on the political decisions made for marginalized groups.

Campbell hypothesizes that formal education can reduce racial resentment and reason for overt racism’s decline. He argues that the Deep South- where K-12 education is the lowest and has the highest racial resentment- has had a 20% increase in adults (25 years old and older) with four years of higher education since 1970, which can explain how overt racism has declined with proper education. Education could be the key to dismantling racial resentment. Campbell theorizes how college-level education has a negative relationship with racial resentment because the college offers opportunities to explore people of color’s experiences. For instance, colleges offer classes or seminars that focus on the experiences of African Americans. When a white student attends one, it forces the white individual to grapple with complex ideas of racial inequality. Furthermore, mixing the student body to create diversity can help mitigate symbolic racism through the interactions of students of different races and ethnicities.

To test his theory that formal education has a negative impact on racial resentment, Campbell used three data sets using a regression analysis (OSL). Since the results of these data sets come from three different years, the results of his study are a little mixed. However, the overall results from the three sets of data were consistent with Campbell’s hypothesis.

Chandler Campbell is a graduate of the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University. This post was based on Chandler’s honors thesis, written by COSSPP Blog Intern, Lindsey Anderson.

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