Racial Status Threat, White ‘Ignorance,’ and Economic Research
This portion follows a discussion about the roots of economic success in the US: the Transatlantic Slave Trade and white supremacy, and the fact that economic situations at a group/social level cannot be discussed without mention of slavery as well as European efforts to control brown and black people worldwide. Race and economics are thus inseparable, at least in the US and possibly everywhere, given the penetrated notions of white supremacy which are shared worldwide.
Because Drs. Deaton and Case published a widely-discussed study in which ‘deaths of despair’ of socioeconomically disadvantaged white peoples was attributed solely to economics, a reevaluation of their potential blind spots is necessary. Dr. Deaton, in response to requests that he consider the all-important, central factor of race in discussions about economic viability at a group level, started an economic commission in England headed by 13/13 white people, ie, 0/13 people of color. He garnered almost 3.5 million dollars to study whatever he and 12 other white people think is of economic import. Dr. Case, for her part, repeatedly emphasizes in interviews that economics should be central and states that if studies were simply to discuss economics, race would be somehow ‘folded in’ to these priorities. In summary, Deaton and Case continue to ignore the factor of race even after multiple discussions indicating its centrality.
The fact that they decline to mention the dimension of racial privilege which complicates the simplistic notion of economics only indicates a white ‘ignorance’ which needs to be addressed. It also likely indicates why they missed the fact that these white people, as a group, feel threatened by the equality of other black, brown, and indigenous peoples, not just by their own depleted economic status.
I will restate this: white people, as a group, appear to be acting in ways which preserve white supremacy while conveniently dismissing responsibility for this by focusing on economics only. Clearly, if the professors studying these parameters also feel their own ‘racial status threat’, they will be strongly inclined to ignore facts which already has and will continue to distort the results.
The ‘racial status threat’ theory states that, when the dominant group’s status as a group is threatened, this perceived threat leads to group behavior in which the dominant group attempts to maintain dominance as a group. Note that, in the case of white supremacy, it means that white people as a group are pushing against equality through this maintenance of their dominance. Many studies have shown that the threat of losing white dominance is the main driver behind white behaviors which are conservative-leaning. Thus, white people as a group continue to behave as if white supremacy — the subordination of all POC’s and in particular of black ones whose labor has made the country a world power — is attractive, a system to uphold.
In many studies over a period of almost four decades, researchers have shown that white people as a group display animus towards minorities, and in particular black people, when their superior status in society is threatened with actual equality for everybody else. In one study, white people actually voted against welfare for the entire system — which would deleteriously affect them as well — -just because they thought black people might be getting a little bit more than they have in the past, which was and still is a condition of deprivation. (Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy: Chicago/University of Chicago PressWillens, 1999). White people as a group will shoot themselves in the foot as long as they know black people as a group are being shot in a more vital organ.
In a more recent study, the theory that white people have been more inclined to vote for Trump due to economic distress was put to task, proving once again that it is the fear of status threat — that is, of the end of white dominance and the beginning of true equity — that is driving white people as a group to protect their investment in white supremacy (not equality). (Mutz, Status Threat, Not Economic Hardship, Explains the 2016 Presidential Vote, 2018.)
In another study which examines Deaton and Case’s study with a wider lens, the authors found that the data indicating that these deaths are limited to economically-disadvantaged white people is false; though they are more deleteriously affected, in fact white people across all economic levels have experience increased morbidity, even though they are still statistically in a much better situation, as a group, than other peoples of color, and in particular African-Americans. (Siddiqi, A. et al: Growing Sense of Social Status Threat and Concomitant Deaths of Despair Among Whites).
Thus, a purely economic theory re: white despair despite Deaton’s and Case’s assertions, cannot completely explain the behavior. These authors conclude:
…short term rising white mortality seems to be driven principally by anxiety among whites about losing social status, even in the absence of evidence that they are, in fact, ceding status to blacks.
In summary, white people as a group are focused on maintaining superiority over black people and other people of color, that is, on NOT achieving equality. Some studies show that they will even deprive themselves s in order to make sure that black people remain subordinated. One wonders how this stance can ever lead to any sort of equality, when the conflict between the long-standing unjust enrichment for white people as a group seems to be resolved by utilizing defense mechanism after defense mechanism to keep a heavy foot on black people’s (and to some extent, other POC’s) necks.
This attitude, regardless of its intent, cannot possibly foster equality. The attitude conveys that certain white people, as a group, should address the very strong tendency to claim they want equality but then behave as if they prefer the white supremacy that renders everybody else inferior, and black peoples at the bottom (in the phantasmagoria of white supremacy). Obviously, if white people as a group continue to behave in ways that convey they cannot negotiate actual equality, at some point they will have to ask themselves how to fix their own problems. As a reminder, 90% of the human race worldwide has been and continues to be derogated, in some fashion or another, by white people as a group.
It seems, however, that certain white people as a group dodge this responsibility through ‘white ignorance.’ My conclusion, after almost 40 years of listening and speaking about racial matters to all sorts of people that white people virtually always resort to some form of denial.
Dr. Deaton’s attitude conveys color-blind racism: in response to these findings, he doesn’t ask what can be done to avail white people of their subconscious psychological tendencies to dominate all other peoples and work against social equity for POC and especially African-Americans as a group.
Instead, he creates the wholly-white led IFS — which has the same representation of POC’s as any KKK group: 0% — and gathers financial resources for…well, we know that answer. As an economist at an Ivy League American institution, one would think he would focus on the entire issue: why are white people as a group so doggedly determined to dominate others when they claim such adherence to equality?
Because, as the above illustrates, ultimately as a group, white people are interested neither in equality nor in the admission of their actual goals, and our institutions — including economics, the very core of redistribution — are staffed mostly if not entirely by people who convey an insidious color blindness.
White ‘Ignorance’ ??
‘White ignorance,’ by definition, has an expiration date. One can only be ‘ignorant’ until one is availed of factual material. After that, ‘ignorance’ loses its meaning as ‘ignorance;’ it is now a form of deliberate neglect, at best. Yet, as a society, we continue to offer this excuse to white people as a group, instead of demanding that they look with anything but the white lens which never fails to ignore, sideline, and derogate peoples of color.
Because a significant number of white people as a group are either unable or unwilling to see that the invention of race is the root of the problem, they continue to speak from a place of deep bias. The fact that white people frame themselves as experts on experiences which deny the centrality of race indicate they lack comprehension of 21st century realities in addition to lacking the understanding that they cannot possibly understand the experiences of any person of color.
This fact argues strongly for a significant change in representation in these economic forums, and not just the routine tokenism with which people of color have become nauseatingly familiar. The baseline attitude which gives a majority of white people these positions conveys white supremacy: white people are the deciders for black ones. Plus everyone else, too. This exclusionary, condescending nonsense reflects the old canard of black peoples as innocent and childlike, requiring white leadership and guidance. This is ludicrous. Again, it is part of the invented phantasmagoria of white supremacy. White ‘ignorance’ cannot be utilized indefinitely, because as time passes it seems less and less plausible.
As time passes, we are in yet another generation of BPOC (and some NBPOC and white people) explaining the relevance of race in all matters, and many white people claiming or acting in ways that convey ‘white ignorance.’ At some point, if white people as a group continue to invest themselves in behaviors that sideline the reality and centrality of the Transatlantic Slave Trade/slavery despite repeated factual reminders such as Anderson offers, this behavior can only be called participation in upholding white supremacy.
‘Ignorance’ can be called ignorance before knowledge is presented. A refusal to acknowledge centuries of reality, a kind of ‘pass’ that white people get for not looking, can be given by the oppressed population as a form of magnanimity and generosity on a temporary basis. But how many ‘passes’ is a truly democratic country willing to give a population in which the majority of privileged people persistently and actively refuses to see their advantage and, in addition, who conveys a vested interest in avoiding equality?
After repeated, overt statements of knowledge are presented to this same population, this shirking of responsibility should no longer fall under the tired rubric of white ‘ignorance.’ At this stage, it is simply participation in the ongoing maintenance of white supremacy. It requires further management by altering the status quo of power at higher levels in economic institutions so as to acknowledge the humanity of all peoples. Perhaps a test for deep-seated, latent white ‘ignorance’ is needed before awarding Ph.D.’s; doctorates are supposed to be beacons of enlightenment and intelligence, not deliberately ignorant, whether deliberate or otherwise. And when one gets a Ph.D., nobody asks whether or not ignorance was something ‘intended;’ they ask if the proper conclusion — the impact — was perceived.
It is entirely possible that the preeminent Drs. Deaton and Case, clearly also recipients of white privilege, exhibit racial status threat themselves given their dogged determination to sideline racial matters in favor of framing social issues from an economic perspective. This is white ‘ignorance,’ a way to deny continued favoritism so as to maintain it.
This is the point at which intervention is needed so that economic groups include people of color, since it becomes clear that the white privilege which has given so much privilege to these two doctorates — and the many other white people in these higher-level positions — has blinded them to the core dilemma: in the US, race and economics cannot be separated due to white supremacy. This situation cannot be discussed cogently without adequate representation of African-Americans. Any responses to our current dilemma which refuse to acknowledge ‘racial status threat’ as a method of upholding white supremacy should be immediately revealed for what it is: white ‘ignorance.’ Now that they’ve been told — articles such as this have appeared for 3+ years — how can this be ‘ignorance’?
What does this tell us about the majority, which is still in charge, and their actual (in)ability to lead? When we say white supremacy is institutionalized, we mean that people who prioritize ‘whiteness’ are running these institutions to their advantage. This is still happening.
Institutional representation of black and brown peoples must be a priority.