September 16, 2019


One of the accepted “facts” of American life is that race and ethnicity are the divides that cleave our country. The given wisdom is that race and ethnicity always lurk in the background and are what taint many Americans’ decisions as to whom we hire, rent to, educate, marry and with whom we spend our free time.

Five years ago, as this blog “>poll revealing that fewer people perceived divisions between black and white as a key dividing line in America than saw conflicts between immigrants and the native born or between rich and poor as the major cleavages. In other words, immigrant vs. native and class conflicts outstrip race as the prisms through which Americans view their society. Race was the prism through which conflict was viewed as “very strong/strong” by Blacks at 53%, Latinos at 47% and whites at 35%.  Significantly larger percentages saw immigrant-native born tensions (Blacks—61%, Latinos—68% and whites—53%) or class conflicts (Blacks—-65%, Latinos—- 55%, and whites—-43%) as strong or very strong.

A recently released “>Stanford Report, 10/8/2014). Race wasn’t totally absent from the assessment—both African American (at 73%) and white participants (at 55.8%) showed a preference for African American applicants, but not at a rate approximating the partisanship preference.

In a related study by the two researchers, they found that in a “trust game” in which Player #1 is given some money and told that he/she can give some, or all, or none of it to Player #2—“race didn’t matter, party affiliation did. People gave significantly larger amounts when they were playing with someone who shared their party group identity.”

The authors attribute the willingness to discriminate on the basis of political affiliation to “the absence of norms governing the expression of [such] negative sentiment.” They argue that the absence of social norms result in few people tempering their inclinations to help someone who thinks politically as they do. Additionally, the conduct of our political leaders contributes to the coarsening of our discourse, “actions and rhetoric of political leaders demonstrate that hostility directed at the opposition is acceptable, even appropriate.”

The Stanford researchers offer a prescription —-“greater personal contact between Republicans and Democrats.” This might be a new avenue for “dialogue groups”—have “Dinner with Democrat” or “Refreshments with a Republicans.”

What these studies suggest is how complex human motivations and actions are to discern; there are no simple, straight-line causal links that explain all. The Implicit Association Test which purports to plum our innermost biases (about which we have