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When President Barack Obama became the first non-White president in American history many declared our country had overcome its racist past. Chief Justice John Roberts echoed the same sentiment when the high court gutted the Voting Rights Act last year. In his ruling, Justice Roberts wrote, “Our country has changed,” and argued states no longer barred Black folks from voting.

While African-Americans have made tremendous strides since the bad old days of Jim Crow, our nation is far from equal. Black college graduates are twice as likely to be unemployed than their White counterparts, and disparities in the justice, healthcare, and education systems leave many African-Americans struggling to survive. Though it should be clear that America remains rife with inequality, hearing about successful African-Americans have left some believing that racism just isn’t a big deal.

Recently, University of California, Berkeley professor Clayton Critcher teamed up with University of Chicago professor Jane Risen to see how people view America’s current racial climate. What they found was quite interesting.

Critcher writes:

When non-blacks were exposed to African-American success stories—tales of those who defied the odds, like Merck chief executive Kenneth Frazier, Brown University President Ruth Simmons, and even President Obama—they became less sympathetic to more average African-Americans, without even realizing it. They unknowingly reasoned, “If he can do it, so can they.”

Risen and I conducted eight experiments with both college undergraduates and non-students. We had participants complete a supposedly unrelated task before expressing their opinion about why racial disparities persist in modern America. In the first part, participants answered numerous questions like, “Which of the two men shown below do you think is famous author John Grisham?” For some participants, one or two of these questions involved especially successful African-Americans. These key questions appeared straightforward (e.g., “Which of the two men shown below is the CEO of Merck?), but their true purpose was to subtly inform participants (through the provided pictures) that a particular high-level position was occupied by an African-American. As a control, other participants were asked only about whites.

Participants who had been exposed to the counterstereotypical examples of African-American success were more likely to blame blacks for persisting racial disparities. But when we later asked whether being exposed to these exemplars had changed their beliefs about race in America, our non-black participants denied it (inaccurately). That is, exposure to the exemplars changed their beliefs without their realizing it. What’s more, they became just as unsympathetic to African-Americans even when it was highlighted that the exemplar’s success story was an exception (e.g., “Which person is Kenneth Frazier, the only African-American CEO of a Fortune 75 company?”). Thus, people don’t assume racism is on the decline because they believe African-American success is typical; they need only appreciate that such success is possible.

Critcher and Risen’s research suggest African-Americans are in a difficult position. While inequality, racism, and disparities in the most basic systems continue to exist, many feel that Black folks can no longer point to systematic White supremacy as a reason why it’s more difficult to make it in America.

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  • ashleydark

    “non-blacks”? so the hispanics,east asians,south asians,arabs,natives,white people,jews and everybody else become less sympathetic?? how do they feel about white success or other races success? i want to know if they just hate us or everybody that isn’t them

    • Anonin

      Usually everybody who isnt them but blacks have a special place in their hearts.

    • Brad

      Because blacks and whites in this country have one of the longest and most tumultuous histories together. Most of us are not immigrants here, in fact most of us were here long before the other white ethnic groups.

    • Emily

      They don’t envy the other groups… just Blacks. Envy breeds hate.

    • ashleydark

      why us , we never even done nothing to them

  • BlackJesuscom

    While Black people can’t control racism, what we do is control our discretionary income. Black consumers have now reached over $1 trillion in consumer buying power, while spending less than 2% with Black owned companies. We can create much more success and wealth in our community while reducing high unemployment by making small changes in what we buy and who we buy it from. Donald Sterling said Jews go out of their way to support another Jew. So do most other minority groups in this country. Its past time we do. To change this join us http://bit.ly/1iuruFj

  • Imman M

    Racism can be a very frustrating or stressful experience, especially when people deny its existence. If you have experienced racism please share your experiences via this research survey. Thank you very much. Here is the link: http://bit.ly/1f3Hz86

  • Medina

    My comment is kind of off topic, but I would just like to post it and see what everyone thinks. I’m a “non – black,” Mexican – American. I was just in a debate with a friend (also mexican) who constantly drops the N word. Every time I tell him how ugly and stupid it is for him as a minority to use it. I then hit him with my own bomb. I simply asked “what is the bad word for hispanics?” Then I told him he probably could tell me at least a couple racial slurs for every minority group. Here’s where I got him “what is the slur for whites?” (Crickets) then I asked, “do you think that’s just a coincidence? ” Point is, racism exist! White people deny it, not because they know a secret, but more because they dont understand how it has been systematically pumped into them since they learned to learn, learn anything! Most people are the same, minorities need to realize whether black, Mexican, asian, Indian, etc. We are all the same! Not white. I will change my friends opinion and he will hopefully pass the lesson…Tupac is coming back white people!!! Jk lol that would be their worst nightmare tho.