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Historical Information and Beliefs about Racial Inequality

Steven White, Albert H. Fang

Politics, Groups, and Identities, August 2022

Steven White

Steven White

Does exposure to historical information cause systemic policy thinking? Despite the importance of this question across multiple research traditions, there is a dearth of empirical research assessing it. We evaluate this question by studying the case of how arguments about the historical and structural roots of racial inequality affect beliefs about racial inequality.

Analyzing data from a novel survey experiment fielded on two national, census-balanced samples of American adults, we find compelling evidence that such arguments can increase beliefs in the existence of Black-white racial inequality and increase beliefs in structural causes of racial inequality, particularly among white Republicans and Independents. In addition, we find evidence that historical information can reduce racial resentment among these groups.

Overall, our study provides evidence that exposure to historical information can induce greater systemic and historical thinking about contemporary racial inequalities in the United States.