New research published this month found evidence that sharing historical context increased beliefs that (1) racial inequities exist and (2) that they are structural (not individual) in nature. It was most effective among White independents and Republicans. This research supports the importance of including historical narrative along with data and narratives when describing and addressing systemic inequities.
The housing treatment increased belief in racial inequality’s existence and belief in discrimination against African Americans as a structural cause of racial inequality among both white Independents and Republicans, but decreased racial resentment only among white Independents (and not white Republicans). By contrast, among white Republicans, the jobs treatment decreased racial resentment and increased belief in discrimination and a lack of educational opportunities among African Americans as causes of racial inequality, but did not increase belief in the existence of racial inequality itself.
Taken together, these results provide evidence that information about the historical roots of contemporary racial inequality can in fact shape racial beliefs. In particular, we found that white respondents in the treatment conditions, rather than engaging in motivated reasoning and exhibiting divergent beliefs, seem to update their beliefs in the direction of the information they receive about the existence of racial inequality and the extent to which it is caused by structural factors when presented with specific information about past discriminatory policies.