Arguing online? Mentioning ‘white privilege’ can make things much worse

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The next time you find yourself in a debate online, avoid using the term “white privilege.” Researchers at the University of Michigan say doing so will almost certainly lead to a more hostile conversation. Study authors report mentioning the term can create internet discussions that are less constructive, more polarized, and less supportive of racially progressive policies in general.

According to lead study author Christopher Quarles, a doctoral student at the UM School of Information, it’s more important than ever to ensure cross-cultural online communications are both effective and inclusive. Let’s face it, polarization and arguments online are becoming increasingly more common. Additionally, the subjects of race and racism in the United States remain at the forefront of the news cycle.

In this study, Quarles and co-author Lia Bozarth, also a School of Information doctoral student, investigated how the language and words we choose to use during online conversations ultimately impact who participates in those debates and how they unfold.

More specifically, the team focused on the term “white privilege.” While it’s now a common phrase in recent years, the origins of the white privilege saying trace back to the 1980s. Researchers made no attempt to analyze the validity of white privilege as a concept, nor did they set out to determine if Caucasians really think they have advantages due to their race. The sole goal of this study was to analyze what happens when one side of an online debate decides to use the “white privilege” term.

The right phrasing makes all the difference

Across two lab experiments, close to 1,000 U.S. subjects (82% Caucasian) had an opportunity to respond to an online post requesting opinions about renaming various old college buildings. When the initial post shown to subjects included the term “white privilege” in the question, far fewer white participants were willing to say they supported renaming the buildings.

Moreover, even Caucasian participants who remained in support of renaming the buildings after the mention of white privilege were still less likely to create an online post. Meanwhile, Caucasian and non-Caucasian subjects opposed to renaming the buildings showed no significant difference. Using the term white privilege also fostered more low-quality posts among both Caucasians and non-Caucasians, according to Quarles.

Researchers conclude that the relationship between the question’s language and the content of subsequent responses was mediated by either support or opposition to renaming the old buildings. This indicates, researchers say, that using the term white privilege doesn’t necessarily make people think differently, but it does evoke an emotional reaction that changes responses.

Study authors suggest using more inclusive terms when discussing race online, such as “racial inequality.” These less-polarizing terms help create a sense of shared purpose. Additionally, policymakers looking to promote racial equity should carefully consider how other will perceive their language and words. The right phrase can unite, but the wrong may incite even more polarization.

“There are very real racial inequities in society today. Choosing language that promotes constructive conversation will not solve those problems,” Quarles concludes in a university release. “But it is an important step toward collectively understanding their dimensions and working together towards a solution.”

The study is published in PLoS ONE.

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  1. Avoid using the term “white privilege” when attempting to brainwash White people into becoming a serf class owned by non-Whites in countries founded by and FOR White people,initially.

    Afterall,you wouldn’t want to get your behind handed to you by someone pointing out that everything that you claim is “white privilege” is also true of the way majority black countries in Africa,which are far less welcoming to White people than America is to Africans, behave with respect to the racial dynamics of their majority black populations.

    The fact that the same dynamics which are called “white privilege” only in countries that were founded by and originally majoritatively composed of White people also exist in countries that are majority Asian with respect to non-Asians,majority-Hispanic with respect to non-Hispanics, or majority Arab/jew with respect to non-Arabs/non-jews,is kind of a stumbling block when you are haranguing only White people about a situation that exists in pretty much every country that was either settled by or ancestrally-inhabited by any one race of people and ironically upholding a White supremacist narrative that treats White people as some kind of clairvoyant super-being which should have psychically possessed the foreknowledge that brown and black people would eventually decide to barge into countries founded or inhabited by White people and demand first equal citizenship (which,again,they don’t grant to racial outgroups),then a superior status in the form of civil rights which supercede the Constitutional rights guaranteed to Whites,and then tribute in the form of both welfare and obeisance based on the fact that Whites have somehow “wronged” black and brown home invaders by not giving them everything they wanted before they even barged in and demanded it.

    It’s very important that we find a way to induce Stockholm Syndrome in White people so that they happily acclimate to this situation of living with and being extorted in perpetuity by black and brown people who they were literally forced at gunpoint by the government to go to school with and live around,and likewise that we continue to force people to live around and work with and go to school with people that they don’t want to (with deadly force if necessary) otherwise they might say mean things to the black and brown people who they are being colonized by,and that might result in brown tears because of the racial inequity of White people having any 1 single country that is for White people and black people only having 50 or so countries run by and for black people.

  2. I have given up on pretending there is such a thing as racial equality.
    Whites, Asians, and Hispanics are just more productive, dependable and honest with a higher work ethic and easier to get along with than entitlement minded blacks who play victim way too much.
    I tried for years to pretend otherwise. When I see a black face, my first thought is “oh my, what will he screw up first?”

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