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RACIAL DISCRIMINATION AND WHITE GAIN
ALBERT SZYMANSKI University of Oregon
American Sociological Review 1976, Vol. 41 (June): 403-414
The question of whether or not whites gain economically from economic discrimina- tion against third world people is examined with evidence from the 1970 U.S. census. The impact of racial discrimination is measured by the percentage of the population of third world origin in each state and by the ratio of black to white male earnings for those who work full time. White gain is measured by the level of white male earnings in each state and the Gini coefficient of earnings inequality among white males. If whites gain economically from racism, we would expect to find that the greater the percentage of the population of a state that is third world and the lower the ratio of black/white earnings then the higher the level of white earnings and the less the inequality in white earnings. The basic relationships were examined controlling for percentage of the population that is urban, percentage of the economically active population in manu- facturing, level of personal income, region and percentage of the population that is third world. It is found that whites do
gain from economic discrimination; on the contrary, white working people actually lose economically from such discrimination. It is argued that racism is a divisive force which undermines the economic and political strength of working people and acts to worsen the economic position of white workers in the most racist areas. In support of this interpretation, data on the strength of unions is examined.
There have been a number of studies on the question of whether or not white work-
ing people actually gain economically rom economic discrimination gainst blacks and
other national minorities in the United
States. The most influential of these in- clude: Becker (1971), Glenn (1963;
1966), Thurow (1969) and Reich
All but the last of these
Some other relevant studies include Blalock (1957), Cutright (1965), Dollard (1937:ch. 6) and Krueger (1963). The weight of all of these studies is the conclusion that white workers bene- fit from economic discrimination against blacks. On the other hand, a number of descriptive studies of American strikes, union organizing and labor struggles suggest the opposite, i.e., that racism is in fact used to keep whites as well as blacks impoverished. See for example: Brody (1960), Bracey et al. (1971) and Spero and Harris (1968). Others who make theoretical arguments that white workers gain from racial discrimination nclude Baron (1971) and Blauner (1972).
that the white working class benefits from economic discrimination nd therefore has a stake in its persistence. Reich, on the other hand, working within the Marxist paradigm, ttempts o demonstrate hat, on the contrary, he white working class suf- fers from economic discrimination gainst blacks and consequently has an interest n ending that discrimination. Becker (1971) has stated what is perhaps the most widely accepted theory of dis- crimination mong contemporary cademic economists. He argues that discrimination is a matter of personal aste on the part of employers who must forego a part of their potential income in order to realize their desire to avoid associating with blacks. Because white employers resist hiring blacks, even when doing so would produce greater profits or them, they are net losers from economic discrimination. n the other hand, white workers who get the jobs the white employers irrationally (from the