Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Series Virtually Hosts Vincent Hutchings

University of Michigan Political Science Professor Vincent Hutchings shares his research on how white liberals need to start saying less and doing more when it comes to the race.

Vincent Hutchings, political science professor at the University of Michigan, displayed his research Friday morning on how racist policies are repeatedly supported by both red and blue voters, putting the core of liberal Ann Arbor into question. 

Hutchings was hosted virtually by Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), a University of Michigan organization that shares a variety of educational events throughout the year. Hutchings’ lecture, entitled White Liberalism and the Illusion of Racial Progress, showcases research collected by Hutchings and his team. This research is increasingly prevalent as the US enters another radical racial period in time. 

Protesting for equality is nothing new. Minorities in America have been fighting for equality and against discrimination for generations. So what makes these protests different than before? According to Hutchings, it’s the presence of white people. 

“The racial composition of participants now are far more multi-racial and far more multi-ethnic than in the past. By some accounts, the population participating in these demonstrations are mostly white. And that is very different from what we’ve seen in the past,” said Hutchings.

White people are becoming more aware, and perhaps more angry, about these injustices but Hutchings says that does not translate to social change. Hutchings, along with other experts, believe that political policy is at the heart of improving racial equality amongst all people. 

“We are going to have to fashion race-based remedies. And I realize that makes people uncomfortable — perhaps including many liberals. But if we really want to solve this problem, we cannot do so with racially neutral policies. It was race-based policies that got us into this mess, it’s going to be race-based policy that gets us out if we are even to emerge.”

To understand how to affect policy, Hutchings wanted to understand the role education has for white individuals. He examined the question; if people were aware of disadvantages Black Americans face, would that affect policy change? 

To find out, Hutchings and his team conducted a study by asking questions related to just one of the major disparities between races — wealth. Hutchings describes the wealth gap as an ongoing issue that dates back to the beginning of America, “Wealth is something that can be passed on across generations, income dies when you die.” said Hutchings. 

Wealth disparity is currently about a 1-10 ratio between white people and black people in this country. By sharing these statistics and questions on the importance of policy change, the team was able to compile a general idea of not just the impact education has on a white person, but also what they were willing to do to enact change. 

The results of the study show that education did make an impact on the awareness of an issue. Most participants did learn and reported the wealth gap is much larger than they originally thought. However, the study did have an exception regarding policy. The study found that education did not significantly alter the attitude white people have on changing racial policies. In regard to policy change, participants moved just slightly from opposed to moderately opposed. This exception was found across all political ideation. 

“Democrats have adopted the same position on federal efforts to ensure separation and their position is to not talk about it. The reason they do that is because their democratic base does not want them to — or their white democratic base does not want them to,” said Hutchings.

Hutchings commented on the lack of initiative his own employer has made towards racial equality. 

“Our public schools are about as segregated as they were in the 1970’s. This is true even at my place of employment, the University of Michigan. The state of Michigan is about 14% black, but the student body is only about 4-5% black. And at no point in recent (or, within the last few decades) has the fraction of black students been in double digit numbers” said Hutchings. 

Many liberals blame the current administration for encouraging racial tension within the country, but Hutchings states that even while Barack Obama was in office, white liberals have been consistent in showing that an electors’ race is not a pressing issue.  

“In the aftermath of Obama’s victory in 2008 there became less support in the surveys by whites to address racial inequity,” said Hutchings. “Americans did not become more racial liberal and they were exceedingly opposed to efforts to bring about racial equality. That was true in 2008, it was true in 2016, and indeed some of our results prove that is true in 2020.”

For upcoming elections and future administrations, Hutchings encourages white liberals to take their public stances to political positions. Protesting and voicing injustices is a symbol of support, but showing real support is examining privilege, knowing where it came from, and, therefore, knowing it does not belong to you. 

“In order to address these problems whites are going to have to recognize that, on average, they have accrued resources and benefits at the expense of other groups. And if they want to set matters right, they are going to have to make some sacrifices,” said Hutchings.

OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) is a University of Michigan sponsored community, committed to sharing educational events with the public throughout the school year.

The last lecture session offered for the 2020 season will be hosted virtually June 30 at 10 a.m. Dr. Steven Strobbe will be featured for the discussion entitled, What About Weed? The Cannabis Controversy, Past, Present, and Future. You can join the webinar here.

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