It’s been a big year for outing high-profile bigots in America. Donald Sterling’sracist comments, Richard Scudamore’s sexist jokes, and Brendan Eich’s homophobic donations all earned widespread condemnation when their private activities hit the press. (Scudamore got off without a slap on the wrist in the U.K., but was nevertheless called to account by the New York Times.) Pinning these people on their overt displays of bigotry feels good, because it’s harder than ever to find a powerful person stupid enough to employ a slur. Most people responsible for perpetuating discrimination are capable of doing so without saying a word.
A new review of studies on discrimination by the University of Washington’s Tony Greenwald and U.C. Santa Cruz’s Thomas Pettigrew makes the succinct case that discrimination in the United States is not primarily a product of overt hatred for others, but rather simple preferences for people like ourselves. In a review of five decades of psychological research, they found that while most researchers defined prejudice as an expression of hostility, the more pervasive form of bigotry in the United States comes from people who favor, admire, and trust people of their own race, gender, age, religion, or parenting status. Even people who share our birthdays can catch a break. That means that—to take just one example—sexist bias isn’t largely perpetuated by people who hate women. It’s furthered by men who just particularly like other men.