racial prejudice and contact with minorities

I recall reading several studies of the US and UK that show a negative correlation between anti-immigrant prejudice and the proportion of immigrants in a community. A new study of the UK by economists from Tilburg University in The Netherlands and the University of Sydney in Australia contributes to this research, and shows that the effects are persistent. Worryingly, though, persistence is weaker in areas that received less subsequent in-migration.

Here is the authors’ conclusion:

We have investigated the effect of the presence of black American troops in the United Kingdom during World War II on anti-minority prejudice. Large numbers of black G.I.s were posted in the U.K. at a time where the population was almost exclusively white. Documentary evidence suggests that the allocation of black troops to military bases in the U.K. took place without consideration of local racial attitudes, and we show that the allocation is orthogonal to a large set of economic, political and social variables. As such, variation across bases as to the number of black units posted allows us to identify causal effects of the local presence of troops.

We found that areas of the U.K. in which black soldiers were posted during World War II contain fewer members of the British National Party, a far-right party with racist policy positions, in 2007. The effect is particularly strong in rural areas—that is, areas where population movements are lower and which remain predominantly white. In addition, individuals in such areas exhibit less implicit anti-black bias, as measured by a computerised Implicit Association Test, and are more likely to report warmer feelings towards black people. Taken as a whole, our results provide support for the ‘contact hypothesis’, which postulates that contact between groups can reduce animosity towards the minority group, and show that such effects can persist in geographies across time. It is interesting to note that the contact which we describe meets many of the conditions that Allport postulated were necessary for intergroup contact to lead to improved relations: equal status, common goals, intergroup cooperation and personal interaction. Black G.I.s were in the United Kingdom for a relatively short period of time, were there to support the war effort, and did not compete for jobs or public goods with the local population. More work is required to understand how the mode of interaction between groups affects any changes in attitudes that contact might produce.

David Schindler and Mark Westcott, “Shocking Racial Attitudes: Black G.I.s in Europe“, CESifo Working Paper Series No. 6723, 9 November 2017, p. 42.  https://ssrn.com/abstract=3098282


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