a recent paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General suggests that the idea of white privilege may have an unexpected drawback: It can reduce empathy for white people who are struggling with poverty. The paper finds that social liberals—people who have socially liberal views on the major political issues—are actually less likely to empathize with a poor white person’s plight after being given a reading on white privilege.
The results surprised the researchers. Cooley had wondered if teaching a liberal person about white privilege would increase their sympathy for a poor black person who doesn’t benefit from it. But that’s not what happened.
“Instead, what we found is that when liberals read about white privilege . . . it didn’t significantly change how they empathized with a poor black person—but it did significantly bump down their sympathy for a poor white person,” she says.