Polls and studies consistently show that White Americans show the lowest level of support for Affirmative Action (AA) policies. Opponents of AA often argue that this is because it violates principles of meritocracy. Indeed, there have been numerous legal challenges to AA on the grounds that it is “reverse discrimination”. Supporters have noted that self-interest (rather than merit) could explain Whites’ opposition.
In a new paper, my coauthors (Jun Gu, Monash University; Karl Aquino, University of British Columbia; Tai Gyu Kim, Korea University) and I tested these explanations against an alternative one: namely, that Whites’ fairness judgments are based on both the adversely affected person’s race and the fairness evaluator’s ideological beliefs.
In three separate experiments, we presented a total of 804 White study participants with a scenario in which either a more qualified White or Asian male job candidate was rejected for a job in favor of a relatively less qualified Black male candidate. Each experiment described this scenario for a different type of job: a university professor, a sales representative, and a police officer. After reading the scenario, participants were asked to evaluate how fair or unfair they thought the decision to hire the less qualified Black candidate over the relatively more qualified White or Asian candidate. The qualifications of the White and Asian were held constant so we could determine whether people would evaluate the fairness of the decision differently depending on the race of the adversely affected party.