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A War on Whites? Consider the Bogardus Distance Scale

Congressman Mo Brooks, a Republican Representative of Alabama’s 5th District, has taken repeatedly to the airwaves in order to declare that America is plagued by a “War on Whites”:

“This is a part of the war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party. And the way in which they’re launching this war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else. It’s a part of the strategy that Barack Obama implemented in 2008, continued in 2012, where he divides us all on race, on sex, greed, envy, class warfare, all those kinds of things.”…

“I want the American people to start recognizing what the heck’s going on,” Brooks said. “When the Democrats bring up race time after time after time, what’s the theme? It’s skin color. Who are they saying who dislikes whom? They’re saying the whites dislike the blacks, the whites dislike the Hispanics and the Democrats are the ones who will protect you from those whites. That’s the subliminal and sometimes open message.”

Is Rep. Brooks right? Is there really a “War on Whites” in which white Americans are being singled out for disparagement? Is it unfair to say that nonwhites are the target of discrimination in America? There is an empirical way to answer this question, thanks to Emory Bogardus. In 1926, the sociologist developed a general “social distance” scale in which a respondent indicates how close she would allow members of some group to come to her.

“For each of the groups listed below, please indicate on a scale of 1 to 7 how much closeness you would find to be acceptable between you and members of that group:

1 = as close relatives by marriage
2 = as your close personal friends
3 = as neighbors on the same street
4 = as coworkers in your job
5 = as citizens in your country
6 = as only visitors in your country
7 = you would exclude them from your country”

For many decades, the Bogardus scale has been used to survey Americans’ reports of willingness to tolerate to various racial and ethnic groups, with lower scores indicating greater tolerance and higher scores indicating greater intolerance. With the exception of the initial survey of 1926 (in which the “English” receive a slightly better tolerance score), the social category of “White Americans” has consistently received the highest tolerance score out of dozens of racial and ethnic groups. White Americans’ status as the most-tolerated group in America persists in the most recent study using the scale, a survey of American college students by Vincent Parrillo and Christopher Donoghue. As you review these rankings below, keep in mind that the group Parillo and Donoghue studied in 2012 is actually the least likely to exhibit differences in racial attitudes, since their sample is dominated by young, highly educated people (see here and here on trends in racial attitudes by age and education):

Group Average Bogardus Score Standard Deviation
White Americans 1.15 0.57
Italians 1.32 0.8
Canadians 1.35 0.89
British 1.36 0.91
African Americans 1.42 0.78
Irish 1.46 0.94
French 1.5 1.03
Germans 1.51 1.01
Greeks 1.52 1.01
Indians (American) 1.57 0.94
Africans 1.61 0.93
Dutch 1.62 1.09
Polish 1.64 1.08
Puerto Ricans 1.64 1.09
Filipinos 1.68 1.08
Dominicans 1.71 1.14
Chinese 1.72 1.04
Other Hispanics/Latinos 1.72 1.14
Russians 1.73 1.17
Cubans 1.74 1.2
Jews 1.74 1.11
Jamaicans 1.74 1.08
Japanese 1.8 1.14
Mexicans 1.8 1.29
Vietnamese 1.85 1.11
Koreans 1.87 1.24
Indians (India) 1.89 1.22
Haitians 1.91 1.27
Arabs 2.16 1.55
Muslims 2.23 1.52

Not only do “white Americans” still garner the highest tolerance scores of the 30 groups, but 8 of the 10 most-tolerated groups are either white or European in origin. Only 1 of the 10 least-tolerated groups, “Jews,” is arguably either white or European in origin.

There are many ways to consider and interpret results of Bogardus-scale social distance research. None of them is empirically consistent with the fantasy of a “War on Whites.”

One thought on “A War on Whites? Consider the Bogardus Distance Scale”

  1. Dave says:

    Any number of interpretations, indeed. More “tolerated” could be given the association by some using the data as more “tolerable.”

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