How are Americans forming opinions about race and racism?

February 9, 2022
Conversations around race and racism often create conflict due to distinct ideological positions that impact how we view and identify racism.
The bottom line:

Because many on the left perceive American society and institutions as racist, they more often highlight racism as a cause of disparities. In this context, using race as a lens to address societal issues is helpful.

Because many on the right perceive American society and institutions as having overcome racism, they often highlight our systems as meritocratic and list other factors as a cause of disparities. In this context, using race as a lense to address societal issues is unhelpful.

Below, we discuss how our values and worldviews influence how we come to understand issues of race and racism. We are not trying to change anyone’s mind, but are trying to create greater clarity around why we disagree on these issues. 

The analysis presents two opposing perspectives as examples. Your view may differ.

Two great American myths

Discussions about race and racism don’t take place in a vacuum — we interpret them within our internal narrative of the nation’s history. These myths are not the only ones, but convey two distinct views of American history and society.

The Progressive’s Myth:

America is fundamentally an oppressive institution. Its systems were created by white slave owners, and its commitment to liberty has been hypocritical from the start. Throughout history, America has continued to privilege certain people and oppress minorities.

The Patriot’s Myth:

America is fundamentally a miraculous human accomplishment. It was born out of resistance to tyranny and stands today as a beacon of liberty. It’s a nation where all men and women, regardless of color, class, or creed come together and prosper.

When we enter conversations with one of these myths in mind, our brains will naturally pay more attention to information that fits this view of America, while downplaying stories that contradict it. This confirmation bias is natural, because it’s an excellent strategy for making quick survival decisions. But it prevents us from interpreting new information without bias.


To better understand how this works in everyday life, try momentarily setting aside your personal assumptions about race and racism to see how someone with a different perspective might view specific policies aimed at addressing racism:

If you lean towards the Progressive’s Myth and believe

  • The United States has failed to eradicate racism from society, and
  • Our core institutions are not designed to be inclusive of minority cultures, and
  • Persistent interpersonal and systemic racism impacts all societal interactions. 


Then the following conclusions make sense:

  • Discussing events within the context of race and racism is critical for identifying how everyday racism leads to discrimination against people of color, and
  • Programs which support people of color (affirmative action, targeted investments in communities of color, etc.) are beneficial because they break down some of the barriers these groups face due to persistent racism.

But if you lean towards the Patriot’s Myth and believe

  • The United States has continued to struggle against racism throughout history, and
  • We have now removed legal barriers to racial equality, and
  • Our society is one where people are rewarded based on their merits and abilities.


Then the following conclusions make sense:

  • Discussing events within the context of race and racism is unhelpful because it forces people to assume a uniform, racialized group identity instead of being treated as individuals, and
  • Policies that favor people of color (affirmative action, targeted investment in communities of color, etc.) are harmful because they benefit minority groups solely based on race, and so are by definition racist.

Race and racism in the news

These distinct views of racism in American society creates an imbalance in the reporting about race and racism. Media outlets that people on the left trust often cover a wide range of events within the context of race and racism, while media outlets that people on the right trust discuss racism in fewer and more specific contexts. This constant confirmation of our preexisting worldview moves the left and right perspectives even further apart.


The average person on both the left and right opposes racism, and advocates for an America where race doesn’t impact people’s opportunities. But our diametrically opposing views of what constitutes racism and the role racism plays in American society today lead us to different conclusions about how to achieve a just society.

We are not here to tell you which side is correct. Instead, we want to create greater understanding for the underlying values and worldviews that impact the conversations around race and racism. If we understand where our contra partisans are coming from, we are more likely to have constructive conversations about these difficult topics instead of dismissing our contra partisans as ignorant, stupid, brainwashed, or evil.

With practice, we can defuse some of the tension by considering what values and experiences we hold that may impact our point of view. In doing so, we can recognize that although these views are obvious and natural to us, others enter the conversation from a different perspective that make their conclusions just as obvious to them.

Asking our contra partisans about the experiences and values they are considering when forming opinions about contentious topics will help us better understand their perspective instead of assuming we know their motivations.

What do you think? Do you agree with one side, or do you fall somewhere in between? Give us feedback on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook, or by emailing