Black Americans, Government Institutions, Distrust

New Pew Study Explores Why Black Americans Distrust Government Institutions

A Pew Research Center study reveals deep-seated mistrust among Black Americans towards U.S. institutions, citing historical racism and discrimination as key factors.

Why do some Black Americans seemingly mistrust the government so much? A new study conducted by the Pew Research Center takes a deep dive into why Black people view various U.S. institutions such as policing, media, and the political system as forces working against them.

The research surveyed 4,736 Black, multiracial Black and non-Hispanic, and Black and Hispanic respondents from across the country last September. It also honed in on the community’s take on conspiracy theories and what their ideas of success and failure look like compared to their white counterparts, AP News reports.

According to the study, conspiracy theories are defined as “ideas that Black Americans might have about the ‘actions of U.S. institutions’ that aren’t necessarily the stated goals of the institution.” Moreover, the study believes that these claims by Black Americans are a result of the documented record of racist policies that largely affect Black communities in this nation.

Pew researchers also studied conspiratorial beliefs about how pivotal institutions discriminate against Black Americans, as well as focusing on their support of generational concepts like “you have to work twice as hard” to advance in comparison to white Americans.

“There are anecdotal conversations among Black people about the system, the Man, the invisible hand, the agenda that is set out to create a situation where Black people can’t advance,” said senior Pew researcher and study author Kiana Cox. “So, we wanted to explore that,” Cox said. “We also wanted to figure out how many Black people are familiar with these narratives about the system being designed for their failure and how many Black people believe them.”

Particularly, the study found that more than 8 in 10 Black Americans in the survey support the statement that “Black people are more likely to be incarcerated because prisons want to make money on the backs of Black people.” In another group surveyed, more than 6 in 10 Black adults agree that institutions like policing, the criminal justice system, and America’s economic system are designed to hold Black people back.

While the research focused on conspiracy theories, sadly, the reality of some of the beliefs rings true in America. In 2022, Black people made up 32% of sentenced state and federal prisoners despite only making up just 12% of the overall U.S. population. In contrast, white people were underrepresented at 31%, and Hispanics represent 23% of that population, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

“When you have a history of American institutions actually conspiring against Black people, it’s not so hard to believe that anything else would also be true,” said Tasha Philpot, a professor of political science at the University of Texas at Austin, who studies political psychology among Black Americans.

She added, “Especially in the last few years where race has been pretty salient, it doesn’t surprise me that people would say they are experiencing racial discrimination.”

Among the Black adults who reported having experienced discrimination in America, three-quarters said it made them “feel as though the system as a whole was designed to keep them down.” The emotions of those Black Americans who have experienced discrimination vary, with 76% feeling angry overall, 53% reporting feelings of worry around their safety, and 41% revealing feelings of depression.

Philpot used the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and the exclusion of Black Americans in New Deal policies that benefited white Americans as documented examples of why Black Americans believe in certain racial conspiracy theories about politics. She also said, “It’s not really a conspiracy theory if it’s true.”

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