Can People Be Both Racist and Pro-Gender Equality?

New Research on Racism and Sexism in America

map of the united states of america as painted by jan matejko

Racism and sexism has long been part of the American experience.

But can Americans deny the existence of systemic racism and be for gender equality at the same time?

Yes. New research published in the American Sociological Review shows how.

Sociologist William J. Scarborough and colleagues looked at over 40 years’ worth of data from the General Social Survey, that is, from the late 1970s to the near present day. The GSS, as it’s called, is one of America’s longest running surveys. About every two years, the survey asks some of the same questions to a different representative sample of Americans. It’s no census, but it is representative of America as a whole. And in this way, we get a regular snapshot of how Americans are thinking.

The sociologists analyzed answers to the survey questions to group together four different attitudes. I put the survey questions in the notes section below.

Four Sociological Attitudes toward Race and Gender

Now, what makes this research new is that the racial and gender views are of a piece: folks do not just have an opinion about race, or just about gender. They hold both at the same time.

Quick note: The sociologists use the term “new racialism” instead of “dyed-in-the-wool, Archie Bunker racist.” Why? Because in the survey, very few Americans would admit that they think about the “in-born abilities” of racial groups. For sure, those folks are out there. But, according to surveys, from the 1970s to now, these people are few and far in between.

Instead, people who believe in “new racialism” attribute income and educational inequalities between Blacks and Whites to a kind of “cultural difference.” In my view, the distinction is not clear: either way, racism is manifest in their beliefs. But, sociologists like to create concepts and make distinctions. You be the judge.

1. “Racial Structuralism, Gender Egalitarianism”

What it means: There is systemic racism (discrimination exists and African Americans have less chance for educational attainment) and women and men are equal.

2. “New Racialism, Gender Traditionalism”

What it means: Racial inequality is due to the motivation and will power of African Americans, and women do not belong in the public sphere (they are not suited to politics and they should be at home with children).

3. “Racial Structuralism, Gender Ambivalent”

What it means: There is systemic racism and women do not fit well to the public sphere (they are not suited to politics and they should be at home with children). Ambivalent means that they are not strongly for egalitarianism, but are not strongly against it, either. They are fence-sitters.

4. “New Racialism, Gender Egalitarianism”

What it means: Racial inequality is due to the motivation and will power of African Americans, and women and men are equal.

Remember: This is about how Americans hold in their head both racial and gender beliefs.

How have race and gender attitudes changed over time?

In the late 1970s, the probability of thinking both in terms of structural racism and gender egalitarianism was very low. Since then, the probability rose fast and high. At the same time, the racist-yet-gender egalitarian thinking rose fast and high.

With a rise, there is a fall: from the late 1970s, the racist gender traditionalist became a dying breed. For illustration, see the picture above.

Who is more likely to have these attitudes?

Let’s look to the world of work.

Managers and professionals tend to think that there is systemic racism and that women and men are equal, or they are at least more likely to lean towards this racial/gender view. Those who work in natural resources and construction tend to think in terms of the “new racialism,” i.e. racism, and are roughly split in gender egalitarian and gender traditionalist camps.

Education also matters.

The college educated is somewhat inclined toward the view that inequalities between Whites and African Americans is due to systemic racism and they tend to be gender egalitarians. Those with less than a high school education have a slight tendency to be both new racialists and gender traditionalists, though many are ambivalent about women’s equality.

And, of course, the intersection of race and gender matters.

White men tend toward new racialism and gender egalitarianism. White women tend toward new racialism and gender egalitarianism more so than white men.

Personal experience with racism and sexism matters. The vast majority of Black men and women think in terms of systemic racism and are either gender egalitarians or leaning towards that view. Almost none are new racialist/gender traditionalist.

America, We Have a Long Way to Go

Americans are more and more likely to recognize the reality of systemic racism and think that women and men are equal. While these simultaneous attitudes move progressively upward, the racist-yet-gender egalitarianism view is the most popular.

In short: Americans’ views on race have not kept pace with their increasingly progressive attitudes toward women. Americans can deny structural racism yet believe in equality — just of gender, and not of the equality between socially constructed races.

America is no gender utopia. One look back at the racist sexist horror that was the 2016 election should be convincing enough that gender equality has not arrived in America. We can also look to Congress. Women are 50 percent of the US but hold only 28 percent of the seats in the House. (There are 24 women in the Senate).

This research is no surprise to African American men and women, but it still should be said:

Although there is movement toward racial and gender equality, America has a long way to go.


This was written by Josh Dubrow based on William J. Scarborough, Joanna R. Pepin, Danny L. Lambouths III, Ronald Kwon, and Ronaldo Monasterio. “The Intersection of Racial and Gender Attitudes, 1977 through 2018.” American Sociological Review 86, no. 5 (2021): 823–855.

Questions about race in the General Social Survey (as it appears on p. 831):

“On the average African Americans have worse jobs, income, and housing than white people. Do you think these differences are . . . (these are yes/no questions)

— Mainly due to discrimination?

— Because most African Americans have less in-born ability to learn?

— Because most African Americans don’t have the chance for education that it takes to rise out of poverty?

— Because most African Americans just don’t have the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty?”

Questions about gender in the General Social Survey:

“Tell me if you agree or disagree with this statement: (from agree to disagree)

— Most men are better suited emotionally for politics than are most women.

— It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family

— A working mother can establish just as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work

— A preschool child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works”



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