Posted on June 6, 2024

‘Racial Resentment’ a Factor in Violence of 6 January 2021, Study Says

Alice Herman, The Guardian, June 5, 2024

Political observers are quick to blame hyperpartisanship and political polarization for leading more than 2,000 supporters of Donald Trump to riot at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021.

But according to a recently published study, “racial resentment” – not just partisanship – explains the violence that broke out after the 2020 election.

Angered over the claim, promoted by Trump and his closest allies, that heavily Black cities had rigged the 2020 election in favor of Democrats, white voters – some affiliated with white-nationalist groups and militias, and others acting alone – stormed the US capitol in an attempt to halt the certification of the 2020 election.

“What Trump and Republicans did was they tried to make the point that something nefarious was going on in areas that were primarily African American,” said David Wilson, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, who published the study with Darren Davis, a professor of political science at Notre Dame.

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The paper, Stop the Steal: Racial Resentment, Affective Partisanship, and Investigating the January 6th Insurrection, relied on a national survey of adults in the US conducted in 2021.

Respondents were asked a question assessing their approval or disapproval of the House select committee investigating January 6, and responded to numerous statements evaluating racial resentment, such as “I resent any special considerations that African Americans receive because it’s unfair to other Americans” and “special considerations for African Americans place me at an unfair disadvantage because I have done nothing to harm them”.

The research revealed a correlation between respondents’ feelings of racialized resentment and opposition to the House committee on January 6.

Wilson and Davis also point to the fact that while a slew of polls show the general public split somewhat evenly over the legitimacy of the House select committee, Black Americans overwhelmingly supported the committee’s work, while white poll respondents generally opposed it.

“Many of President Trump’s supporters believed they were being victimized by election fraud in the 2020 election, but they also believed that whites were being victimized more generally – the American way of life for them was changing and they were being disadvantaged by African Americans and other minorities,” Wilson and Davis wrote.

The study comes as the former president and his allies are stoking unfounded fears of non-citizens voting and tainting political outcomes.

The strategy activates “action emotions – primarily anger”, said Wilson. “When you’re angry, you want to see some problem resolved because it’s clearly not making you feel good. Your heart rate increases, you have a festering sense that things are wrong and you’re playing by the rules and other people aren’t and it’s just not right.”

Other forms of racial resentment, according to this framework, would include the perception that affirmative action unfairly hurts white applicants – or the idea that DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) policies unfairly benefit people of color.

Distinct from racial hatred or prejudice, racial resentment, Wilson argues, is a particularly powerful motive to action because it stems from a sense of injustice.

The psycho-social phenomenon can have consequences for democracy, Wilson said.

“If you can get people to believe that democracy is about your freedom, and that the government is taking that away through taxes, through policies, through regulatory efforts, and [even] by fixing and rigging elections, you can stoke their resentment and they can even come to resent democracy.”