Pew revises ‘racial conspiracy theories’ report after criticism

Pew revises ‘racial conspiracy theories’ report after criticism

Pew Research Center has revised a recent study after advocates criticized the research institute for saying a majority of Black Americans believe “racial conspiracy theories” about U.S. institutions.

The June 10 report, originally titled “Most Black Americans Believe Racial Conspiracy Theories About U.S. Institutions,” found that a majority of Black Americans said they believe U.S. institutions were designed, and continue, to keep them from succeeding.

But backlash from organizations, including JustLeadershipUSA, condemned the title, citing that the concerns many Black Americans voiced in the survey were based on historical fact.

Men included in a syphilis study pose for a photo in Tuskegee, Ala., in this 1950’s file photo released by the National Archives. Most Black Americans said in a survey that they experience racial discrimination regularly and that such experiences inform how they view major U.S. institutions, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center released June 10, 2024. The study seeks to highlight the country’s documented racist history against Black people as a possible explanation for why Black Americans believe major U.S. institutions are holding them back.

“Why would the people at the Pew Research Center call the opinion of the vast majority of Black Americans — which is rooted in facts, history, and lived experience — a ‘conspiracy theory,’ when it is actually a reality?” said DeAnna Hoskins, JustLeadershipUSA president and CEO and founder of the JustUS Coordinating Council.

“It is, in fact, deeply harmful and problematic to label these beliefs — based on Black Americans’ direct experience and knowledge of their own history — as ‘conspiracy theories.’ It borders on gaslighting, and, regardless of the intent, the impact is potentially very damaging to the Black community,” she added.

Pew has changed the title to “Most Black Americans Believe U.S. Institutions Were Designed To Hold Black People Back” and acknowledged the use of “conspiracy theories” was not the best word choice to describe the “complex and mixed set of findings.” They have removed all mentions of “conspiracy theories” from the study.

“By using these words, our reporting distorted rather than clarified the point of the study,” Pew states at the top of the study now.

The study found that most Black Americans surveyed said they believe the criminal justice, political and economic systems were designed to hold Black people back a great deal or fair amount.

Almost three-quarters — 74 percent — of Black Americans said they believe the prison system was designed to hold Black people back a fair or great amount, while 70 percent said the same about courts and the judicial process. Additionally, 68 percent said the policing system was designed to hold Black people back a fair or great amount.

“Black people’s voices are pretty resounding in a critique of where they think the country needs to go,” Kiana Cox, senior researcher at Pew Research Center and co-author of the study, told The Hill. “The data was clear that Black people don’t think these institutions need minor changes, they think these institutions need to be completely rebuilt to ensure fairness. They’re saying we don’t believe that these changes can never happen, but here’s what should happen.”

Cox added that even among Black Americans who may not believe a certain idea, a majority had at least heard of it.

“Most of us who are Black and grew up in the United States, some of these things we have heard in everyday conversations throughout our lives,” Cox said. “When I was a kid, I had heard some of these things about businesses like Tommy Hilfiger was a racist brand or the KKK owned Snapple.”

“Some of these theories are not new, but they cover more than just the things that are most recent and familiar,” she added. “I wanted to make sure that I was taking my cue from what researchers have found while also acknowledging that there are some things that are in the zeitgeist right now.”

Many of the concerns Black Americans have about institutions are rooted in historical incidents.

For instance, the study found that 55 percent of Black Americans said they believe medical professionals experiment on Black patients without their knowledge or consent — a direct link to the history of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in which hundreds of Black men were promised free health care and treatment for syphilis but never received it. The experiment lasted 40 years.

The study also found that a majority of Black Americans reported experiencing racial discrimination in their lives, either regularly or from time to time, and that these experiences make them feel like the system is set up for their failure.

Though Black Americans of both political parties indicated they were aware of most of the ideas the study presented, belief in the concepts differentiated based on party.

While 78 percent of Black Democrats said the prison system was designed to hold them back a great or fair amount, only 59 percent of Black Republicans agreed. Similarly, 74 percent of Black Democrats said the judicial system was designed to hold them back while only 55 percent of Black Republicans agreed; 72 percent of Black Democrats said the police system was designed to hold Black Americans back a fair or great amount, compared to only 54 percent of Black Republicans.

Meanwhile, 62 percent of Black Republicans said they believe the government is encouraging Black single motherhood to eliminate the need for Black men, while only 54 percent of Black Democrats said the same.

Gender divides were also apparent in the study.

Though 77 percent of Black women said Black Americans have to work more than everyone else to achieve success in the U.S., 74 percent of Black men said the same.

Black women were also more likely than Black men to say the health care system holds Black people back and that the political system holds Black people back.

“If we just listen to what Black people have told us in these surveys, I think it’s very clear that institutions treat Black people unfairly,” Cox said. “They need to be significantly overhauled. There was hope for change after the movement responding to George Floyd’s murder, and Black people have seen that those changes have not occurred.”

The study included a survey conducted Sept. 12-24, 2023, of 4,736 U.S. adults who identify as Black and non-Hispanic, multiracial Black and non-Hispanic, or Black and Hispanic, according to Pew. Additionally, the study included seven focus groups conducted May 23 to June 1, 2023, “with Black adults of various ages, income levels, political affiliations, and geographic locations.”

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