Bad news: You're probably more racist and sexist than you think

Two recent pieces of research underline just how ubiquitous this kind of bias could be. One survey, reported at Inside Higher Education, involved asking white people in California how they felt about meritocracy as the basis for college admissions. The argument in favour of meritocracy, of course, is often used in opposition to affirmative action, which gives extra weighting to black students’ applications. But if white Californians backed meritocracy out of pure principle, you’d expect their beliefs to hold firm no matter what race they were thinking about. Yet when you phrase the question so as to remind them that Asian American students are disproportionately successful at getting into Californian colleges, their support for meritocracy wanes.

The implication is that for at least some people, belief in meritocracy is flexible on racist grounds: it’s drafted in when it helps justify white students’ advantages over black ones – but it suddenly grows weaker when it risks justifying Asian American students’ advantages over white ones. The urge towards system justification is strong.