In the first part of the experiment, they gave participants a short reading about how white people have more social power than other racial groups in America. (A control group did not get the white-privilege lesson.) In the second part, participants were told about a hypothetical man named Kevin who was down on his luck in New York City. Kevin was described as being raised by a single mother, a welfare recipient, and someone who had been in jail. However, they told one group that Kevin was a white man, while others heard he was black.

How sympathetic did the people feel toward white Kevin vs. black Kevin?

The results surprised the researchers. Cooley had wondered if teaching a liberal person about white privilege would increase their sympathy for a poor black person who doesn’t benefit from it. But that’s not what happened.

“Instead, what we found is that when liberals read about white privilege . . . it didn’t significantly change how they empathized with a poor black person — but it did significantly bump down their sympathy for a poor white person,” she says.