Are you a white — dare I say Christian — American who does not like being labeled a “homophobe” or “racist”? According to some top psychologists, you may be engaging in “digressive victimhood.”
In a paper published by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers from prestigious institutions such as University College London, UCLA, and Northwestern University argue that white and Christian Americans tend to disagree with leftists when they are unfairly made the targets of slander.
When dominant groups are accused of discrimination against non-dominant groups, they often seek to portray themselves as the victims of discrimination instead. Sometimes, however, members of dominant groups counter accusations of discrimination by invoking victimhood on a new dimension of harm, changing the topic being discussed.
The professors examined two phenomena — Christian Americans “responding to accusations of homophobia by claiming threatened religious liberty” and white Americans “responding to accusations of racism by claiming threatened free speech.”
We show that members of dominant groups endorse digressive victimhood claims more strongly than conventional competitive victimhood claims (i.e., ones that claim “reverse discrimination”). Additionally, accounting for the fact that these claims may also stand to benefit a wider range of people and appeal to more abstract principles, we show that this preference is driven by the perception that digressive victimhood claims are more effective at silencing further criticism from the non-dominant group.
Underscoring that these claims may be used strategically, we observed that individuals high in outgroup prejudice were willing to express a positive endorsement of the digressive victimhood claims even when they did not fully support the principle they claimed to be defending (e.g., freedom of religion or speech).
The researchers asked 467 Christians to read two opinion pieces: “Christians are the true victims in modern America” and “Religious Liberty is the true victim in modern America.” After reading the articles, participants were told to “indicate the degree to which they endorsed the argument and the extent to which they thought it would be effective against arguments to the contrary.”
They were also told to share their support for religious freedom and complete a “modern homophobia scale” — which likely rivals the witchcraft test portrayed by the comedy movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail in scientific rigor.
The paper nevertheless concluded that Christian Americans preferred the “digressive victimhood claim” that accusations of discrimination from homosexuals threatens religious liberty, rather than the “conventional competitive victimhood claim” that accusations of discrimination from homosexuals threaten Christians.
Another study directed 1,170 white Americans to listen to an audio clip describing protests at a university in response to “racially insensitive costumes at an off-campus themed party,” which resulted in the suspension of nine white students.
One group of participants were told that the students were “being denied access to education by the university,” while the other participants heard that the true victim was “the right to free speech in America.” The researchers again concluded that “members of dominant groups express stronger endorsement for digressive victimhood claims than competitive victimhood claims.”
“We took a very focused approach in this research, only looking at how people responded to a few specific examples of victimhood claiming,” one researcher told PsyPost. “We hope future research will examine a wider array of victimhood claims and examine how and when members of dominant groups make these claims spontaneously.”
He added, “We look forward to the conversation and additional research that this paper generates!”