Pew Poll: Majority of Black Americans Believe in Institutional Conspiracy Against Them

Racial Injustice Black Conspiracies

Washington — A significant majority of Black Americans report experiencing racial discrimination, either regularly or occasionally. This has shaped their perceptions of institutions such as law enforcement, the political system, and the media, according to a study on conspiracy theories.

 examined the relationship between race and conspiratorial beliefs. This is the second part of the research group’s series exploring how Black Americans view .

The study defines racial conspiracy theories as beliefs held by Black Americans about the “actions of U.S. institutions” that differ from the institutions’ stated objectives. The study emphasizes that these beliefs arise from America’s documented history of racist policies disproportionately affecting Black communities. Pew investigated beliefs including those related to systemic discrimination against Black Americans and support for generational proverbs such as “you have to work twice as hard” to achieve the same success as white Americans.

For instance, the study found that over 80% of surveyed Black Americans agreed with the statement that “Black people are more likely to be incarcerated because prisons want to make money on the backs of Black people.” Additionally, more than 60% of Black adults surveyed agreed that institutions like the criminal justice system, the nation’s economic system, and policing are designed to hinder Black progress.

These sentiments are juxtaposed against the reality that Black people were , despite representing only 12% of the U.S. population. In contrast, white people were underrepresented among prisoners at 31%, while Hispanic people were slightly overrepresented at 23% of prisoners, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Pew’s study is based on a poll of Black Americans conducted last September. Study authors suggest that these views are unlikely to have changed since the respondents were surveyed.

The study also explored the reasons behind these beliefs, allowing respondents to explain their feelings about discrimination and racial disparities in their own words, said Kiana Cox, a senior Pew researcher and study author.

She added that despite the survey’s release during an election year, it does not focus on partisan politics. Instead, it highlights the feelings held by Black Americans that can influence their perception of the nation but are often overlooked or dismissed.

“There are anecdotal conversations among Black people about the system, the Man, the invisible hand, the agenda that is set out to create a situation where Black people can’t advance. So, we wanted to explore that,” Cox said. “We also wanted to figure out how many Black people are familiar with these narratives about the system being designed for their failure and how many Black people believe them.”

Americans are far from immune to conspiratorial thinking , a phenomenon that has intensified as the internet has accelerated communication and, often, the dissemination of . The Pew study notes that Black Americans have a unique relationship with both discrimination and claims of government conspiracy theories given the nation’s history of slavery, Jim Crow-era segregation laws, and ongoing discrimination against Black Americans by both public and private entities.

“When you have a history of American institutions actually conspiring against Black people, it’s not so hard to believe that anything else would also be true,” said Tasha Philpot, a professor of political science at the University of Texas at Austin, who studies political psychology among Black Americans.

“Especially in the last few years where race has been pretty salient, it doesn’t surprise me that people would say they are experiencing racial discrimination,” she said.

Among Black adults who have experienced discrimination, about three-quarters said it made them feel as though the system as a whole was designed to keep them down. Black adults who have faced discrimination also felt varying emotions as a result — 76% felt angry overall, 53% said they worried about their personal safety, and 41% felt depressed, for example. Researchers surveyed 4,736 Black, multiracial Black and non-Hispanic, and Black and Hispanic respondents last September from across the country.

Black Americans were also likely to believe racial conspiracy theories about politics. Three-quarters of those surveyed said they agreed that “Black public officials being singled out to be discredited more than white officials” happens in politics today. In medicine, the survey found that 55% of those surveyed said they agreed with the statement that “medical researchers experiment on Black people without their knowledge or consent.”

Philpot said some Black Americans may still believe such theories, given documented episodes of discrimination such as  and the exclusion of Black Americans from New Deal programs that benefited white Americans.

“It’s not really a conspiracy theory if it’s true,” she said.