Changing Misperceptions of the Racial Wealth Divide in Boston

Measuring and Reducing Misperceptions 

Despite a number of initiatives and a series of well-publicized studies on racism and the racial wealth divide in Boston, little meaningful progress has been made to reduce racism and the structural barriers that sustain inequalities in wealth and opportunity among people of color. While it is clear that many individuals and institutions of power and influence in the city have expressed a desire to address these challenges, little progress has been achieved.

One key reason for the lack of progress is psychological: there are well-documented and substantial psychological barriers that prevent people from grasping the existence and extent of wealth disparity along racial lines. Luckily, deploying these insights from psychology presents a significant opportunity for action on this issue in Boston and in the U.S. more broadly. Research from cognitive science shows that Americans’ perceptions of the racial wealth divide are systematically wrong; they believe that it is smaller than it is, which inhibits discussions of potential solutions. The racial wealth divide – nationally and in Boston – cannot be solved if it is not acknowledged.

Misperceptions of the racial wealth divide, particularly by those in positions of power and privilege, are a psychological barrier preventing solutions to wealth inequality. Our goal is to measure and better understand these misperceptions, many of which we may not even be aware of, and design specific interventions to change them.

At the end of this two-year project, Beyond Conflict will have produced a first-of-its-kind, scientific report and action plan to measurably reduce the misperceptions about the wealth divide in Boston. The findings will be shared with local partners, the media, and policymakers.

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