Core Values: Is respect for others just lip service? overwhelming majority of Americans say that respect for different races, ethnicities, and religions is important to them, as we discussed yesterday. But readers are pushing us to dig deeper—and a new body of research offers intriguing insights.

Here’s the key question: Is respect for minorities just lip service? Is this respect really a core value—or just empty words that mask true feelings of prejudice or even hatred?

Academics never use a short word when a long one is available.  Lip service, in survey-research lingo, is called social desirability. It’s the tendency for people to say what they think they should say—what’s desirable or proper—rather than what they really feel. In comments yesterday, Caitlin and Tony brought this up and I’m glad they did. I have the same concern, especially for issues like respect for others.

Sometimes, however, the stars align at the right moment and provide some insight. Colleagues of mine at the University of Michigan just released the results of a series of studies about multiculturalism and diversity. They found that white Americans are likely to resist workplace initiatives around these issues.

Does this indicate underlying prejudice? Here’s what the researchers conclude in their own words: “Our research reveals that this resistance can have little to do with prejudice. Instead, it can stem from a basic human need to belong.” Diversity initiatives are supposed to be about inclusion, but when these are framed in the language of multiculturalism, whites feel excluded. That’s why they resist. Indeed, the stronger a person’s need to belong, the more they resist initiatives that appear to exclude them.

What if diversity initiatives are framed as colorblindness? Multiculturalism emphasizes differences; colorblindness emphasizes sameness—that categories don’t matter and should be ignored. Framed this way, whites feel more included and hence more likely to support such initiatives.

So, is widespread support of respect for others lip service—or a real core value?

What’s your experience of workplace initiatives aimed at diversity? 

How do such initiatives make you feel?

And, what do you think of the new UofM research findings?

Please Comment below.

(Originally published at, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.)

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