Dating the White Backlash to Affirmative Action

Dating the White Backlash to Affirmative Action

In his new Slate piece about how the left failed on race relations (see our update today), Tanner Colby writes:

When affirmative action was first implemented, it was not met with a broad backlash from white America. Like Nixon, the average white voter was inclined to do something "not to have the goddamn country blow up." Then the 1970s recession hit and access to jobs felt more like a zero-sum game. It was then that white people began to use phrases like "reverse racism" and "haven't we done enough for them already?"

This certainly seems plausible, but as it happens there's an easy way to see when terms came into common usage -- using Google's Ngram program, you can search books released in each year. Here are the results for "reverse racism" in the American corpus (I turned off smoothing because the precise year is important):

The recession is normally dated to 1973-75, but usage of the term picked up steam in the late 1960s, peaked in 1972, and fell off severely in 1975 (before its comeback in the 1990s). Also bear in mind that these are published books; the trends probably lag popular usage a bit.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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