October 06, 2008

Anti-Indian racism explained

Racism Without Racists[M]ost of the votes that Mr. Obama actually loses belong to well-meaning whites who believe in racial equality and have no objection to electing a black person as president—yet who discriminate unconsciously.

“When we fixate on the racist individual, we’re focused on the least interesting way that race works,” said Phillip Goff, a social psychologist at U.C.L.A. who focuses his research on “racism without racists.” “Most of the way race functions is without the need for racial animus.”

For decades, experiments have shown that even many whites who earnestly believe in equal rights will recommend hiring a white job candidate more often than a person with identical credentials who is black. In the experiments, the applicant’s folder sometimes presents the person as white, sometimes as black, but everything else is the same. The white person thinks that he or she is selecting on the basis of nonracial factors like experience.

Research suggests that whites are particularly likely to discriminate against blacks when choices are not clear-cut and competing arguments are flying about—in other words, in ambiguous circumstances rather like an electoral campaign.

For example, when the black job candidate is highly qualified, there is no discrimination. Yet in a more muddled gray area where reasonable people could disagree, unconscious discrimination plays a major role.

White participants recommend hiring a white applicant with borderline qualifications 76 percent of the time, while recommending an identically qualified black applicant only 45 percent of the time.

John Dovidio, a psychologist at Yale University who has conducted this study over many years, noted that conscious prejudice as measured in surveys has declined over time. But unconscious discrimination—what psychologists call aversive racism—has stayed fairly constant.

“In the U.S., there’s a small percentage of people who in nationwide surveys say they won’t vote for a qualified black presidential candidate,” Professor Dovidio said. “But a bigger factor is the aversive racists, those who don’t think that they’re racist.”

Faced with a complex decision, he said, aversive racists feel doubts about a black person that they don’t feel about an identical white. “These doubts tend to be attributed not to the person’s race—because that would be racism—but deflected to other areas that can be talked about, such as lack of experience,” he added.
Comment:  Wow...awesome analysis. This column explains a lot of what I've been talking about. Most Americans aren't explicitly racist, but many are implicitly racist. They suffer what Dovidio calls aversive racism. (An uninspiring name for a phenomenon everyone should know about and understand.)


  • Why do so many people hate Bush's policies but still plan to vote for McCain? Aversive racism.

  • Why spend money rebuilding Iraq but not rebuilding Indian nations? Aversive racism.

  • Why allocate money for Bridges to Nowhere but not for protecting Indian ruins and petroglyphs? Aversive racism.

  • Why hire Johnny Depp to play Tonto and not an equally qualified Native actor? Aversive racism.

  • Why support a "Redskins" mascot but not a "Chinks" or "Sambos" mascot? Aversive racism.

  • Studies prove the point

    The interesting thing about this phenomenon is how studies have categorically proved it exists. I bet similar studies could prove the racism in each of the cases above. For instance:

  • Describe a tough policy toward terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If Bush or McCain expresses it, it's "bold" and "uncompromising." If Obama expresses it, it's "reckless" and "dangerous."

  • Describe an important American history site that needs repairs and restoration. If it's a house where George Washington slept, we preserve it. If it's a house where Anasazi Indians slept, we ignore it.

  • Show an actor's performance but digitally alter the face. If it's Johnny Depp, he's hired. If it's a Native actor, he's "not quite right for the role."

  • For more on the subject, see Highlights of the US Report to the UN on Racism.

    Below:  "This isn't a racist caricature. It's a harmless image that honors Indians."


    gaZelbe said...

    The other side of the coin, just as ugly but perhaps more uncomfortable, is the internalized racism that people of color feel about themselves and their own people.

    White supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia...these are all things that responsible people spend their entire adult lives trying to extract from our own personalities, regardless of which side of the power/privilege equation we find ourselves.

    dmarks said...

    "Why do so many people hate Bush's policies but still plan to vote for McCain? Aversive racism."

    There are two things that are key to this:

    1) I remember these kind of claims going back to Reagan. The "The people oppose his policies, but they vote for him anyway" claims. Numerous claims, in all elections. Yet.... each time, the opponnent was a white guy.

    However, anedoctally, there is at least some support for what you say. There is one major participant on this blog who likely prefers Obama's policies to McCain's. However, he has made it clear that he will not vote for Obama because of his race.

    2) Only a small percentage really hate Bush and his policies. There are degrees of dislike and disfavor, and probably half of those who give Bush negative approval ratings are not "hateful", and are probably fickle, and definitely not the hardcore left/Democrats who have always hated Bush.

    dmarks said...

    I forgot

    3) Bush is not McCain. According to Factcheck.org, McCain has voted "with Bush" as low as 67% of the time, and Obama has voted "with Bush" 40% of the time. The actual significant "votes with Bush" are a much lower percentage when you realize that so many of these votes are for noncontroversial proclamations.

    Rob said...

    See It's the Economy, Stupid for more on why white people are voting for McCain.

    dmarks said...

    I just hope we get "the economy smart" in January. Regardless.

    Rob said...

    Re "Only a small percentage really hate Bush and his policies": I don't know where you got this from, but it's not quite accurate. According to the latest job ratings, about 70% disapprove of the job Bush is doing. According to the latest favorability ratings, 15% feel somewhat negative toward Bush and a whopping 45% feel strongly negative toward him.

    By any measure, there's a huge number of people who dislike or hate Bush for his stupid, shortsighted policies. We're talking about almost half the American populace. And since Bush's negative ratings have increased steadily over the years, I'd say these people are anything but "fickle."

    If you want to label the 45% who strongly dislike Bush and the 15% who somewhat dislike him the "hardcore left," go ahead. Another name for these people is "the majority" or "the mainstream." They're the ones who are repudiating Bush's failed policies and voting for change.