February 16, 2009

Study shows people ignore racism

Study:  Racist Attitudes Are Still IngrainedThe study, by researchers at Yale University and Toronto's York University, involved 120 nonblack students who were told they were being recruited for an experiment on team-oriented problem-solving. They were broken into three groups. The members of the first group were individually placed in a room with a black actor and a white actor, both posing as fellow participants in the study, and watched as the black actor slightly bumped the white actor while leaving the room. After the black actor had left, the white actor played out one of three scenarios, saying, "I hate it when black people do that," "Clumsy n______" or nothing at all. None of the people in the two other study groups experienced the interactions directly; one group watched them on video and the other simply read about them.

After the incident, students were asked to choose one of the two actors—still posing as fellow participants—for the teamwork assignment. More than 80% of the students who watched a racist exchange on video said they would not work with the white student. Those who read about racist behavior showed a similar aversion, with 75% preferring the black actor as a teammate. Participants in both groups said they were deeply upset by the racist comments.

The same did not hold true for the participants who experienced the racist event firsthand. None intervened to correct or disparage the white actor, nor did they report being upset by his comments when questioned later. In fact, 71% of the students chose the white actor as their partner for the assignment when he made a racist comment; a similar percentage chose the white partner when he did not make a racist comment.

The study's authors speculate that people who witnessed the event in person were less offended by the racist behavior because of a psychological phenomenon known as the impact bias of affective forecasting, which is the tendency for people to overestimate how strongly they will react to emotional events. Failing to feel outrage, the participants may have then rationalized the racist comment as somehow acceptable and let it pass, the researchers say.
Comment:  This article missed a more obvious interpretation of the study. When people are being monitored or judged, they make themselves look good by saying the "right thing." They're "shocked" by the racist behavior and would never work with the racist person.

When they're not being monitored or judged, their true attitude presumably emerges. Not only don't they intervene during the racist event, but they don't criticize it afterward. Moreover, 71% of them choose the racist as a partner as if nothing has happened.

Perhaps not coincidentally, roughly 71% of Americans think Indian mascots are okay--even when Indians say they're offensive. Roughly 71% of Americans think Twilight is just a movie and it doesn't matter who plays Jacob Black. Roughly 71% of Americans think Indians roamed the Plains like the savages in old Western movies.

In other words, roughly 71% of Americans think they're not racists when studies show they are. Roughly 71% of Americans are ignorant of their own unconscious biases. Which explains why they tolerate stereotypical mascots, non-Natives cast as Natives, and other cultural offenses.

For more on the subject, see Anti-Indian Racism Explained and Highlights of the US Report to the UN on Racism.

P.S. The percentages given above are only estimates, of course.


Anonymous said...

I would venture to guess 100% of the participants thought "I hate it when whitey tests us or writes about us."

Rob said...

I'd venture to guess you're wrong about that.

So the article was a "waste of time," but you can't dispute or even discuss its conclusions? Seems to me your comment is the only waste of time here.