A fascinating experiment in Racism

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    Jan 16, 2009 2:05 PM GMT
    We often seem to discuss Racism within threads on RealJock. Predictably, everyone claims "I'm not racist" -- and I'm sure they're right! -- but nonetheless some comments seem to betray something that doesn't quite square with this.

    Rather than back-and-forth between "I'm not racist!" and "yes you are!", it's far more illuminating to try to understand our behaviour from a psychological perspective.

    Hence, I refer you to this fascinating paper that's just come out. The full text is sadly restricted to subscribers, but you can read a very good summary of what was done in the Economist's Science section. You can also hear a podcast about the research.

    The experiment contrasted the response of people who were present with a small act of racism with those who saw a video recording or were read a description. The finding was while that the latter group thought they would be appalled by the racism, the former group in fact hardly responded at all.

    Absolutely fascinating stuff..... we are more prejudiced that we think we are.
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    Jan 16, 2009 2:11 PM GMT
    I read an article in the Economist recently (I think it was the year-end issue) which made the point that "racism" or "tribalism", which is the word I prefer, is a product of evolution. That is not to justify racism in its' violent forms but to not play the politically correct game and assume that only certain groups are racist and the rest are victims of racism.

    I was told a story at work yesterday about one of our worksites where the Trinidadians of Asian background and the Trinidadians of African background refuse to work together. And both groups ostracize the white employee. What a place to work.
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    Jan 16, 2009 2:44 PM GMT
    I think we fail to recognize our own racism. I have black friends, I have hired black people for jobs, I have fallen in love and in lust with specific black people. Yet, sometimes when I am walking home and it is dark, I will wonder if the black man walking down the street towards me is going to rob me. It isn't wholly conscious and it is racist. I recognize that and I work towards lessening that reaction.

    This study just shows that there is a subconscious bit of prejudice lurking in each of us and we have to actively challenge our thinking. Like alcoholism, the first step is admitting that we each have a problem rather than making excuses for our behavior.

    Thanks for posting Tigger.
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    Jan 16, 2009 3:21 PM GMT
    MunchingZombie saidI think we fail to recognize our own racism. I have black friends, I have hired black people for jobs, I have fallen in love and in lust with specific black people. Yet, sometimes when I am walking home and it is dark, I will wonder if the black man walking down the street towards me is going to rob me. It isn't wholly conscious and it is racist. I recognize that and I work towards lessening that reaction.

    This study just shows that there is a subconscious bit of prejudice lurking in each of us and we have to actively challenge our thinking. Like alcoholism, the first step is admitting that we each have a problem rather than making excuses for our behavior.

    Thanks for posting Tigger.


    I think if you research RJ forums you will see a different form of tribalism emerge. Not necessarily along racial lines (although there is definitely some of that), but along "comfortable with gay mainstream culture" versus "not comfortable" "poz." versus "neg.", "religious" versus "non-religious", etc.. Over the millenia it has been beneficial for our survival to form into tribes of like interest. Unfortunately that has led at times to viewing a different tribe as the enemy (the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian tragedy is an example of that).
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    Jan 16, 2009 4:39 PM GMT
    The problem with tests of this kind is that they force a choice posed by a strict dichotomy. It could be that the subjects in the room with the black student and the white student may have been annoyed in some way by each of them--one for his racism, the other for his social clumsiness.

    Also, the failure to 'react' to prejudice may reflect a weariness with the entire subject after so much time and energy has been spent on it over the years. When I encounter someone (and I occasionally still do) who tells racist jokes or behaves in some other ugly fashion, I am long past the point (perhaps I shouldn't be) of standing up and denouncing; I just roll my eyes and give this person wide berth from then on.

    The problem with these tests isn't that they are false, exactly, it's that they've pegged only two kinds of responses from people, when people are capable of many more nuanced responses than that.
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    Jan 16, 2009 4:41 PM GMT
    MunchingZombie said Yet, sometimes when I am walking home and it is dark, I will wonder if the black man walking down the street towards me is going to rob me. It isn't wholly conscious and it is racist. I recognize that and I work towards lessening that reaction.



    Thanks for posting Tigger.



    The worst/best times for me is when I meet a guy and he feels the need to say he doesn't hate black people. It's a bittersweet moment because I know that he's really trying to be accepting but also that interacting with me makes him uncomfortable.( How I can tell? Unique understanding of subtle clues)

    I'm more glad than unhappy, anyway. It's good to see problems addressed rather than ignored.


    P.S.: If that were my little sister in your position on the way home from Walgreens, she would have clear turned her bike around and gone home the long way around the neighborhood! icon_biggrin.gif


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    Jan 16, 2009 4:41 PM GMT
    I think if you decide not to be prejudiced and work against it mentally - then you can say you are not prejudiced.

    Having a child-like complete lack of prejudice is asking too much.

    Another thing is that it's actually fun being friends with people who aren't like you - or in other words, it's OK to remark and enjoy each others differences, as long as it's done in a spirit of respect.

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    Jan 16, 2009 7:46 PM GMT
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    Jan 17, 2009 1:05 PM GMT
    CitizenSol said


    Well he just about covered all the based didn't he? I never saw that movie.
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    Jan 17, 2009 1:14 PM GMT
    MunchingZombie saidI think we fail to recognize our own racism. I have black friends, I have hired black people for jobs, I have fallen in love and in lust with specific black people. Yet, sometimes when I am walking home and it is dark, I will wonder if the black man walking down the street towards me is going to rob me. It isn't wholly conscious and it is racist. I recognize that and I work towards lessening that reaction.

    This study just shows that there is a subconscious bit of prejudice lurking in each of us and we have to actively challenge our thinking. Like alcoholism, the first step is admitting that we each have a problem rather than making excuses for our behavior.

    Thanks for posting Tigger.


    I wouldn't beat yourself up for that. And I wouldn't consider it racist. I believe your thoughts, and many other's including myself, are based on fear. Fear is often irrational.

    Moreover, where did you learn to watch yourself around black guys at night (even if you are thinking this subconsciously)?

    Society I believe--we learn things from society. New, neighbors, teachers, friends, family, co-workers, everyday experiences when we make assumptions without all the facts.

    Society has a problem... not you. Society as a whole needs to recognize that we may possible be treating white people different from black people.

    This change will not happen over night. It will take time, education, and the death of older bigoted people. But it will happen. Have faith
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    Jan 17, 2009 1:21 PM GMT
    Does the study take into account that people under 35 are routinely exposed to racism in the form of comedy (The Office, South Park, Sarah Silverman Program, Scrubs, Family Guy, etc.), so when they witness "racism" during the experiment they might find it funny? I have no problems admitting that I find racism completely hilarious, as long as it is not paired with discrimination. Call me insensitive. But after hearing people scream "DON'T PAY ATTENTION TO RACE DON'T PAY ATTENTION TO SKIN DON'T PAY ATTENTION TO ETHNICITY WE'RE ALL EQUAL" I started paying to every stereotype and enjoy poking fun at each and every one.
  • DCEric

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    Jan 17, 2009 1:38 PM GMT
    RyanReBoRn said
    The worst/best times for me is when I meet a guy and he feels the need to say he doesn't hate black people. It's a bittersweet moment because I know that he's really trying to be accepting but also that interacting with me makes him uncomfortable.( How I can tell? Unique understanding of subtle clues)

    I'm more glad than unhappy, anyway. It's good to see problems addressed rather than ignored.


    I know exactly what you mean. Everytime I meet a German, they always have this uncontrolable desire to apologize for the Holocaust.

    /tongue firmly planted in cheek.