Saturday, January 31, 2009

How distressed are people by racism?

While surfing the internet, I came across this reporting on some recent studies on how much racism affects us.

We Are Less Disturbed By Racism Than We Predict

Psychologists in Canada and the US suggest that people predict they will feel worse than they actually do after witnessing racial abuse and that while they think or say they would take action, they actually respond with indifference when faced with an act of racism. This is despite the fact that being labelled as a racist has become a powerful stigma in our society today.

Researchers from Departments of Psychology at York University in Toronto, the University of British Columbia, and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, performed the study, which is published on 9 January in Science.

So, while people might believe that they will feel bad about racism, and react to it, the truth is that they do neither.

The study was published in science, and an abstract can be found here which links to the full article behind the paywall.

Fortunately, it's also possible to find the article here (.pdf)

The authors of the study raised the paradox that while racism and racists are being viewed more and more negatively, while blacks still face racism regularly.

A recent survey (5) found that 67% of blacks indicated that they often face discrimination and prejudice when applying for a job, and 50% reported that they experienced racism when engaging in such common activities as shopping or dining out. For many blacks, derogatory racial comments are a common occurrence, and almost one-third of whites report encountering anti-black slurs in the workplace (6)

Obviously, the social stigma facing racism holds little deterring effect, and one must ask why that's the case. The authors suggest that the "social deterrents to racism may be weaker than public rhetoric implies", which means that while people think that they will stigmatize racists, they don't really do so in reality.

They set out to test this hypothesis by putting people in a situation where they experienced either no, mild, or strong racism, and later asked people how they would react in a "hypothetical" situation where they experienced the same behavior. Unsurprisingly people said that they would react negatively, but in reality, their behavior didn't reflect this, nor was it reflected later when they had to choose to partner up with either the person uttering the remark, or the subject of the remark.

All in all, it shows that people know intellectually how they are supposed to behave, but that there is a long way left before people actually behaves that way, or as they authors of the study write

In particular, despite current egalitarian cultural norms and apparent good intentions, one reason why racism and discrimination remain so prevalent in society may be that people do not respond to overt acts of racism in the way that they anticipate: They fail to censure others who transgress these egalitarian norms. These findings provide important information on actual responses to racism that can help create personal awareness and inform interventions, thereby helping people to be as egalitarian as they think they will be.

Keep this in mind next time you experience racism. If you don't react, who will?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

From my point of view, this is a matter considered taboo

I live with racism every day and you could ask about the fact that this change my attitude over time?

As usual when people talk about racism is a one way things can only go beyond minority.

I'm sick in the stomach and I think that you just shout along with many people who already live far away from any kind of everyday problems.

February 01, 2009 10:39 AM  
Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

Frank, I am not sure what you mean by the last two paragraph. It sounds like you're saying that I am saying that racism is only something that can be targeted towards minorities, and that I am ignoring the fact that real life racism goes both ways.

Well, yes, to some degree I am. It's quite true that racism can go both ways, but institutional racism, where people are discriminated against because of their ethnicity (or in Denmark's case, their religion), is something that targets the minorities as a general rule (apartheid South Africa was an exception to the rule).

Also, we can only address racism within ourselves - this means that I can't address racism towards white people, since I am myself a white person.

Hope this makes my position a little more clear, and that I understood your position correctly.

February 01, 2009 11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

quote from the above article:

"If you don't react, who will?"

The people!

Also to add, Not just is it religious, and racial discrimination but also socio-economic class related. So in general discrimination, discrimination being the violation of human rights.

March 16, 2009 12:34 AM  

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