If you're in the racism industry, an icy chill has gone down your spine in 2009, with an African-American president and both major political parties run by black people.
As always, a psychologist will find an answer for how society can do those things and still be racist; it turns out you will be less biased against people of other races in your social group but you will still be prejudiced against people of other races you don't have beer with. Likewise, if you voted for Obama he is not the black person you automatically dislike the way you automatically dislike all other black people.
Tenuous? Yeah, I thought so too. More maddening, the authors writing in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin say this 'bias' disappears really, really quickly; like as soon as you shake hands. I am no psychologist, but it sounds like 'racism' has become 'someone of another race you happen not to like' which is not the same thing unless you are in the racism business.
I had a personal experience with this kind of thinking. I was in basic training in 1984 and we had one guy there, black, who was getting us in trouble a lot and generally creating drama for no reason. Finally, not being the even-tempered guy I am today, I told him to shut up and he squawked back at me and I went after him. The Army, being primarily in business with people who are not psychology grad students or assistant professors, does not spend a lot of time theorizing about such things, they just act. So all of us had to stand at attention for a half hour while a drill sergeant lectured us about racism.
I was really bothered by that. I had plenty of friends in my unit who were black plus I had just gotten the whole platoon in trouble, the thing I had complained about him doing. The lecture over, I went up to him and said something like 'I want you to know I didn't want to punch you because you're black, I wanted to punch you because you were being an a$$hole' and we had a nice laugh and he told me he had never seen anyone's veins pop out of their neck like mine did, etc. We never became best friends but he acted up a lot less after that. Sociology 101; most people don't want to be disliked.
Like the Army, I don't think Jay Van Bavel, post-doctoral fellow in psychology at Ohio State University and assistant professor of psychology William Cunningham, know what racism is, but they want to talk about it.
“You can think in terms of people who go to the playground and play a game of pickup basketball. All it takes is a flip of a coin to make someone your teammate, and at least for that game, you’re going to feel positively toward your teammates, white and black,” said Bavel.
It would be racism if I didn't feel positively toward someone even though they are on my team, right?
There are the usual issues with methodology they have, namely in using college students, but their claims are downright bizarre. 75 Percent of white people in North America (yeah, they include you, Canada) are prejudiced, they say.
Like in "Spinal Tap" they may be worried no one will pay attention if their amplifier doesn't go to 11, so throwing out an outrageous number like 75% is sure to get media attention (hey, it did here, though mostly because I am making fun of them) so how did they do it? In a pretty good way, actually, it's their statistics that need some work.
A computer test flashed pictures of black and white people followed by a positive or negative word, like 'love' or 'hate.' The test subjects had to categorize the words as positive or negative.
By a small margin, white people did not correctly classify positive words when they were first shown a photo of a black person. So are college students in the study too stupid to know what words mean, are they prejudiced or are they so worried about being seen as prejudiced they are making more mistakes?
Well, neither. When the participants were placed on a team and the faces were grouped as either on their team or the other team, the 'racism' disappeared toward blacks who are on their team.
See, psychology grad students are usually quite young so they don't recall what actual racism was - racism meant you didn't want people of another color on your team at all. It didn't magically disappear for Jackie Robinson when he became a member of the Dodgers; the team didn't suddenly like him because he was in their clubhouse, the fans didn't suddenly like him because he was a Dodger and hundreds of other players in baseball did not suddenly like him because he was a fellow professional player and a member of their group.
So the people in the racism business will be happy with another study saying it exists, it's just more insidious than ever, but it rings less and less true to people with common sense. There is one relevant message the researchers bring up with their study; creating contexts to show how people are connected is always a good idea.
Though I hope my Dodgers don't start reading these studies. I want them to make the opposing team feel unliked and cry.
Article: Jay J. Van Bavel and William A. Cunningham, 'Self-Categorization With a Novel Mixed-Race Group Moderates Automatic Social and Racial Biases', Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 35, No. 3, 321-335 (2009) DOI: 10.1177/0146167208327743
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