Finding Racism Somewhere, Anywhere
    By Hank Campbell | March 23rd 2009 10:48 AM | 7 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    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


    It is funny. I guess you are right, first of all a lot of people are not very sensitive, that does not make racists out of them. Take for example the great movie 61* where a black guy remembers Mickey Mantle coming out of a restaurant where black people are forbidden, because he wanted to eat with him in the bus. The other members of the team did not do that, it does not mean they were all racists. But I like Mickey better.
    Also, a person with an outstanding quality is seen first as having that quality, and it does not make the people who see it non-racists. For example, decades ego, Bill Cosby was not perceived as "black" because he was so funny, and many people did not think of Colin Powell as "black" because they thought of him as a big chief. I am not sure it makes them color blind. Humans are complicated, and we got to get clear about what it is that we measure.

    In related news:

    a recent statistical survey into stereotyping in children's cartoons showed that 6 out of 7 dwarves weren't happy.

    I just spotted this in the news and it really is on topic. 
    Uproar over anti-racism conference, two nobel Laureates withdraw: Guardian, UK
    If you actually read the paper you'll notice that the authors never use the term "Racism". The use racial bias, which is exactly what it is, a bias. Racism is a broad term and you can define it however you like and then decide that other people are using the term incorrectly, or you can take a step back and realize it is actually more complex with a lot of different aspects.

    This study is talking about one aspect: the automatic associations that people have with White and Black strangers. . The whole point of this type of racial bias is that you don't need to ask people how they feel about others, they may not even be aware that they hold this bias.

    If you think you are completely egalitarian, take a similar test for yourself:
    By this metric, the majority of North Americans have more positive associations to White faces than Black faces. This doesn't make it racism, per se, but people with the most racial bias on these measures also show discriminatory behavior on other tasks. So call it what it you want.

    Well, I am not sure. There is only one thing that I hate more than racism, it is pedophilia! This being said, many attitudes, such as in Washington DC, are explained by the lack of knowledge that people have of each other. Washington is one place where you can tell the race of anybody with your eyes closed, because people talk so little to each other that they develop a different language in the same town. What does it mean, say in Washington, that you prefer a face of the same race as yours? It usually means that you had so little contact with people of another race that you cannot interpret their features; it goes with the face recognition bias. If you cannot read in a face that a person is trustworthy, nice, willing to help, not aggressive, you have no reason to "like" the face. How often do you hear that Asians do not show their feelings? It is just inability to read faces. It is the main reason why it is so sad that so many schools are not interracial any more: it is important to read each other faces. My interpretation of this "racial bias" is that it says to what kind of school you have been, and nothing more.

    I think we agree. Having lack of contact with people from another race may lead to these type of biases (along with other things, including the attitudes in the culture where you were raised). But I think the authors are simply trying to say that these presumably deeply ingrained biases that are due to lack of contact and culture can be made to disappear rather quickly when people feel connected with one another, even if that connection is rather trivial.

    If the bias disappears because of trivial connection, then it isn't bias against a race at all; the whole definition of racial bias is being diluted by stuff like this.  If every averse reaction is attributed to race then it actually trivializes the real thing.
    On the contrary, the whole definition of racial bias isn't being diluted by stuff like this, the whole definition of racial bias is being changed by this. When Einstein showed that space are time were intrinsically linked we didn't complain that he was diluted the definition of time, but simply changing the definition. Such is the purpose of science - to force us to reconsider our pre-conceived notions and intuitions.