If you're in the prejudice business the worst thing that can happen is to have a woman and an African-American fighting it out to be President. A white guy has a tough time out there these days and that's a good thing for society because it means that America continues to be the least racist country in the world.
But if you're in the prejudice business the death of institutional racism and the demise of cultural racism means you'll need to look deeper; namely to find people being prejudiced against themselves. Then you can say it's the legacy of old prejudice and the cycle continues.
Psychologists at Stanford University and the University of Waterloo are here to help. If a white student and a black student get the exact same SAT score, the black student is probably better but he's worried about the perception that he does worse on tests - so he does worse on tests.
Did your head spin just a little reading that? I felt some vertigo writing it too, but Stanford's Greg Walton and Waterloo's Steven Spencer say this is a real issue and minorities and women fight against a 'psychological headwind.' They tested nearly 19,000 students in the United States, Canada, France, Germany and Sweden and say the difference is this 'stereotype threat.' When it was minimized, ethnic minorities and women outperformed non-minorities and men at the same level of past performance - not did better, just not as badly as if they felt stereotype threats. That means the black student who received the same 1020 on the SAT as his white classmate would likely have scored higher in the absence of stereotype threat. His 1020 underestimated his true ability.
What is stereotype threat? There is no legitimate definition so I had to fall back on Wikipedia and it's the sort of circular definition you've come to expect when people start with a conclusion and then match data to their topology. Josh Witten has a cartoon about that very subject today.
In the 1960s, a psychologist named Irwin Katz said that people who were treated like they were poor at something would do poorly. He used an IQ test but called it hand-eye coordination and found they did better than when it was called an IQ test. Sounds fishy? Sure, lots of people are nervous about an IQ test because there is a value judgment in that but no one is going to feel bad if they aren't coordinated in a class room - they will feel bad on a basketball court though.
Walton and Spencer say it's still a real problem today. Their projected cost; underperforming on the SAT by about 40 points for minorities and on the math portion of the test by about 20 points for women. Why women? Who knows? 70% of grade- and high-school teachers are women so if there is perception that women can't do math, it is women doing the stereotyping.
"Women and minorities are running into a headwind," said Walton, an assistant professor of psychology. "Their scores underestimate their true ability."
That's beautiful. I wish I could never do poorly on a test but instead can fall back on the test's inability to accurately measure how awesome I am. Can we ever get away from this stigma? Not the way things are, they say. Students taking standardized test are reminded of their race or gender because the testing companies need to know race and gender to make sure the tests are not biased against races and genders. I did that head hurting thing to you again, didn't I?
The good news; this 'latent ability' effect actually applies less in academic situations. In sports, though, the last bastion of performance-based equality left, you can still get your feelings hurt.
"The stereotype that white men can't jump can undermine white men's athletic performance," Walton said. "A normal feature of how we work as humans is that we are affected by how other people may perceive us. It's disturbing to think that, if you perform badly, other people could think negatively about your group. It's distracting, and it undermines performance."
That's right. The NBA will need to have sensitivity training about the performance of white guys. No wonder I don't play basketball. I'd hate for black people to think all whites are genetically incapable of taking the pill to the post and the burden of representing all caucasians is too much pressure.
Back to test taking; they do have a simple, elegant solution. So simple I am surprised no one has thought of it. If you must put in demographic questions at all, put them at the end.
Here's the real kicker why it should be done that way (though obviously the best solution is to stop caring what race or gender someone is) - they say if you don't account for stereotype bias, you're guilty of sanctioning discrimination. That's right, you're racist if those scores don't go up.
This seems like a big burden to place on teachers who just want to teach subjects and move on.
"Organizations should take into account bias on a test that hides the untapped potential of members of stereotyped groups," said Spencer, a psychology professor. "To fail to do so would be to sanction discrimination. But that is not enough. In addition to correcting for the bias, schools and companies should work hard to create safe environments that minimize stereotype threat. That would allow everybody to perform at their best and ultimately would help organizations as a whole excel."
Unless excelling in organizations means you just want the best people who can perform whether or not people around them care what they are wearing, what color their skin is, or anything else. That's why sports are the one place where there is no real racism and why in some parts of academia there is; if you go out of your way to tell people you need to help them because there is so much racism - they need you to fix their problems - no progress gets made.
Barack Obama didn't get an endorsement from Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson until long after he had the Democratic nomination sewed up. By not letting anyone tell him he couldn't get elected because of racism, he went ahead and became President.
Article: LATENT ABILITY: GRADES AND TEST SCORES SYSTEMATICALLY UNDERESTIMATE THE INTELLECTUAL ABILITY OF NEGATIVELY STEREOTYPED STUDENTS, Gregory M. Walton, Steven J. Spencer, Psychological Science (in press)
Women And Minorities Prejudiced Against Themselves, Says Study
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