Racism is racial prejudice that has been incorporated into the activities and procedures of major institutions, corporations, social systems (such as those related to housing, education, and health), and other arenas of major social activity (such as politics, the media, finance, and banking). Racism serves both to discriminate against ethnic minorities and to maintain advantages and benefits for White Americans.
Why should we keep talking about prejudice and racism–aren't they on the way out? Hasn't there been so much change in society already? It would be nice if prejudice and racism were on the decline. But it doesn't seem to be that way. A 1990 study found that a majority of Whites rated African Americans and Hispanics as less intelligent than themselves. A majority of Whites also thought African Americans and Hispanics are prone to violence and would rather be on welfare than work. These attitudes are not harmless. These prejudices not only are the basis for individual acts of discrimination, but they also allow people to justify unfair and destructive institutional and corporate practices.
The illusory correlation phenomenon is an example of how our mental processing can play tricks on us. The illusory correlation refers to our tendency to believe that two things are more highly correlated (or associated) than they actually are. This illusion is based on our tendency to notice things more when they are rare or infrequent. In contrast, we become habituated or take for granted things that are common. Consider the situation in which the same small percentage of minority group members and majority group members have some negative characteristic such as ADHD. The infrequency of the negative characteristic and the infrequency of the minority group members will lead us to the illusory belief that a higher percentage of minority group members have the negative characteristic. So, we interpret our experience as telling us that the minority group actually has a higher percentage of hyperactive children than the majority group. We notice the minority group members because they are infrequent, and we notice the children with ADHD because they are infrequent, and we tend to believe the two are related more strongly than they actually are.
Out-group homogeneity is another psychological mechanism that reinforces our stereotypes about other groups. We tend to perceive other groups, &quot;out groups,&quot; as more homogenous than our own group, or &quot;in group.&quot; We see members of other groups as less variable, clustered closely around one standard profile. While we see members of our in group as having a lot of variation in behavior, looks, and personality, we tend to see members of an out group as having little variation. In other words, we come to view these other persons less as individuals and more just in terms of their group membership and actually just in terms of our stereotypes about the group characteristics. This process may be what leads to embarrassing situations that occur when we confuse members of an out group with each other and have trouble differentiating them in terms of what they said, what they look like, or even their names.
stereotypes can develop because of limited information. At the most basic level, stereotypes are related to the basic mental process of categorization. Our brains are very good at forming categories: good versus bad, edible versus non-edible, friend versus foe. Without these generalized concepts and categories, getting through the day would demand an overwhelming amount of analysis and careful consideration of every object and person we came into contact with. Categorization helps us take shortcuts and helps us become more efficient in making decisions and acting.
When a waiter at a restaurant comes to our table with a small pad and pencil, we prepare to give him our order. We don't have to spend much mental effort wondering: &quot;Are you our waiter? Can we give you our order?&quot; In recent years, psychologists have been recognizing just how much of this processing takes place automatically without our even being aware that we are doing it. Stereotypes in the sense of categories and concepts help us organize our thinking, helping us to perceive and remember more than we would without these aids. The problem with the stereotypes about social groups that underlie prejudice is that the categorization processes do not result in accurate generalizations. While the man in the restaurant with a pad and pencil is most probably a waiter, the African American, old, Jewish, gay, disabled, Hispanic, Catholic, Irish, or obese person to whom we apply a stereotype probably does not fit that stereotype as well as we assume.
why stereotypes persist in the face of contradictory experience, we find two main answers. The first is that because stereotypes may help us feel better about ourselves, we avoid challenging these stereotypes. In other words, we become defensive and protective of our worldviews and only reluctantly question our deepest assumptions. And these worldviews help protect not only our self-esteem, but also real-world privileges and benefits that accrue to us as members of an in group. For example, racist discrimination by banks that hurts African American communities by limiting mortgages to these areas also benefits White neighborhoods by making more money available to them. Discrimination which in the past has limited slots available to Jews or African Americans or Asian Americans at universities has benefited the majority population by making more slots available to its members. So, maintaining our prejudiced views of others allows us to feel better about our own group and to avoid challenging unfair social practices that benefit us.
Psychologists have found that we put energy into various mechanisms that help us maintain our view of the world. For example, we can seek out and pay attention to information that supports our views. Evidence suggests that the more strongly we hold a stereotype, the more we tend to remember confirming information about the group. There is a kind of circular process here: For example, the more we believe stereotypes about black men being uneducated, the more likely we will remember incidents which seem to support these views. We also discount or rationalize information that is contradictory to our beliefs. The Black person who is intelligent and articulate, the gay man who is not effeminate, or the Jewish person who is not pushy become exceptions to the rule, but the rule remains. And we may look more closely for grammatical mistakes in the Black person's speech than in a White person's; or we may think that the gay man has developed a public persona designed to fool us; or that the Jewish person is especially clever in working his or her exploitive influence behind our back.
The surest route to changing attitudes is changing behavior. Although that might sound backward, research into attitude change has shown it to be true: Our attitudes follow our behavior. By changing our behavior, for example, putting ourselves in close situations with members of out groups, we increase our familiarity with these individuals. As we become more familiar with them, we naturally see more individuality and variation within such a group. Not all contact will lead to such attitude changes. It seems the contact is best if structured as encounters among equals who are cooperating to achieve a super ordinate goal. But these kinds of behavioral activities are some of the most effective ways to change prejudice. The operation of naturally biasing processes, such as the illusory correlation and out-group homogeneity bias, when combined with our motivation to view other groups negatively as a way to enhance our own self-esteem, are powerful influences for maintaining stereotypes and prejudice. The desire to change our attitudes plus actual behavioral change on our part can counter these forces.
The problem with keeping our own prejudices to ourselves and just trying not to act on them is that stereotypes influence us even when we do not realize it. Several psychological experiments have shown this quite clearly. In one subjects were given a long, boring task on a computer screen. Before each trial, a White or Black male face was shown on the screen so quickly that the subject did not have conscious awareness of the image. When an error message flashed and the subject was told he or she would have to begin the task again, those subjects (White) who had been subliminally shown a Black face showed more hostility than those who had been shown a White face. Our emotional reactions are so automatic that we do not even have to be aware of the stimuli that provoke our prejudices.
However, just because stereotypes can operate automatically and outside of awareness, that does not mean that there is nothing we can do about them. Keeping prejudice and stereotypes to ourselves is not a good way to deal with them. One of the best things to do is to confront them - to push through the anxiety we feel about being prejudiced and racist and discuss these issues honestly with others. Groups like the National Coalition Building Institute have designed ways to discuss these issues in ways that members of different groups talk about their personal experiences and thoughts about their own group and other groups. APA's program of Conversations on Race represents another forum in which these topics can be broached. We list these groups and others, as well as other things people can do to counter prejudice and racism in &quot;Ten Things You Can Do&quot; later in this publication.
Dealing with this issue is anxiety provoking. And the anxiety is a signal that we have to keep dealing with it. In addition to encouraging avoidance of unfamiliar others, anxiety may play another role in maintaining the psychology of prejudice. Anxiety generally interferes with our more complex and subtle thought processes and motivates us to resolve a situation quickly. For example, anxiety prompts the fight-or-flight response. Both responses-fight and flight-imply a hierarchical view of an encounter: Either I'll fight the other and try to come out on top or I'll give up and run away and avoid being dominated. When anxious, we tend to return to primitive, simplistic, and automatic thoughts and behaviors, such as dichotomous thinking characterized as all-or-nothing, us-versus-them, win-or-lose, or black-and-white. It is in this kind of thinking in terms of dichotomies that stereotypes thrive.
Institutional racism is not any one person's fault, but it is the responsibility of everyone participating in that system. It is especially the responsibility of those benefiting from institutional racism. It is the individual, psychological level of prejudice that allows us to justify the unfairness and destructiveness of institutionalized racism. Individual-level prejudice allows us to justify the outcome of unfair systems (&quot;those people deserve what they get...they're lazy and have to work harder,&quot; or even &quot;I don't really care what happens to them&quot;). Challenging our own prejudices at the psychological level then means that we also have to challenge larger structures of racism in society, as well as the prejudices of other individuals which support those structures. This is why people used to say 20 years ago, &quot;If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.&quot;
The new racism is thought to be most visible in White persons' views on affirmative action, crime, drugs, welfare, teenage pregnancy, and unemployment. Conversations on these topics often are dominated by an unspoken subtext of racial attitudes. Consistent with the theory of illusory correlation, it is often assumed (despite statistics to the contrary) that the majority of persons involved in such activities are ethnic minorities. Consequently, unspoken racial attitudes shape our definition of such problems and their resolutions. In short, the theory of the new racism holds that some blatant forms of racism have declined in recent decades, and the label &quot;racist&quot; has become something that most individuals want to avoid. However, even while trying to avoid the label of being &quot;racist,&quot; individuals continue to hold deep, underlying negative stereotypes and feelings toward African Americans and other ethnic minorities. These more hidden stereotypes are symbolized in coded political views that seem to uphold respectable values, but continue to support institutionalized forms of racism.
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Racism: What to Do About It Adapted from www.apa.org/pi/oema/racism/homepage.html An APA resource written by Mark Feinberg, PhD
What is Racism? <ul><li>housing, education, and health </li></ul><ul><li>politics, the media, finance, and banking </li></ul><ul><li>Racism serves both to discriminate against ethnic minorities and to maintain advantages and benefits for White Americans. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Why should we keep talking about prejudice and racism–aren't they on the way out? Hasn't there been so much change in society already? </li></ul>
Illusory Correlation <ul><li>tendency to believe that two things are more highly correlated (or associated) than they actually are </li></ul><ul><li>based on our tendency to notice things more when they are rare or infrequent </li></ul>(Jones, 1997).
I can't take responsibility for institutional racism <ul><li>It is the responsibility of everyone participating in that system. It is especially the responsibility of those benefiting from institutional racism. </li></ul>
Haven't we made progress on racism in this country in the last 30 or 40 years?
References <ul><li>Bargh, J. A., & Chen, M. (1996). The chameleon effect: Automatic social perception produces automatic social behavior . Unpublished manuscript, cited in Jones (1997). </li></ul><ul><li>Darley, J. M., & Gross, P. H. (1983). A hypothesis-confirming bias in labeling effects . Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 20-33. </li></ul><ul><li>Katz, P. A., & Barrett, M. (1997). The development of prejudice in children and adolescents . Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Chicago, August 18, 1997. </li></ul><ul><li>Jones, J. M. (1997). Prejudice and racism . USA: McGraw Hill Companies, Inc. </li></ul><ul><li>Pettigrew, T. F. (1997). Combating racism: Creating norms for intergroup harmony . Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Chicago, August 18, 1997. </li></ul>
More References <ul><li>Pratto, F. Sidanius, J., Stallworth, L. M., & Malle, B. F. (1994). Social dominance orientation: A personality variable predicting social and political attitudes . Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 741-763. </li></ul><ul><li>Sears, D. (1997). White racism in contemporary American mass politics . Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Chicago, August 18, 1997. </li></ul><ul><li>Sherif, M., Harvey, O. J., White, J. B., Hood, W. R., & Sherif, C. W. (1961). Intergroup conflict and cooperation: The robbers cave experiment . Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Book Exchange. </li></ul><ul><li>Tajfel, H. (1969). Cognitive aspects of prejudice . Journal of Social Issues, 25, 79-97. </li></ul>
Credits <ul><li>The script for this presentation was adapted from the one written by Mark Feinberg, PhD for the American Psychological Association and may be accessed at www.apa.org/pi/oema/racism/homepage.html </li></ul><ul><li>All photos in this presentation were downloaded from the Microsoft Clip Art Gallery except for the pictures on slide 5 (KKK member),) and slide 9 (sharecropper), which are from the LIFE magazine archive, available for personal, but not commercial, use at Google Images. The image of President Obama was purchased from http://www.bigstockphoto.com/photo/view/4101252 on 2/19/09 </li></ul>