Friday, April 4, 2008

The US is still racist

Even the young'uns:
"Most people in the U.S. think racism is a thing of the past, or they think only the older generation is racist anymore," said Anthony Greenwald, a professor of social psychology at the University of Washington who has studied racial biases in America.

"The truth is, we've found no indication that race bias is any less apparent among young people [than it is] among older people," he said.

About a million people have taken part in an online psychological experiment, called the Race Implicit Attitude Test, that determines the test-taker's subconscious attitudes toward African Americans, Greenwald said. It requires that test-takers quickly sort positive and negative words — such as "terrible" and "joy" — along with black and white faces into categories.

"People are usually surprised and disturbed by what they learn. Most people have no idea they have the biases they have," said Greenwald, who helped develop the test. "Their professed attitudes often don't match the test results."


Greenwald says about 70 percent of the 1 million people of all races who have taken the Race Implicit Attitude Test possess subconscious negative associations toward African Americans. About one-third of all African Americans possess subconscious negative associations about African-Americans.

Non-Web-based tests with smaller numbers of respondents indicate that a smaller percentage of all races has negative associations with Hispanics and Native Americans, and a much smaller percentage has negative associations with Asians, Greenwald said.

"It doesn't make sense to say that you're 'colorblind,' " Greenwald said. "People need to be aware of the fact that our cultural environment — like news, entertainment, literature, all that — has implanted certain ideas in our heads."

You can take the test here. Select "Demonstration", then "Go to the demonstration tests", go past the disclaimer, and choose the test "Race IAT".
Before Miller started her own online boutique, she worked as a software engineer. On a break one day, she commented to a co-worker that her mother never allowed her to stay out late when she was young. Her white co-worker asked if that was because her mother was afraid of gang violence.

"I was shocked," Miller said. "I wanted to say, 'What about me makes you believe that I grew up in some gang-infested project somewhere? What made you think that was my upbringing?' He was basing it all on race."

To many people, Miller's co-worker's comment may seem innocuous. To others, it may seem deliberately racist. And regardless, it's an example of how the issue of race can be insidious in our culture.

"You end up thinking, 'Wow, what other assumptions has he made about me because I'm black? And is that the reason I didn't get that promotion?' It's not as in-your-face as it was, but it still takes an emotional toll on people," Miller said.

This portion hits on what I was mentioning the other day:
"Everyone's identity was tied up in their race. 'I'm Korean.' 'I'm Japanese.' 'I'm Indian.' And that's really neat to celebrate your heritage," she said. "But all of sudden, I felt like a really boring white person. I didn't have anything cool about me, I was just plain Jane."

She feels that being Korean, or Japanese, or Indian, is itself a category that comes with a heritage to celebrate--but being white is not. White is not just another race to her, it's the default, it's normal, it's "just plain."

And this is a common misconception that has to be dealt with:
On one hand, there are "outdated" social programs and clubs that divide people up based exclusively on color, she said. "I'm all for programs that help people who've been disadvantaged. But race doesn't make you disadvantaged. Poverty makes you disadvantaged," she said.

Poverty does make you disadvantaged, yes. But to say that race does not, is to live in a fantasy. The reason affirmative action is race-based instead of class-based is because blacks face challenges that whites--even poor whites--simply do not. As The Debate Link quoted:
Poor whites are rarely typified as pathological, dangerous, lazy or shiftless the way poor blacks are, for example. Nor are they demonized the way poor Latino/a immigrants tend to be.

When politicians want to scapegoat welfare recipients they don't pick Bubba and Crystal from some Appalachian trailer park; they choose Shawonda Jefferson from the Robert Taylor Homes, with her seven children.


Sarah said...

Hmm, the test itself puts the African-American category on the same side as the Bad category. And it's a timed task. Of course, I started not to like the test when they asked my religion but had no box available for any of the pagan varieties.

Skemono said...

I can't vouch for how good a test it is; I don't particularly like it myself. But I do tend to assume that scientists who design their experiments know what they're doing.

Hmm, the test itself puts the African-American category on the same side as the Bad category.
Initially. Then it's the reverse, and the African-American category is on the same side as the Good category.

And it's a timed task.
Well, yes. They want to get your initial, reflexive reaction.

Of course, I started not to like the test when they asked my religion but had no box available for any of the pagan varieties.
I can't defend them there.