Research says there are ways to reduce racial bias. Calling people racist isn’t one of them.

*This is reblogged from Vox.com. It is by German Lopez, originally posted 11/15/16.


The challenge for anti-racists looking for solutions in Trump’s America.

In 2016, researchers stumbled on a radical tactic for reducing another person’s bigotry: a frank, brief conversation.

The study, authored by David Broockman at Stanford University and Joshua Kalla at the University of California Berkeley, looked at how simple conversations can help combat anti-transgender attitudes. In the research, people canvassed the homes of more than 500 voters in South Florida. The canvassers, who could be trans or not, asked the voters to simply put themselves in the shoes of trans people — to understand their problems — through a 10-minute, nonconfrontational conversation. The hope was that the brief discussion could lead people to reevaluate their biases.

It worked. The trial found not only that voters’ anti-trans attitudes declined but that they remained lower three months later, showing an enduring result. And those voters’ support for laws that protect trans people from discrimination increased, even when they were presented with counterarguments for such laws.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this research since Election Day. After Donald Trump’s victory last week, it is clear that the prejudiced views of a lot of Americans helped elect to the White House a man who’s repeatedly made racist, offensive statements. Not only did Trump build his campaign largely on fears of immigrants and Muslims, but based on a lot of polls and surveys, he also attracted the voters who reported, by far, the highest levels of racial resentment and other prejudiced views.

One telling study, conducted by researchers at UC Santa Barbara and Stanford shortly before the election, found that if people who strongly identified as white were told that nonwhite groups will outnumber white people in 2042, they became more likely to support Trump. That suggests there’s a significant racial element to support for Trump.

But just noting these racial attitudes and biases did not seem to have a huge impact on the election. Despite bigoted policy proposals that at one point even called for banning an entire religious group from the US, and the media’s constant reminders that Trump is racist, Trump won. Clearly, a lot of US voters either shared Trump’s prejudiced views or, at the very least, didn’t find such ideas to be fundamental deal breakers. That suggests there’s a lot of racism — or at least the enabling of it — in America, perhaps even more than one would think in 2016.

So how can we reduce this type of prejudice? The canvassing study provides a model for anti-trans attitudes, but can it be applied to other kinds of bigotry, such as racism, that might be more entrenched in the US? And even if we do embrace the canvassing model or something similar, how can we ensure that the conversations don’t lead to a backlash — the kind of defensive posturing and denial of racism that might lead even more people to support candidates like Trump?

 In talking with researchers and looking at the studies on this, I found that it is possible to reduce people’s racial anxiety and prejudices. And the canvassing idea was regarded as very promising. But, researchers cautioned, the process of reducing people’s racism will take time and, crucially, empathy.

This is the direct opposite of the kind of culture the internet has fostered — typically focused on calling out racists and shaming them in public. This doesn’t work. And as much as it might seem like a lost cause to understand the perspectives of people who may qualify as racist, understanding where they come from is a needed step to being able to speak to them in a way that will help reduce the racial biases they hold.

So how do we have a better conversation around these issues, one that can actually reduce people’s racial prejudices and anxieties?

The first thing to understand is how white Americans, especially in rural areas, hear accusations of racism. While terms like “racist,” “white privilege,” and “implicit bias” intend to point out systemic biases in America, for white Americans they’re often seen as coded slurs. These terms don’t signal to them that they’re doing something wrong, but that their supposedly racist attitudes (which they would deny having at all) are a justification for lawmakers and other elites to ignore their problems…

Read the full article.

Jeremiah Morelock

Jeremiah Morelock

Jeremiah Morelock holds a Masters Degree in Sociology and teaches at Boston College. He is also the Director of the Critical Theory Research Network. His research focuses on political themes in biological horror and science fiction films. He is editor of Critical Theory and Authoritarian Populism (forthcoming in 2018, University of Westminster).
Jeremiah Morelock

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