Posted by: Karen (Betty Bear) | April 12, 2013

Prejudice

Now there’s a loaded term, isn’t there? Girl child was reading the book Blink for school and came upon a mention of the IAT, the Implicit Association Tests. These are tests developed by a number of universities researching implicit social cognition, basically the immediate unconscious assumptions people make about other people. You can go to the website to read all about how it works and why it works and if you click on the participate button, you too can take tests to find out your prejudice about various groups of people. There are tests about gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and more.

Anyway, GC came home and told me about it and her results on some of the tests and I decided to try it out to see what happened. I took the light skinned/dark skinned test, the European American/African American test and the straight/gay test. The results are given as:

strong preference for group A

moderate preference for group A

slight preference for group A

neutral

slight preference for group B

moderate preference for group B

strong preference for group B

My results for the light or dark skinned and for the European American/African American both came out with a slight preference for light skin and European American. Given the culture in which I live and that I have lived most of my life in predominately white neighborhoods I wasn’t surprised and was actually pleased that I hadn’t come out even stronger toward whites. It seems that even for the majority of African Americans that they come out with a slight to moderate preference for light skinned, European Americans. Cultural influences run deep, y’all.

I got started thinking about the difference between prejudice and racism (or ageism, homophobia, etc.). Prejudice is not, of itself, inherently bad. Prejudice is the immediate judgement,  the pre-judgement, we make about a person or group without actually knowing them. Evolutionarily it is protective. It was to our benefit to be able to make very, very quick and accurate decisions as to whether or not a situation was dangerous. So picture yourself in an empty street, no one there, dark or dimly lit. Now picture a group of 3 people coming toward you. Does your feeling of being more or less safe change if those three people are elderly white women? What if they are late teen, early 20’s black men? Have your feelings changed? What if they are dressed in suits and carrying briefcases? Do you see how these different scenarios change your feelings? That is prejudice at work in your life.

So prejudice is not altogether a bad thing. Statistically speaking, you are more likely to be in danger from a group of hoodie-wearing young men than you are from a group of elderly women so you should be more on guard. The problem lies when prejudice becomes racism, when your prejudice starts influencing your actions. Mostly we can, if we understand our prejudices, be on guard against them and work to accept people as we get to know them. Unfortunately, our prejudices can create unconscious expectations which can then affect others. For instance, there have been studies done on teachers’ unconscious expectations about student achievement which can have profound effects on actual student achievement. If a teacher somehow believes that boys do better than girls at math, the boys in that teacher’s class generally will do better than the girls in math. When there is a systemic belief that white kids do better than black kids, that black kids aren’t really cut out for academic achievement, then there becomes an entire population that believes they aren’t as smart because of the color of their skin.

Knowing whether or not you have those unconscious assumptions about different groups can help you counteract them and that is where the worth of those tests lie for the individual.

 

You may have noticed I didn’t give the results of the straight/gay test. Here it is and here is my explanation: I showed a moderate preference for gays. I had expected to be neutral and was surprised to have as much as a moderate preference. After thinking it over, though, this is what I decided. Most of my encounters with people are with straight people and while I have and have had gay friends, I have had more straight friends. But, almost all of my encounters with gays have been either positive or neutral. I have had numerous encounters with straights, mostly men, that have been negative. So it’s the cumulative effect of all of those encounters, positive, negative and neutral, that have tipped the scales over to a preference for gays.

I’ll probably go back and take a few more; I’m interested in the gender and religion, particularly.

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Responses

  1. How interesting that they’ve made these tests available online! Very cool.

    I agree that our minds do seem to be wired for prejudice at a basic level, and I like how you defined its evolutionary use. It’s what we do with it that matters.

  2. I have such a hard time with these words, due to ignorance (which seems to be rampant right now). Great post!

    • I do too. I have a really hard time knowing that my mind is making assumptions about people that I wouldn’t want it necessarily to make if I were conscious of what it was doing. But I guess at least being aware that assumptions are being made is better than not.

  3. […] Prejudice (karenb1963.wordpress.com) […]


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