The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘colorblindness’

The Pretense of Colorblindness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 24, 2012

From Working Knowledge:

In trying to prevent discrimination and prejudice, many companies adopt a strategy of “colorblindness”—actively trying to ignore racial differences when enacting policies and making organizational decisions. The logic is simple: if we don’t even notice race, then we can’t act in a racist manner.

The problem is that most of us naturally do notice each other’s racial differences, regardless of our employer’s policy.

“It’s so appealing on the surface to think that the best way to approach race is to pretend that it doesn’t exist,” says behavioral psychologist Michael I. Norton, an associate professor at Harvard Business School. “But research shows that it simply doesn’t work. We do notice race, and there’s no way of getting around this fact.”

Several studies by Norton and his colleagues show that attempting to overcome prejudice by ignoring race is an ineffective strategy that—in many cases—only serves to perpetuate bias. In short, bending over backward to ignore race can exacerbate rather than solve issues of race in the workplace.

“Umm, he has pants”

In efforts to be politically correct, people often avoid mentioning race when describing a person, even if that person’s race is the most obvious descriptor. (Comedian Stephen Colbert often pokes fun of this tendency on his TV show, The Colbert Report, claiming that he doesn’t “see color.”) If a manager, for example, is asked which guy Fred is, he or she may be loath to say, “Fred’s Asian,” even if Fred is the only Asian person in the company.

“Instead, it’s, ‘He’s that nice man who works in operations, and, umm, he has hair, and, umm, he has pants,’ ” Norton says. “And it keeps going on until finally someone comes out and asks, ‘Oh, is he Asian?'”

Norton and several colleagues documented this phenomenon in a study that they described in an article for the journal Psychological Science, Color Blindness and Interracial Interaction. The researchers conducted an experiment in which white participants engaged in a two-person guessing game designed—unbeknownst to them—to measure their tendencies toward attempted racial colorblindness.

Each participant was given a stack of photographs, which included 32 different faces. A partner sat across from the participant, looking at one picture that matched a picture from the participant’s stack. The participants were told that the goal of the game was to determine which photo the partner was holding by asking as few yes/no questions as possible—for example, “Is the person bald?”

Half the faces on the cards were black, and the other half white, so asking a yes/no question about skin color was a very efficient way to narrow down the identity of the photo on the partner’s card. But the researchers found that many of the participants completely avoided asking their partners about the skin color of the person in the photograph—especially when paired with a black partner. Some 93 percent of participants with white partners mentioned race during the guessing game, as opposed to just 64 percent who were playing the game with black partners.

Backfiring results

Two independent coders were hired to watch videos of the sessions on mute, rating the perceived friendliness of the white participants based on nonverbal cues. Alas, the participants who attempted colorblindness came across as especially unfriendly, often avoiding eye contact with their black partners. And when interviewed after the experiment, black partners reported perceiving the most racial bias among those participants who avoided mentioning race.

“The impression was that if you’re being so weird about not mentioning race, you probably have something to hide,” Norton says.

The researchers repeated the experiment on a group of elementary school children. The third graders often scored higher on the guessing game than grown-ups because, Norton says, they weren’t afraid to ask if the person in the photo was black or white. But many of the fourth and fifth graders avoided mentioning race during the game. As it turns out, racial colorblindness is a social convention that many Americans start to internalize by as young as age 10. “Very early on kids get the message that they are not supposed to acknowledge that they notice people’s race—often the result of a horrified reaction from a parent when they do,” Norton says.

A zero-sum game?

In addition to an ineffective strategy at managing interracial interactions, racial colorblindness has evolved into an argument against affirmative action policies, an issue Norton addresses in a recent working paper, Racial Colorblindness: Emergence, Practice, and Implications, cowritten with Evan P. Apfelbaum of MIT and Samuel R. Sommers of Tufts University.

“Though once emblematic of the fight for equal opportunity among racial minorities marginalized by openly discriminatory practices, contemporary legal arguments for colorblindness have become increasingly geared toward combating race-conscious policies,” they write. “If racial minority status confers an advantage in hiring and school admissions and in the selection of voting districts and government subcontractors—the argument goes—then Whites’ right for equal protection may be violated.”

In a related article, Whites See Racism as a Zero-Sum Game That They Are Now Losing, Norton and Sommers surveyed 100 white and 100 black respondents about their perceptions of racial bias in recent American history. They found that black respondents reported a large decrease in antiblack bias between the 1950s and the 2000s, but perceived virtually no antiwhite bias in that same period—ever. White respondents, on the other hand, perceived a large decrease in antiblack bias over time, but also a huge increase in antiwhite bias. In fact, on average, white respondents perceive more antiwhite bias than antiblack bias in the twenty-first century.

“It’s very hard to find a metric that suggests that white people actually have a worse time of it than black people,” Norton says. “But this perception is driving the current cultural discourse in race and affirmative action. It’s not just that whites think blacks are getting some unfair breaks, it’s that whites are thinking, ‘I’m actually the victim of discrimination now.'”

More.

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Color Conscious Situation of Neighborhood Choice

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 30, 2010

From University of Michigan:

Race is a powerful factor in white decisions about where to live, according to an innovative video experiment conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Michigan.

The study appears in the latest issue of the journal Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race.

“We sought to determine whether whites are colorblind in their evaluations of neighborhoods, or whether racial composition still matters—even when holding constant the quality of the neighborhood,” said the report’s lead author, UIC sociologist Maria Krysan.

Krysan co-authored the study with Reynolds Farley, research professor emeritus at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), and Mick Couper, research professor at the ISR.

Their survey-based experiment involved more than 600 randomly selected white adults aged 21 and older living in the Chicago and Detroit metropolitan areas.

Participants were shown videos of various neighborhoods—lower working class to upper class—with actors posing as residents. Each resident was portrayed doing exactly the same activities in each kind of neighborhood, such as picking up mail or talking to neighbors.

While the survey participants viewed the same neighborhoods in the videos, they were randomly assigned to see either white residents, black residents, or a mix of both. Participants were then asked to evaluate the neighborhoods in terms of housing cost, property upkeep, school quality, safety, and future property values.

Whites who saw white residents in the video rated neighborhoods significantly more positive in four of the five dimensions compared to whites who saw black residents in the identical neighborhood. Racially mixed neighborhoods fell in between.

“These findings demonstrate that ‘objective’ characteristics such as housing are not sufficient for whites to overcome the stereotypes they have about communities with African-American residents,” said Krysan, who is also affiliated with the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

Participants were also questioned about their endorsement or rejection of racial stereotypes. Whites who held negative stereotypes about blacks as a group were more likely to produce disapproving neighborhood evaluations.

According to the researchers, property value stagnation is one consequence of whites excluding neighborhoods solely due to the presence of black residents.

“Residential segregation limits occupational opportunities for blacks, ensures that blacks and whites will seldom have the chance to attend school together, and seriously limits the acquisition of wealth by African-Americans,” said Farley, who noted that racial segregation remains common in the older metropolises of the Midwest and Northeast.

“It is rare to find research that combines high quality, new data, with such grounded, real world issues,” said Lawrence Bobo, Harvard University sociologist and editor of the Du Bois Review. “Thanks to this highly innovative piece of research, we now understand far better than ever before the factors that create and sustain racial segregation of neighborhoods in America.”

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

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The Situation of Litigators

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 5, 2009

LitigatorSituationist Contributor Jerry Kang, Nilanjana Dasgupta, Kumar Yogeeswaran, and Gary Blasi, recently posted their terrific new paper “Are Ideal Litigators White? Measuring the Myth of Colorblindness” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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This study examined whether explicit and implicit biases in favor of Whites and against Asian Americans would alter mock jurors’ evaluation of a litigator’s deposition. We found evidence of both explicit bias as measured by self-reports, and implicit bias as measured by two Implicit Association Tests. In particular, explicit stereotypes that the ideal litigator was White predicted worse evaluation of the Asian American litigator (outgroup derogation); by contrast, implicit stereotypes predicted preferential evaluation of the White litigator (ingroup favoritism). In sum, participants were not colorblind, at least implicitly, towards even a “model minority,” and these biases produced racial discrimination. This study provides further evidence of the predictive and ecological validity of the Implicit Association Test.

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To download the paper for free, click here. To review all of the previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin, or, for a list of such posts, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Law, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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