The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘race’

The Implicit Situation of Criminal Justice

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 5, 2012

Robert Smith, Charles Ogletree, and Johanna Wald hare recently posted a synopsis of their chapter, titled “Coloring Punishment: Implicit Social Cognition and Criminal Justice” (in Justin D. Levinson and Robert J. Smith (eds), Implicit Racial Bias Across the Law, 2012) on SSRN.  Here’s the synopsis:

The United States has become the world’s leader in incarceration. The size and pervasiveness of the criminal justice regime have no parallel in history. One in 100 citizens are locked away in prisons and jails – a figure that reflects a tenfold expansion in the corrections population in less than four decades. If we count those individuals who are currently on probation or parole, more than 7 million men and women are under legal supervision – a number equal to the population of Israel. This system of mass incarceration – which includes policing, corrections, and the courts – employs 2.2 million Americans – which exceeds the 1.7 million Americans employed in higher education and the 650,000 employed by the system of public welfare. At the turn of the millennium, approximately 1.5 million children had at least one parent in jail or prison, and 10 million have had a parent in jail at some time during their lives.

Racial disparities are a defining feature of this regime. One in eight black males between the ages of 20–29 are in prison or jail on any given day, as compared with 1 in 59 white males of the same age. At the beginning of the new millennium black males had almost a 1 in 3 chance of serving time in prison, as compared with 3 in 50 for white males. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights has suggested that current criminal justice policies and practices “threaten to render irrelevant fifty years of hard-fought civil rights progress.”

There are varied explanations for these disparities. Most analyses point to a constellation of complex and interrelated structural and institutional factors that include poverty, high rates of joblessness, low levels of education, and the clustering of blacks and Latinos in concentrated urban areas that are more heavily policed than predominantly white suburban and rural areas. In this chapter, we put forth a complementary analysis, one intended to fill in gaps that we consider to be missing from these structural analyses. The ongoing racial disparities evidenced in every phase of the criminal justice system can be at least partly explained by the levels of implicit racial bias held by key actors in the system. Although we cannot yet offer “the smoking gun” that indisputably links the presence of implicit bias among decision-makers to harsher criminal sanctions for black Americans, our hypothesis is backed by a robust and fast-growing literature that has developed over the past decade. This scholarship demonstrates conclusively that Americans (whites and people of color alike) possess negative implicit biases against black citizens. These implicit race biases are held by liberals and conservatives; by young people and old; and by residents on the East Coast, the West Coast, the South, and the Midwest. They often coexist, unknowingly by the holder, alongside more overtly egalitarian views. What makes them so important in any discussion about race and the law is that these implicit biases frequently determine our actions and sway our decisions. In the criminal justice context, these biases lead, for example, to more arrests and harsher sentences for blacks than for whites who commit similar offenses.

It is vital to understand and document more fully how and where implicit biases operate within the criminal justice system. Doing so will enable us to develop policies, practices, and strategies aimed at identifying and reducing their effects. In this chapter, we offer specific illustrations of how implicit racial bias influences the actions of key decision-makers at various phases of our criminal justice system. This chapter is not intended to be a comprehensive examination of the role of implicit bias within the criminal justice system; rather its objective is to match the literature on implicit bias with actual examples of its “real-world” effects. From the formulation of criminal justice policy, to the decision to target citizens of a particular race, to the selection of criminal petit juries, the impact of implicit race bias on decisions about arrests, sentences, and severity of punishment is broad and deep.

This chapter proceeds in five parts. Part I sets the stage for this analysis, introducing key implicit racial bias studies that demonstrate that the face of crime in America is black. More specifically, it documents that black citizens are considered to be more dangerous, hostile, and prone to criminality and also less fully human than white citizens. Building on this foundation, Part II examines the role that implicit racial bias plays in the formulation of crime policy. Part III examines why implicit racial bias might drive disparate outcomes in the enforcement of criminal laws. This part examines the phenomenon in two distinct contexts: (1) the decision to punish a student in the school discipline context and (2) the use of unnecessary force in police–citizen encounters. Part IV uses the example of discriminatory jury selection to explore how implicit racial bias might contribute to the exclusion of black citizens from the criminal justice decision-making process. Part V concludes the chapter.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Law | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Race and Dehumanization

Posted by Adam Benforado on June 15, 2012

I was very sorry to miss the Implicit Racial Bias Across the Law Book Launch Conference yesterday.  It’s rare for such a great set of law and mind sciences speakers to assemble in one spot and the topic continues to be of great importance for all those committed to ironing out injustice in our legal system.  But stuck in Philly, I did manage to “participate” vicariously . . . or, perhaps, more accurately: while doing some background research for some experiments that I am running with Penn’s Geoff Goodwin, I came across an article that I had overlooked a few years back that is of certain interest to all those who study law and race.

The article, Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization, and Contemporary Consequences, offers a fascinating investigation of the mental association between Blacks and apes and its devastating consequences.  As the authors (Phillip Atiba Goff, Jennifer L. Eberhardt, Melissa J. Williams, and Matthew Christian Jackson) explain,

Historical representations explicitly depicting Blacks as apelike have largely disappeared in the United States, yet a mental association between Blacks and apes remains. Here, the authors demonstrate that U.S. citizens implicitly associate Blacks and apes. In a series of laboratory studies, the authors reveal how this association influences study participants’ basic cognitive processes and significantly alters their judgments in criminal justice contexts. Specifically, this Black–ape association alters visual perception and attention, and it increases endorsement of violence against Black suspects. In an archival study of actual criminal cases, the authors show that news articles written about Blacks who are convicted of capital crimes are more likely to contain ape-relevant language than news articles written about White convicts.  Moreover, those who are implicitly portrayed as more apelike in these articles are more likely to be executed by the state than those who are not. The authors argue that examining the subtle persistence of specific historical representations such as these may not only enhance contemporary research on dehumanization, stereotyping, and implicit processes but also highlight common forms of discrimination that previously have gone unrecognized.

Check out the whole article here.

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Race and Racism Among Children

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 25, 2012

From CNN:

Anderson Cooper details a study that seeks to gain insight into the way black and white children perceive each other.

A sample of related Situationist posts:

Posted in Education, Implicit Associations | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Justice for Trayvon

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 26, 2012


For The Situationist, Sabreena El-Amin (Harvard Law School student and President of the Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS)), has authored the following legal analysis of the Trayvon Martin shooting and situationist analysis of the “stand your ground” doctrine.  We are pleased to publish it and look forward to more contributions from Sabreena and other members of SALMS.

The Trayvon Martin incident is of particular importance to me: not only as a Black person, not only as a law student, not only as a mother, but as a big sister. My younger brother is currently attending school at Barry University in Miami, Florida. He, like myself, loves Arizona Ice Tea. We are also both big fans of Skittles, though we have a particular preference for the sour kind. Most importantly, we both wear hoodies. I am now more nervous than ever for my brother: a 19-year-old black man walking the streets of Miami with a camera. With laws like the “Stand your Ground” statute, vigilantes like Zimmerman are free to roam the streets in Florida, singling out young black men and killing them seemingly without repercussions.

My argument will focus on two main points: 1) Zimmerman should have been arrested as the prosecution will likely be able to meet their burden of proof that his action was not in accordance with the statute; and 2) the Stand Your Ground statute should be repealed because a) it encourages armed individuals to respond to situations violently and b) it sanctions the attack of Blacks.  I will begin the article by outlining the facts as I know them. I understand that there are several different fact patterns floating around and the story is being developed daily. My arguments will be based solely on the facts mapped out below. I will continue by discussing why the facts would support the prosecution’s case, if one were to be brought, focusing mainly on a piece by Governor Granholm of Michigan. I will then go on to discuss the “Stand Your Ground” statute based on two psychological studies that show the statute endorses more violence than is reasonably necessary.

Facts*

Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Black male, was walking to his father’s home in a gated community in Sanford, FL after returning from a 7-Eleven convenience store. En route, 28-year-old self-appointed Neighborhood Watchman, George Zimmerman, spotted Trayvon and telephoned police that there was a suspicious young black man walking around. Zimmerman informed the police that the young man looked like he was on drugs and appeared to be reaching for something in his waistband. Initially Zimmerman claimed that the young man was coming right at him, and then that Trayvon was getting away. Zimmerman complained that “they” always get away. Dispatcher informed Zimmerman that they did not need him to follow Trayvon and Zimmerman said okay. Several residents of the area called in shortly after Zimmerman’s call to report that they heard screaming. In some cases, callers reported a black male lying on the ground. Each caller also heard gun shots and heard the screaming stop. One caller reported that there was a man in a white shirt on top of someone lying on the ground.

Police collected Trayvon’s body, tested him for drugs, ran a background check, labeled him John Doe and placed him in the morgue where he would lie for over 24 hours before he was identified. Trayvon was unarmed and in fact only had a can of Arizona Ice Tea and a bag of Skittles. Zimmerman was questioned after the shooting, but never arrested. Zimmerman weighed 250 pounds and had a history of vigilantism.

Zimmerman claims that he shot Trayvon in self defense. Florida has a statute (Fla. Stat. § 776.013, also called the “Stand Your Ground” statute) which states (in relevant part):

(1) A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if:

(a) The person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against that person’s will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; and

(b) The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.

(2) The presumption set forth in subsection (1) does not apply if:

(a) The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner, lessee, or titleholder, and there is not an injunction for protection from domestic violence or a written pretrial supervision order of no contact against that person; or

(b) The person or persons sought to be removed is a child or grandchild, or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the person against whom the defensive force is used; or

(c) The person who uses defensive force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle to further an unlawful activity; or

(d) The person against whom the defensive force is used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who enters or attempts to enter a dwelling, residence, or vehicle in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person entering or attempting to enter was a law enforcement officer.

(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

Zimmerman’s claims he was justified in his use of force based on this statute. It is not clear which clause Zimmerman’s defense is connected to.

Zimmerman has, since the incident, secured legal counsel. Zimmerman’s lawyer asserts that Zimmerman is not a racist and that he in fact mentors Blacks. His lawyer also stated that Zimmerman is currently in hiding, but has not fled the country. According to Zimmerman’s father, Zimmerman identifies as Hispanic.

Currently, Florida Governor Jed Bush does not believe Zimmerman’s actions are covered by the statute. There is a Department of Justice investigation in regards to the failure of the Sanford Police Department to arrest Zimmerman, President Obama has called for justice for Trayvon, and Sanford’s chief of police has stepped down. People across the country are expressing their distaste for the response to Trayvon’s murder and are, via protest, Facebook, articles, etc., calling for “Justice for Trayvon”.

Justice for Trayvon: Bringing Charges against Zimmerman

The “Stand Your Ground” statute essentially creates a presumption of self-defense in certain situations. Zimmerman has yet to be arrested because authorities do not believe there is enough evidence to rebut this presumption. I would like to focus this aspect of my piece on the following arguments: a) the facts of the case do not support a claim of self defense alleged pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 776.013(3) as Zimmerman appears to have been the attacker and not the victim, and b) the facts of the case do not support a claim of self defense pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 776.013(1) as Trayvon was unarmed and Zimmerman was likely acting unlawfully in his pursuit of Trayvon by misleading officials. Admittedly, only Zimmerman knows exactly what transpired during his altercation with Martin, and thus this argument may be moot after Zimmerman’s account becomes public.

Section 3 of the “Stand Your Ground” statute allows someone who is being attacked to respond with force and does not require them to first attempt to flee. Under a possible account of the facts, Zimmerman’s actions were self defense because he was attacked by Trayvon. Michigan Governor Jennifer M. Granholm wrote a piece on March 21, 2012 outlining several reasons why this account is unsupported by the facts as publicly known. In her piece Governor Granholm discusses five key pieces of evidence which refute Zimmerman’s claim:

  • 1.The call from Zimmerman to law enforcement, and the officers telling Martin not to pursue. Zimmerman whispers what many have described as a racial slur under his breath.
  • 2.There is a 911 call where you can hear a voice yelling for help and a firearm shot.
  • 3.Trayvon’s father identified his voice on that 911 call on Al Sharpton’s Politics Nation program on MSNBC.
  • 4.The account of the girlfriend, who says Trayvon told her by cellphone that he was being followed.
  • 5.Trayvon was not armed and weighed between 75-100 pounds less than Zimmerman.

The evidence that we know of — the public evidence — establishes that Zimmerman was the pursuer, and not the victim.

In addition to this evidence, a 9-11 caller reported a man in a white shirt on top of a man lying on the ground. Another caller reported a man lying on the ground screaming “Help” and hearing gun shots go off before he got the chance to go to the man for help. Trayvon’s parents have identified this voice as their sons on the tape. Zimmerman, however, claims that this is his voice, but in connection with the other evidence (e.g., that he was the heavier of the two and that Trayvon was unarmed), this will likely be refuted. Based on the facts as alleged, the situation seems to have been initiated by Zimmerman. Even if Trayvon fought back after being pursued, his actions were justified based on the same statute that Zimmerman is currently hiding under.

Section 1 of the “Stand Your Ground” statute creates a presumption of self defense if a person is doing something unlawful and the person using force knows or reasonably believes that an unlawful act is occurring or about to occur. There has been some discussion at my law school that if Zimmerman asserts that he witnessed Trayvon about to break into someone’s home then Zimmerman may likely have a claim. I think this is unlikely for two reasons. First, Trayvon was unarmed and, based on all available evidence, innocently walking home from the convenience store. In order for the presumption in section 1 to be triggered, the attacked must have been in the process of committing certain crimes. There has been no evidence advanced indicating that Trayvon was participating in any crime. In fact the evidence points to Trayvon being engaged in innocent activity. Second, section (2)(c) asserts that this presumption is unavailable if the attacker is engaged in an unlawful activity at the time of the attack. As the 911 tape shows, Zimmerman was told not to follow Trayvon and said “okay.” This act can be seen as misleading police officers, who were likely told by dispatch that Zimmerman would be waiting for them to arrive before doing anything further. This act is likely in violation of Fla. Stat. § 843.06, which makes the “neglect or refusal to aid peace officers” “in the preservation of the peace” unlawful. Zimmerman’s false compliance with the order may have delayed the response time of the dispatched officers and been the reason why the police were unable to respond to Zimmerman’s call in time to save Trayvon’s life. Arguably, Zimmerman’s actions show  neglect to assist a peace officer and thus could qualify as unlawful acts that will exclude Zimmerman from the protection of Fla. Stat. § 776.013(1).

Justice for Blacks in Florida: Repeal the Stand Your Ground Statute

I would like to start this section by clarifying two points. First, Florida is not the only state to have a version of the “Stand Your Ground” statute. According to the above-mentioned piece by Gov. Granholm, who describes the statute as “part of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)’s cluster of pro-NRA bills that shot through legislatures in the past few years”, Florida is only one of 17 states to have a statute of this kind. Secondly, studies suggest that it is very possible for Zimmerman to be a rational, tolerant, even intelligent, person and still to have reacted in the manner that he did. Many people have labeled Zimmerman a racist and even called him sadistic for his response to an innocent young boy. Sadly, while this may be true for Zimmerman, it does not have to be. Due to the freedom that this law opens up for people to act upon their fears, which may be based on their predisposition to certain opinions, I believe this law should be repealed immediately. Every minute that this law and laws like it remain on the books another Black person’s life is in jeopardy.

Guns Breed Violence

In a piece entitled “Holding a Gun Influences You to Think Others are Armed,” David DiSalvo discusses psychological research that suggests Zimmerman may have reasonably believed that Trayvon was armed. As the title of the piece indicates, James Brockholm’s study, which will be published in the upcoming edition of Journal of Experimental Psychology, supports the idea that the possession of a gun will influence your opinion of whether those around you are armed. Brockholm’s conclusion is that a person’s ability to act upon certain impulses can “bias their recognition of objects… in dramatic ways.” In the study, individuals holding toy guns were more likely to believe a person had a gun than those who were holding a ball and who simply had guns in the room, but not in their hand. The article describes this as the “blending of perception and action representations” which cause those holding guns to believe others are too.

The statute and others like it (e.g. Wisconson’s Castle Doctrine under which a homeowner recently shot and killed 20-year-old, unarmed Bo Morrison, without being charged) is meant to provide a means for people to protect themselves when actually threatened. Based on Brockholm’s research, the statute is actually allowing people to act upon perceived threat that is automatically enhanced by their ability to act against the threat. This research supports the idea that individuals with guns are likely to act frequently because they can act, and not because there is an actually threat. In Bo’s case, his hands were both in the air. In Trayvon’s case, he was walking with a cell phone, an Arizona Ice Tea, and Skittles. Neither youth was armed. Neither was attempting to harm anyone. But two lives are lost, and importantly, two men have taken a life because they were able to, not because they had to. These statutes encourage violence by giving gun holders the right and encouraging them to “meet force with force” when the force they perceive will always be equal to the force they are capable of exerting themselves. These types of laws should be repealed immediately in order to prevent more innocent people from losing their lives and others from taking lives.

People Focus on Blacks when on the Look-out for Criminal Activity

Recently, I took a photograph with some of my Black classmates at Harvard Law School. We wore hoodies and held signs asking “Do we look suspicious?” Unfortunately, research completed by Jennifer Eberhardt, Valerie Purdie, Phillip Goff, and Paul Daves in 2005 concludes that for many people the answer to that question is yes. “Seeing Black: Race, Crime, and Visual Processing” asserts that stereotypes are bidirectional. The article states:

the mere presence of a Black man…can trigger thoughts that he is violent and criminal. Simply thinking about a Black person renders these concepts more accessible and can lead to misremember the Black person as the one holding the razor. Merely thinking about Blacks can lead people to evaluate ambiguous behavior as aggressive, to mis-categorize harmless objects as weapons, or to shoot quickly . . . .

The studies show that not only does thinking about Blacks make people think of crime, but thinking about crime makes people think of Blacks. These studies were intentionally done with both civilians and police officers. The officers were as susceptible to this association. Importantly, the study showed that when one is told to look out for crime, their visual attention focuses on Black faces. They may thus unconsciously avoid criminal activity of non-Black actors. For instance, when experimenters asked police officers “Who looks criminal?,” the officers choose Black faces more often than White faces. The study makes it clear that racial animus is not required. The association is automatic and is even sparked in Blacks and others minorities.

Based on this research, Zimmerman may have associated Trayvon with criminality without having any negative opinions of Blacks. As a neighborhood watchman put on guard to look out for crime, he was likely looking for Blacks. Zimmerman was attempting to crack down on several robberies that had occurred in his neighborhood, and the possibility of criminal activity was salient in his mind, when Trayvon walked innocently by. Zimmerman may have reasonably believed that Trayvon was about to engage in unlawful behavior, but this belief was based on stereotypes and not supported by what was actually occurring. Section 1 of the statute protects people who seek out criminals and prevent their crimes from being completed. As people often unconsciously associate African Americans with crime, they may seek out African Americans engaging in ambiguous behavior percieve it as criminal. Acting upon this perception, they may attack (as Zimmerman did), under the protective shield of the Stand Your Ground Statute, leading to the harm of either themselves or innocent individuals. Based on this research it is clear that the first section of the statute puts a target on Blacks.

Implications

The implications of the research that I have outlined in this section are that people who carry guns and seek out criminal activity will be searching for Blacks and will automatically associate ambiguous behavior with criminal activity. Laws like the “Stand Your Ground” statute give these individuals the right to act upon their perception and harm these Black people regardless of what they are doing. This means that Blacks in such situations will likely have no control over being shot or attacked. Even worse it means that individuals will be searching for Blacks and may unconsciously overlook true criminal activity in an attempt to find images that support their perception. We should not provide support for individuals to act upon irrational conclusions that are not supported by the circumstances. This does not mean that there should be no protection of individuals who respond reasonably to imminent danger, but we should require their perception to be supported by fact and not stereotype and thus require them to be able to connect their fear to something more than the person’s race. We should deem this on a case by case and remove the blanket approval of such behavior. People should be instructed to call police when observing unlawful behavior or to attempt to retreat when in fear of being attacked. Thus the statute should be repealed and self-defense should return to being a defense of murder, and not a presumption of innocence that must be rebutted.

Conclusion

What happened to Trayvon Martin is an all too familiar story to many Blacks. We are profiled regularly based on stereotypes that we have no control over. As many of us mourn Trayvon’s death and remember many of our other brothers and sisters who have fallen victim to racial stereotyping, there is a concurrent legal movement attempting to shed some hope on the issue by bringing charges against Zimmerman. This movement should also focus on repealing the Florida statute. Once these actions are taken, we will be one step closer to Justice for Trayvon.

*I would like to thank Anisha Queen, David Korn, James Smith, and Professor Jon Hanson for their assistance and inspiration with this piece.

** The facts have been compiled from the following articles:

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Image from Flickr.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Law, SALMS, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Race, Guns, and the Danger of Private Law Enforcement

Posted by Adam Benforado on March 21, 2012

It is heartbreaking to read the details that are emerging concerning the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.

Various theories have been advanced to explain how Trayvon, an unarmed African-American teenager, was shot in the chest by a neighborhood watch captain in a gated community.  Some have focused on the potential bad disposition of the shooter, while others have cast Trayvon as a potential aggressor.  But the most compelling explanation may relate to the impact of implicit racial bias.

Indeed, the tragedy of this case may ultimately come down to a toxic combination of negative stereotypes (linking blacks and crime) and a culture increasingly encouraging private law enforcement.

A little over a year ago, I wrote an article (Quick on the Draw: Implicit Bias and the Second Amendment) that takes up this precise topic.  Below is the abstract:

African Americans face a significant and menacing threat, but it is not the one that has preoccupied the press, pundits, and policy makers in the wake of several bigoted murders and a resurgent white supremacist movement. While hate crimes and hate groups demand continued vigilance, if we are truly to protect our minority citizens, we must shift our most urgent attention from neo-Nazis stockpiling weapons to the seemingly benign gun owners among us – our friends, family, and neighbors – who show no animus toward African Americans and who profess genuine commitments to equality.

s

Our commonsense narratives about racism and guns – centered on a conception of humans as autonomous, self-transparent, rational actors – are outdated and strongly contradicted by recent evidence from the mind sciences.

s

Advances in implicit social cognition reveal that most people carry biases against racial minorities beyond their conscious awareness. These biases affect critical behavior, including the actions of individuals performing shooting tasks. In simulations, Americans are faster and more accurate when firing on armed blacks than when firing on armed whites, and faster and more accurate in electing to hold their fire when confronting unarmed whites than when confronting unarmed blacks. Yet, studies suggest that people who carry implicit racial bias may be able to counteract its effects through training.

s

Given recent expansions in gun rights and gun ownership – and the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of private citizens who already use firearms in self-defense each year – this is reason for serious concern. While police officers often receive substantial simulation training in the use of weapons that, in laboratory experiments, appears to help them control for implicit bias, members of the public who purchase guns are under no similar practice duties.

s

In addressing this grave danger, states and local governments should require ongoing training courses for all gun owners similar to other existing licensing regimes. Such an approach is unlikely to run into constitutional problems and is more politically tenable than alternative solutions.

If you’d like to read a free copy of the entire article, click here.

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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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Colorblind? Really?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 12, 2011

From Sister Blog, Law and Mind (by HLS student, Rachel Funk):

Aunt Vivian: Gee, when Janice described him she didn’t mention that he was…tall. Not that I have a problem with people who are…tall.
Uncle Lester: My cousin used to date a girl who was…tall.
Uncle Phil: Heck, the boy go to a predominantly…tall school.
Will: Now, am I alone on this or didn’t y’all notice he was white?

~ Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Episode #2.6, Guess Who’s Coming to Marry)

In a short article in the February/March 2009 issue of Scientific American Mind, Siri Carpenter discusses two studies done by psychologists at Tufts and Harvard indicating that people who avoid mentioning race may actually appear more prejudiced. In the experiment, one white participant was paired up with one black participant, and they were each given the same set of photographs of random people. The black participant would choose a photograph, and the white participant had to figure out as quickly as possible which photograph his/her partner had chosen by asking him/her questions about each one in succession. The study was designed so that the matching process would go much faster if the white participant asked about the race of the person in the photograph. Significantly, the study found that the “intrepid few” who asked about race were deemed less prejudiced by black observers than the vast majority of white participants who didn’t mention race at all.

If that finding is accurate and generally applicable, then we as a society have totally f***ed up in making it a taboo to mention someone’s race. We have conflated defining someone by their race with simply acknowledging their race.

In her fantastic book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” And Other Conversations About Race, Dr. Beverly Tatum confronts this issue head-on. In reading about the above experiment, I was reminded of the following anecdote from her book:

“A father reported that his eight-year-old daughter had been talking very enthusiastically about a friend she had made at school. One day when he picked his daughter up from school, he asked her to point out her new friend. Trying to point her out of a large group of children on the playground, his daughter elaborately described what the child was wearing. She never said she was the only Black girl in the group.”

Despite the white father’s being thrilled that his daughter was colorblind, Dr. Tatum suggests — and I think that this is probably right — that the girl’s avoidance of mentioning her friend’s race was not so much a sign that she was colorblind as it was that she had been trained not to make explicit reference to someone’s race. (Interestingly, in the two studies mentioned earlier, one was done with adults, but the other one was done with children as young as 10 — the results were consistent across the two studies.) As further evidence of this phenomenon, Dr. Tatum notes that “[m]y White college students sometimes refer to someone as Black in hushed tones, sometimes whispering the word as though it were a secret or a potentially scandalous identification.”

When I was taking the Trial Advocacy Workshop at Harvard Law School, I had to do a closing statement for a mock police brutality case, in which a white policeman in a predominately white, upper-class neighborhood had allegedly assaulted the plaintiff, a black man who had been waiting to pick his daughter up from her white friend’s house. “Ladies and gentlemen,” I began, “what do we know? We know that Robin Boyd was a black man in a white neighborhood.” As soon as I said “black”, the temperature in the room dropped by several degrees, I think because everyone stopped breathing.

For anyone who doesn’t know me, I am extremely white. Pasty, even. And as a member of the oppressor group (or, to dress it up in fancy psychspeak, the socially dominant ingroup), it is my responsibility to avoid drawing attention to this fact. But why? Why is it that we feel the need to go out of our way to avoid mentioning someone’s race, and often feel uncomfortable if someone else brings it up? Is it part of some elaborate construction of a fiction that we’re colorblind? Or does it stem from a fear that we might unintentionally offend somebody, so it’s safest to take the path of least resistance and avoid mentioning race altogether?

Dr. Tatum points out that many, if not most, white people simply never think about their race: “There is a lot of silence about race in White communities, and as a consequence, Whites tend to think of racial identity as something that other people have, not something that is salient for them.”

This insight reminded of a time when I was riding the Metro in southeast D.C., an area of D.C. that is predominantly black. I spent the entire time being acutely aware of the fact that I was the only white person on the train, wondering whether this was all everyone else was noticing too, and trying to act like I hadn’t noticed. In an uncomfortable moment of revelation, I wondered whether this is what the handful of black students at most higher ed institutions feel like all the time.

Most of the time, the default race position is white. For instance, in a novel, unless the author indicates otherwise (either by explicitly describing the character’s race, or by laying out a context in which most of the characters will be of a specific minority, like the burgeoning class of novels geared specifically towards African Americans), we generally assume any characters that pop up are white. In fact, I remember being struck by, while reading one of Robert Parker‘s Spenser novels, the fact that the (white) narrator mentioned that another character was white. While Mr. Parker delights in bringing racial issues up in oblique, peripheral ways — I should note that the Spenser books are easy-read mystery/crime novels, not the kind of deep, soul-searching, trying-to-make-a-statement books you’d expect to confront issues about race — it still caught me off-guard. It surprised me that it surprised me, so to speak.

Time for a politically incorrect anecdote: One day, when my friends and I were walking back to Harvard from the Square, a couple stopped and asked us for directions to a building on the undergraduate campus. As highly superior law students, we of course had no idea. As they walked away, my Chinese friend commented, “They should know better than to stop and ask a little Asian girl for directions.” To which my white friend joked, “Yeah, but at least you’re good at math.” (Followed by my Chinese friend yelling, “RACIST!” and chasing my white friend through Harvard Yard.)

There’s no point to that story, I just thought it was time for a little levity in the post. (Although John Jost does offer some fascinating insights into complementary stereotypes via system justification theory…)

Since this is a blog about mind sciences and the law, what implications does how we think about race have for law? The following is a series of anecdotes meant to offer some food for thought on the various ways that law and race intersect:

1) A white public defender that I met during the Trial Advocacy Workshop told us that she always made it a point to put her hands on her client’s shoulders (her client usually being a young black man) at some point during her opening statement, to communicate to the jury that she, as a white woman, trusted her client, and therefore they should too.

She also told us that she had to warn her clients that she was going to do that so that they wouldn’t flinch when she did it.

2) A scholar at Harvard was attempting to research whether the verdict in jury trials where the defendant was black had any statistical correlation to whether and how many African-Americans were on the jury. However, there weren’t enough black jury members in Massachusetts jury trials to provide a reliable sample.

3) The Vera Institute of Justice‘s Prosecution and Racial Justice project works with prosecutor’s offices across the country to study how prosecutorial discretion is exercised in relation to race, focusing on four key areas where prosecutors have the most discretion: initial case screening, charging, plea offers, and final disposition. Not surprisingly, the project found that prosecutors as a group often exercise their discretion in a way that has a disproportionate impact on minorities. However, as part of the demonstration project, many of these offices have implemented policies that have significantly reduced this disparity, even when these policies did not explicitly focus on race. You can find out more about Vera’s approach and findings here.

The popular image of Justice as blind seems to me to be exactly wrong. Justice is not blind because we are not blind, and it is through us that our justice system operates. Maybe if we saw Justice as mindful instead, we would have a better idea of how to go about achieving it.

Related Situationist posts:

 

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Unequal Juries

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 24, 2011

Wendy Parker posted her article, “Juries, Race, and Gender: A Story of Today’s Inequality” (Wake Forest Law Review, Vol. 46, pp. 209-240, 2011), on SSRN.  Here’s the abstracst.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 was supposed to be a victory for employment discrimination plaintiffs – a dramatic expansion of their rights. Twenty years later, however, we are told that the news for employment discrimination plaintiffs has gone “from bad to worse.” This essay, a reflection on the twenty-year history of the 1991 Act, explores how just how bad it is. In doing so, this essay discovers some optimistic news (but not much): Plaintiffs today are more likely to win at trial than before the 1991 Act. This is likely because of the 1991 Act’s expanded right to a jury trial. Yet, this is not a story of optimism – or equality – for all plaintiffs. The essay’s original study of 102 jury trials reveals that some plaintiffs do much worse than other plaintiffs. African Americans and Latinos claiming race discrimination, for example, have the lowest jury win rates. Many who study jury behavior would have predicted this outcome. From this, the essay argues that the evidence is strong that the status quo is not race neutral, and neither are juries.

More.

Related Situationist posts:

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Anthony Greenwald on The Psychology of Blink

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 7, 2011

From

[Situationist friend] Dr. Anthony Greenwald, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, describes his research developing the method (described in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink) that reveals unconscious thought patterns that most people would rather not possess. Learn about these mental contents, as Dr. Greenwald demonstrates the method and describes how these patterns affect our behavior.

From

In this program from the University of Washington psychology department, MacArthur awardee Dr. Lisa Cooper, professor at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, describes her research on how patient race influences patient-physician communication and physician clinical decision making. She also includes her efforts to design interventions to negate these undesired racial and ethnic health care disparities.

Related Situationist posts:

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Negotiating the Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 9, 2011

Lu-in Wang,  has posted an intriguing situationist paper, titled “Negotiating the Situation: The Reasonable Person in Context ” (forthcoming Lewis & Clark Law Review, Vol. 14, p. 1285, 2010) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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This Essay argues that our understanding of the reasonable person in economic transactions should take into account an individual’s race, gender, or other group-based identity characteristics – not necessarily because persons differ on account of those characteristics, but because of how those characteristics influence the situations a person must negotiate. That is, individuals’ social identities constitute features not just of themselves, but also of the situations they inhabit. In economic transactions that involve social interaction, such as face-to-face negotiations, the actor’s race, gender, or other social identity can affect both an individual actor and those who interact with him or her, because those characteristics often create expectations, based largely on group-based stereotypes, that influence the parties on both sides of the transaction. Individuals’ social identities thereby can influence their constraints and incentives, and accordingly their choices, behavior, and outcomes.

This Essay offers a couple of well-known examples of the influence of social stereotypes on individuals’ choices, behavior, and outcomes in economic transactions. It then provides a more extended examination of the effect of social identity on economic transactions by drawing upon a recent, growing, and fascinating area of social psychological research into the effect of gender on negotiations. The findings of this research are both disturbing and promising: disturbing because they show that stereotypes can influence the behavior of both women and men in negotiations, to the detriment of women, even if the individuals do not believe the stereotypes to be true, and that stereotypes can interact with other features of the situation to aggravate their tendency to promote unequal outcomes. The findings are promising as well, however, because they also show that gender stereotypes can be moderated or even counteracted by yet other features of the situation. Appreciating the situation-altering yet situation-sensitive influence of social identities such as gender provides us with a richer understanding of the circumstances in which people interact and shows that, sometimes, common economic transactions take place in different places for different people.

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Download the paper for free here.

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Law and Race

Posted by Adam Benforado on January 26, 2011

On Friday, I took in the new Philadelphia Theater Company production of David Mamet’s Race.  The plot revolves around two lawyers, one white and one black, who take on the defense of a wealthy white man accused of raping a young black woman.

The acting was quite good and the play has its moments (as one would expect, the structure is ingenious and Mamet throws in a number of memorable lines), but I was left wondering whether the playwright had challenged the audience enough.  If the purpose was to spur viewers to think deeply about race, was the exchange of quick, witty quips between characters the best means?  Mamet seemed to want to shock his audience, but what he produced seemed fairly tame — and enjoyable.

Today, I came across a video on the Onion addressing a very similar topic (law and race) and was struck by how, on a certain level, it seemed to surpass Mamet’s creation in forcing viewers to confront hard truths about race in the United States.

In any case, I strongly recommend viewing both (the Onion video, “Judge Rules White Girl Will Be Tried As Black Adult,” is below)!

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

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The Unequal Situation of Seperation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 5, 2011

From Rice News (by Mike Williams):

However much people choose to live in a segregated society, the trend is a losing proposition for all.

That was the takeaway message delivered by Rice’s Michael Emerson in a presentation to the Houston Association of Hispanic Media Professionals (HAHMP) last week. Members came to campus to hear him discuss select results from the Houston Area Survey, particularly as they relate to housing preferences among blacks, whites and Hispanics.

Emerson, the Allyn and Gladys Cline Professor of Sociology and co-director of the university’s new Institute for Urban Research (IUR), gave a brief summary of segregation in Houston based on the 2000 Census that showed distinct separation between black and white neighborhoods, with Hispanics somewhat more integrated but still dominating many neighborhoods of their own.

“People make their own decisions, their own incomes, and they’re all trying to get the best house and neighborhood they can get. How does it end up they live so segregated by race?” he asked.

Emerson said he hears two common answers. The first: “It’s not race; it’s class.”

“In fact, that’s not the answer,” he said. “There is a range of incomes within any racial group, and when we look at where people live by income level, (they’re) still segregated by race. Segregation by race is substantially greater than segregation by income.”

The second answer — “People like to live with people like themselves” — is somewhat more accurate, he said, but still not the answer. “What we have found is that in current times, many people want not to live with certain people — people they think will drive down their property values, raise crime and lower the quality of local education. They use race to decide these other factors.”

Emerson’s own neighborhood is a good example of what has befallen not only Houston but also major cities nationwide. “When I moved there, it was mixed with many racial groups, but now it’s 99 percent black and Hispanic,” said the professor, who is white. He noted that in 21st-century America, he’s “totally convinced we have to live in integrated neighborhoods, so my family and I choose to do so.”

Too few are so committed to diversity, according to the most recent Houston Area Survey.

A “factorial experiment” of African-Americans, Hispanics and whites, 1,000 each, revealed important results. Individuals were first asked if they’d buy a house that had everything they were looking for, was close to work and within their price range.

“Everybody hears that,” Emerson said. “Then there was a part that was computer-generated (with parameters that changed for each phone call): Checking on the neighborhood, you find the property values are increasing/decreasing, the crime rate is high/low, the schools are of high/low quality, and the neighborhood is X percent respondent’s own race and X-to-100 percent of another racial group.

“This is a lot to remember,” he said. “That’s exactly what we want, because we’re looking to see what people key on. For example, if I hear ‘crime rate is increasing,’ that’s what I’ll remember, and I probably won’t buy that home.”

Emerson said the results showed, as expected, sensitivity among all groups to high crime rates and low-quality schools. Blacks and whites were more sensitive to home valuation than Hispanics.

“Are there still racial-composition effects? If what people tell us is true, they should go away,” he said. Race is indeed less of an issue for Hispanics, at least in Harris County. But for whites, “you get a different story. They are highly sensitive to percent black and percent Hispanic.

“Even if you take a neighborhood that has low crime, high-quality schools and rising property values and you say it’s 30 percent black, in almost every single case, the white respondent will say, ‘Not likely to buy the home.’”

And the more educated whites are, the more likely they are to live in highly segregated neighborhoods, he said. “Again, this is not an income effect; it’s an education effect.

“What we find is that we can have diverse neighborhoods; we just can’t have whites in those diverse neighborhoods for very long because of their racial preferences.”

Similarly, he said, African-Americans in Harris County proved less interested in neighborhoods where the percent of Asian residents was on the rise.

Why does neighborhood segregation by race matter? The fourfold increase in the national gap between net worth of white and black families — demonstrated in an “incredibly detailed” study of 2,000 families followed over 24 years from 1984 to 2007 — is telling, Emerson said. The study, he said, “shows most middle-class Americans generate their wealth through their homes, and white neighborhoods, due to higher demand, rise in value more than in other neighborhoods. So it’s a big deal where people live. We must find ways to stop giving benefits along racial lines. As most Americans believe, benefits should go to people by merit, not race.”

Emerson said he and his IUR colleagues are anxious to see the results of the 2010 Census when they become available next year. He hopes to find Houston neighborhoods that have been integrated for 20 years or more. “We will attempt to understand why they are stably integrated and what the consequences are, positive and negative, for people who live there,” he said.

“People give all kinds of reasons why it’s OK to have segregation and to have inequality by class and race, never actually trying to face it,” he said. “That’s what we’ve really got to push on. Why is it OK? Who is it OK for? Who gets hurt by it?

“The fact is,” he said, “the society our children inherit will suffer and the society our grandchildren inherit will suffer even more if we don’t address racial segregation and the resulting increasing racial wealth gap.”

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

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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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Blood & Race

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 21, 2010

From the Harvard Gazette:

The centuries-old “one-drop rule” assigning minority status to mixed-race individuals appears to live on in our modern-day perception and categorization of people like Barack Obama, Tiger Woods, and Halle Berry.

So say Harvard University psychologists, who’ve found that we still tend to see biracials not as equal members of both parent groups, but as belonging more to their minority parent group. The research appears in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“Many commentators have argued that the election of Barack Obama, and the increasing number of mixed-race people more broadly, will lead to a fundamental change in American race relations,” says lead author Arnold K. Ho, a Ph.D. student in psychology at Harvard. “Our work challenges the interpretation of our first biracial president, and the growing number of mixed-race people in general, as signaling a color-blind America.”

In the United States, the “one-drop rule” — also known as hypodescent — dates to a 1662 Virginia law on the treatment of mixed-race individuals. The legal notion of hypodescent has been upheld as recently as 1985, when a Louisiana court ruled that a woman with a black great-great-great-great-grandmother could not identify herself as “white” on her passport.

“One of the remarkable things about our research on hypodescent is what it tells us about the hierarchical nature of race relations in the United States,” says co-author James Sidanius, professor of psychology and of African and African-American studies at Harvard. “Hypodescent against blacks remains a relatively powerful force within American society.”

Ho and Sidanius, along with co-authors Mahzarin R. Banaji (Situationist Contributor) at Harvard and Daniel T. Levin at Vanderbilt University, say their work reflects the cultural entrenchment of America’s traditional racial hierarchy, which assigns the highest status to whites, followed by Asians, with Latinos and blacks at the bottom.

Ho and colleagues presented subjects with computer-generated images of black-white and Asian-white individuals, as well as family trees showing different biracial permutations. They also asked people to report directly whether they perceived biracials to be more minority or white. By using multiple approaches, their work examined both conscious and unconscious perceptions of biracial individuals, presenting the most extensive empirical evidence to date on how they are perceived.

The researchers found, for example, that one-quarter-Asian individuals are consistently considered more white than one-quarter-black individuals, despite the fact that African Americans and European Americans share a substantial degree of genetic heritage.

Using face-morphing technology that presented a series of faces ranging from 5 percent white to 95 percent white, they also found that individuals who were a 50-50 mix of two races, either black-white or Asian-white, were almost never identified by study participants as white. Furthermore, on average, black-white biracials had to be 68 percent white before they were perceived as white; the comparable figure for Asian-white biracials was 63 percent.

“The United States is already a country of ethnic mixtures, but in the near future it will be even more so, and more so than any other country on earth,” says Banaji, Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard. “When we see in our data that our own minds are limited in the perception of those who are the products of two different ethnic groups, we recognize how far we have to go in order to have an objectively accurate and fair assessment of people. That’s the challenge for modern minds.”

The team found few differences in how whites and non-whites perceive biracial individuals, with both assigning them with equal frequency to lower-status groups. The researchers are conducting further studies to examine why Americans continue to associate biracials more with their minority parent group.

“The persistence of hypodescent serves to reinforce racial boundaries, rather than moving us toward a race-neutral society,” Ho says.

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Arnold Ho is one of the confirmed presenters at the 2011 PLMS conference on “The Psychology of Inequality.”

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Fifth Annual PLMS Conference – Save the Date,” “Jim Sidanius ‘Terror, Intergroup Violence, and the Law’,” “The Palliative Function of Ideology,” The Blame Frame – Abstract,” The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination,” The Situation of Political and Religious Beliefs?,” Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV,” Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” “Wages Are Only Skin Deep – Abstract,” Colorblinded Wages - Abstract,” Shades of Fairness and the Marketing of Prejudice,” and “Black History is Now.”

Posted in Conflict, Distribution, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Psychology of Guns and Race

Posted by Adam Benforado on November 2, 2010

I have just posted my forthcoming article, Quick on the Draw: Implicit Bias and the Second Amendment, on SSRN.  The abstract appears below:

African Americans face a significant and menacing threat, but it is not the one that has preoccupied the press, pundits, and policy makers in the wake of several bigoted murders and a resurgent white supremacist movement. While hate crimes and hate groups demand continued vigilance, if we are truly to protect our minority citizens, we must shift our most urgent attention from neo-Nazis stockpiling weapons to the seemingly benign gun owners among us—our friends, family, and neighbors—who show no animus toward African Americans and who profess genuine commitments to equality.

Our commonsense narratives about racism and guns—centered on a conception of humans as autonomous, self-transparent, rational actors—are outdated and strongly contradicted by recent evidence from the mind sciences.

Advances in implicit social cognition reveal that most people carry biases against racial minorities beyond their conscious awareness. These biases affect critical behavior, including the actions of individuals performing shooting tasks. In simulations, Americans are faster and more accurate when firing on armed blacks than when firing on armed whites, and faster and more accurate in electing to hold their fire when confronting unarmed whites than when confronting unarmed blacks. Yet, studies suggest that people who carry implicit racial bias may be able to counteract its effects through training.

Given recent expansions in gun rights and gun ownership—and the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of private citizens who already use firearms in self-defense each year—this is reason for serious concern. While police officers often receive substantial simulation training in the use of weapons that, in laboratory experiments, appears to help them control for implicit bias, members of the public who purchase guns are under no similar practice duties.

In addressing this grave danger, states and local governments should require ongoing training courses for all gun owners similar to other existing licensing regimes. Such an approach is unlikely to run into constitutional problems and is more politically tenable than alternative solutions.

To download a copy of the entire paper, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,’ “He’s a Banana-Eating Monkey, but I’m Not a Racist,” Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” - Video,”A Situationist Considers the Implications of Simpson Sentencing,” Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” and “Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV.”

Posted in Abstracts, Education, Implicit Associations, Law, Public Policy, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Shirley Sherrod and the Situation of Racial Discourse

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 27, 2010

Situationist friend Charles Ogletree and Johanna Wald had a terrific editorial this Sunday, titled “After Shirley Sherrod, We all Need To Slow Down and Listen,” in which, among other things, they discuss the relevance of research by Situationist Contributors Mahzarin Banaji and Jerry Kang.  Here are some excerpts.

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President Obama has called and chatted with Shirley Sherrod. Tom Vilsack and Ben Jealous have issued heartfelt apologies. There is talk of a “Chardonnay summit” in the Rose Garden. The subtext to all this? Let’s wrap up this incident quickly so we can all go on our vacations guilt-free, secure in the knowledge that our “post-racial society” remains intact.

Once again, in the midst of the cacophony, calls abound for a national “dialogue” on race. Yet our nation cannot muster the patience or stamina to sustain such a discussion beyond a single news cycle. In some ways, Sherrod’s tale is a metaphor for this country’s aborted efforts to address race. In its entirety, her deeply moving story was about transformation and reconciliation between blacks and whites. It contained the seeds of progress and healing. She spoke of blacks and whites working together to save farms and to end poverty and suffering. But Sherrod, and those listening to her story, could get to her hopeful conclusion only by first wading through painful admissions of racial bias and struggle.

Unfortunately, our news and political cycles make it impossible for any of us to stay in a room long enough to reach that transformative moment. At the barest suggestion of race, we line up at opposite corners and start hurling accusations. Attorney General Eric Holder was widely criticized last year for suggesting that we are a “nation of cowards” when it comes to such discussions. The reaction to his comments is a reminder that we cannot continue to ignore this challenge. Yet Americans refuse to acknowledge that, in today’s society, racial attitudes are often complicated, multi-layered and conflicted.

Racial inequality is perpetuated less by individuals than by structural racism and implicit bias. Evidence of structural inequality is everywhere: in the grossly disproportionate numbers of young black men and women in prison; in the color of students shunted into remedial and special education tracks; in the stubborn segregation of our neighborhoods and schools; in the lack of recreational and academic opportunities for children of color in poor communities; in the inferior medical treatment that people of color receive; and in the still appallingly small numbers of men and women of color in law firms, corporations and government. It is evident, too, in the history of blatant discrimination against black farmers practiced by the Agricultural Department.

But that does not make doctors, nurses, police officers, judges, teachers, lawyers, city planners, admission officers or others prejudiced. Most are well-intentioned professionals who believe themselves to be free of racial bias. From their perspective, it is not easy to connect individual actions and decisions to broader structural conditions and environments built up over decades and even centuries.

Implicit bias is a reality we must confront far more openly. A growing mass of compelling research reveals the unconscious racial stereotypes many of us harbor that affect our decisions. Such attitudes do not make us prejudiced; they make us human. Those who take the Implicit Association Test often express shock when results show that their unconscious biases conflict with their explicit egalitarian values and ideals. Nonetheless, white and black test-takers match black faces more quickly than white ones with words representing violent concepts and are more likely to mistake a harmless object for a gun when it is carried by a black person. One study found that the more stereotypically black the features of a criminal defendant, the harsher the sentence he or she is likely to receive. Implicit bias has been shown to factor into hiring decisions and into the quality of health care that individuals receive. Mazharin Banaji and Jerry Kang, leading scholars on implicit bias, have noted: “As disturbing as this evidence is, there is too much of it to be ignored.”

The good news is that structures can be dismantled and replaced and unconscious biases can be transformed, as happened to Shirley Sherrod and the family she helped, the Spooners. First, though, they must be acknowledged. We and others researching race and justice are committed to untangling the web of structures, conditions and policies that lead to unequal opportunities. Our nation has to stop denying the complexity of our racial attitudes, history and progress. Let’s tone down the rhetoric on all sides, slow down and commit to listening with less judgment and more compassion. If Americans did so, we might find that we share more common ground than we could have imagined.

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For a sample or related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of ‘Common Sense’,” Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” Perceptions of Racial Divide,” Black History is Now,” Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” - Video,” Measuring Implicit Attitudes,” What Are the Legal Implications of Implicit Biases?,” Confronting the Backlash against Implicit Bias,” and Implicit Bias and Strawmen.”

Posted in Distribution, History, Implicit Associations, Morality, Politics, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Presidential Death Threats

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 28, 2010

Gregory Scott Parks, and Danielle Heard recently posted their fascinating paper, titled “‘Assassinate the Nigger Ape’: Obama, Implicit Imagery, and the Dire Consequences of Racist Jokes,” on SSRN.  Here is the abstract.

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In 1994, Congress passed legislation stating that Presidents elected to office after January 1, 1997, would no longer receive lifetime Secret Service protection. Such legislation was unremarkable until the first Black President – Barack Obama – was elected. From the outset of his campaign until today, and likely beyond, President Obama has received unprecedented death threats. These threats, we argue, are at least in part tied to critics and commentators’ use of symbols, pictures, and words to characterize the Obama as a primate, in various forms – including cartoonist Sean Delonas’ controversial New York Post cartoon. Against this backdrop and looking to history, cultural critique, federal case law, as well as cognitive and social psychology, we explore how the use of seemingly harmless imagery may still be racially-laden and evoke violence against its object.

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You can download the paper for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,”Reporting Social Facts vs. Pining for Jim Crow: No Comparison Between Reid and Lott,” The Situation of the Obama Presidency and Race Perceptions,” Perceptions of Racial Divide,” “Racial Attitudes in the Presidential Race,” Black History is Now,” “The Racial Situation of Voting,” The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters,” On Being a Mindful Voter,” “Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,” Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” - Video,” A Situationist Considers the Implications of Simpson Sentencing,” and “What does an Obama victory mean?

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

Sarah Jones on Stereotypes and Stereotyping

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 26, 2010

We highly recommend a 13-minute podcast in which Sarah Jones (a Tony Award winning playwright and performer) reflects on morals, racial stereotyping, and the perils of West Coast jaywalking.  You can listen to the podcast (recorded  live at The Moth Main Stage) here.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” Hoyas, Hos, & Gangstas,” The ‘Turban Effect’,” “Journalists as Social Psychologists & Social Psychologists as Entertainers,” “The Situation of Racial Profiling,” The Situation of Prejudice: Us vs. Them? or Them Is Us?,” “Do We Miss Racial Stereotypes Today that Will Be Evident Tomorrow?,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” and The Psychology of Barack Obama as the Antichrist.”

Posted in Entertainment, Implicit Associations, Podcasts | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 21, 2010

Press release from University of Michigan:

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When people are under chronic stress, they tend to smoke, drink, use drugs and overeat to help cope with stress. These behaviors trigger a biological cascade that helps prevent depression, but they also contribute to a host of physical problems that eventually contribute to early death.

That is the claim of University of Michigan social scientist James S. Jackson and colleagues in an article published in the May 2010 issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The theory helps explain a long-time epidemiological puzzle: why African Americans have worse physical health than whites but better psychiatric health.

“People engage in bad habits for functional reasons, not because of weak character or ignorance,” says Jackson, director of the U-M Institute for Social Research. “Over the life course, coping strategies that are effective in ‘preserving’ the mental health of blacks may work in concert with social, economic and environmental inequalities to produce physical health disparities in middle age and later life.”

In an analysis of survey data, obtained from the same people at two points in time, Jackson and colleagues find evidence for their theory. The relationship between stressful life events and depression varies by the level of unhealthy behaviors. But the direction of that relationship is strikingly different for blacks and whites.

Controlling for the extent of stressful life events a person has experienced, unhealthy behaviors seem to protect against depression in African Americans but lead to higher levels of depression in whites.

“Many black Americans live in chronically precarious and difficult environments,” says Jackson. “These environments produce stressful living conditions, and often the most easily accessible options for addressing stress are various unhealthy behaviors. These behaviors may alleviate stress through the same mechanisms that are believed to contribute to some mental disorders—the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal cortical axis and related biological systems.”

Since negative health behaviors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, drug use and overeating (especially comfort foods) also have direct and debilitating effects on physical health, these behaviors—along with the difficult living conditions that give rise to them—contribute to the disparities in mortality and physical health problems between black and white populations.

These disparities in physical health and mortality are greatest at middle age and beyond, Jackson says. Why?

“At younger ages, blacks are able to employ a variety of strategies that, when combined with the more robust physical health of youth, effectively mask the cascade to the negative health effects,” Jackson said. “But as people get older, they tend to reduce stress more often by engaging in bad habits.”

Black women show heightened rates of obesity over the life course, he points out. In fact, by the time they are in their 40s, 60 percent of African American women are obese.

“How can it be that 60 percent of the population has a character flaw?” Jackson asks. “Overeating is an effective, early, well-learned response to chronic environmental stressors that only strengthens over the life course. In contrast, for a variety of social and cultural reasons, black American men’s coping choices are different.

“Early in life, they tend to be physically active and athletic, which produces the stress-lowering hormone dopamine. But in middle age, physical deterioration reduces the viability and effectiveness of this way of coping with stress, and black men turn in increasing numbers to unhealthy coping behaviors, showing increased rates of smoking, drinking and illicit drug use.”

Racial disparities in physical illnesses and mortality are not really a result of race at all, Jackson says. Instead, they are a result of how people live their lives, the composition of their lives. These disparities are not just a function of socioeconomic status, but of a wide range of conditions including the accretion of micro insults that people are exposed to over the years.

“You can’t really study physical health without looking at people’s mental health and really their whole lives,” he said. “The most effective way to address an important source of physical health disparities is to reduce environmentally produced stressors—both those related to race and those that are not. We need to improve living conditions, create good job opportunities, eliminate poverty and improve the quality of inner-city urban life.

“Paradoxically, the lack of attention to these conditions contributes to the use of unhealthy coping behaviors by people living in poor conditions. Although these unhealthy coping behaviors contribute to lower rates of mental disorder, over the life course they play a significant role in leading to higher rates of physical health problems and earlier mortality than is found in the general population.”

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Situation of Racial Health Disparities,” The Toll of Discrimination on Black Women,” The Physical Pains of Discrimination,” The Depressing Effects of Racial Discrimination,” The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” and “Guilt and Racial Prejudice.” For a listing of numerous Situationist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Distribution, Emotions, Environment, Food and Drug Law, Life | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Racialized Situation of Vandalism and Crime

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 6, 2010

Here is another segment from John Quinones excellent ABC 20/20 series titled “What Would You Do?” — a series that, in essence, conducts situationist experiments through hidden-camera scenarios (in consultation with renowned social psychologist John Dovidio).

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Journalists as Social Psychologists & Social Psychologists as Entertainers,” “The Situation of Bystanders,” “The Situation of Racial Profiling,” “The Situation of Black and White,” He’s a Banana-Eating Monkey, but I’m Not a Racist,” “The Legal Situation of the Underclass,” Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” - Video,” A Situationist Considers the Implications of Simpson Sentencing,” and “The Situational Demographics of Deadly Force – Abstract.”

Posted in Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

 
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