Do people subconsciously harbor racist ideas and attitudes? How is this possible? Do certain social situations provoke different responses in racism?
These were the questions that seemed to drive the research I so desperately sought to find, especially considering the recent events that have made American history. After this past election, so many ideas and racist thoughts have been brought to light that I assumed had been abolished decades ago; it turns out I was wrong. People still seem to hold discriminatory thoughts; the only difference is that people in today’s world appear to conceal it better. However, although I found research that supports some people harbor racist ideas, this does not mean you are racist! It just shows the the subconscious mind is much stronger than you believe!
Warning: Do not be offended by the results!
In April of 2009, a study was done that had some scary implications: there are still negative associations and connotations surrounding the black race. Even more is that when people hear racial slurs being spoken, less people had the confidence to speak up than you would think.
Associate professor of psychology at York University, Kerry Kawakami (the author of the study) divided 120 non blacks into different roles for the experiment: experiencers and forecasters. It was the experiencers job to sit in a room where the fabricated altercation was to occur while the forecaster had the job of predicting how he would feel if he was in the situation. When a black person “accidentally” ran into a caucasian (part of the experiment), the white person would utter sentences from either one of three stages: weak, mild, and extreme. In the mild case, the white man would say nothing, and in the moderate case, he would say something along the lines of “Typical, I hate it when black people do that.” In the most extreme cases, he would shout, “Clumsy n*****.” It was the experiencers who essentially were observed in this study (thus making this an observational study), and what the author found was chilling.
As even the most racist of the comments were said, the amount of discomfort the experiencers felt was astonishingly low; then as soon as the experiment was over, the participant had to choose either the white or black person to be a partner for an anagram test, and still, greater than 50 percent of the people chose the white person. This was even considering the fact that the white person had said some very nasty and derogatory comments. Now, even when no comment was made by the white person, people were still likely to choose him.
In that same article, the author goes on to explain the decades of research that seem to point to the same conclusion: when people are placed in certain sensitive situations, they tend to act opposite of what they accordingly believed. Back in the early 1960’s, a man by the name of Stanley Miligram performed the Miligram experiment; there is a psychological correlation between this study and Kawakami’s study. Watch the video below if you are interested in this correlation and the actual Miligram study; you will find that under certain situations, humans seem to act callously and maliciously when provoked, or, surprisingly, even when they are not.
Possible Flaws and Conclusions:
Throughout studying this experiment, I realized that there were a number of possible flaws with it. For example, it says that all the participants were non black, but what exactly does this mean? Does this mean that they were all white, or perhaps that they were simply minorities other than African American? There is too much ambiguity. Furthermore, this article seems to imply that the lack of discomfort the experiencers had is an example of them being racist, but is this necessarily the case? The way I see it, there is not correlation between these two variables; and furthermore, lack of discomfort does not equate to racism, so causation is not involved either. Lastly, confounding variables, although not a flaw, might definitely have played its role in this experiment.
So, what should you be taking away from this article? If you are learning anything, its that certain aspects of science, and even in everyday life, are not always as they appear. You might believe that you have made up your mind on something, and there might be evidence to prove it, but the subconscious is powerful; there are things that it can hide from you, and when certain situations arise, your innermost thoughts come out to play.