Theories and studies about reducing racial prejudice
Everyone has a race or ethnic group that they see themselves as being part of. On the other hand, not all people are exposed to stinging words or physical harm from a prejudiced individual because of the color of their skin. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2005), there are approximately 210,000 hate crimes a year; racial prejudice is the motivation for over half of them. This paper will discuss theories and studies on ways to reduce racial prejudice.
Racial prejudice has been around since groups of people could distinguish themselves from one another (Milner, 1983). The 1920’s were when prejudice started catching the attention of psychologists as a social phenomenon that needed to be studied (Duckitt, 1992). Samelson (1978) talked about how tests between races were first meant to measure individuality but soon the authors were publishing empirical evidence that Whites were superior to Blacks (as cited in Duckitt, 1992, p. 1185). Milner (1983) states that prejudice occurs because people become frustrated, need a scapegoat, or because they are feeling some anxiety and need a way to release it.
One of the first texts on prejudice and reducing prejudice was written by Gordon W. Allport. Encouraged by Robin Williams study on conditions that further the reduction of racism, Allport wrote The Nature of Prejudice in which he discusses his contact hypothesis (Utsey, Ponterotto, & Porter, 2008). Allport (1954) stated that “prejudice may be reduced by equal status contact between majority and minority groups in the pursuit of common goals” (p. 281). Allport (1954) also says there are eight different areas of contact, causal, residential, occupational, recreational, religious, civic and fraternal, political, and goodwill intergroup activities.
Allport (1954) says that both state and federal legislation can be used to pass antidiscrimination laws and have public agencies enforce these laws. According to Allport (1954), there are six programs that can be used to reduce prejudice. They are formal educational methods, contact and acquaintance programs, group retraining methods, mass media, exhortation, and individual therapy. Allport (1954) feels that individual therapy is the best one, yet no study has been convincing of this.
Allport (1954) describes formal educational methods as teaching about prejudice in the school setting. There are five types of formal educational methods. There is the informational approach, direct approach, indirect approach, the approach through vicarious experience, and the project method. The next method is contact and acquaintance programs which means that White people and Black people get together and get to know each other. The third method is group retraining. In group retraining, the outgroup members and the ingroup members switch roles and try to become empathetic to each other. The fourth method is mass media in which messages are sent in the media spreading information on tolerance of others. The next method is exhortation which is like religion in which leaders spread the message of tolerance of other people. Finally, there is individual therapy in which a person meets with a therapist to change their way of thinking.
Blincoe and Harris (2009) talk about three major programs that cause a minimization in racial prejudice. Cooperation is similar to Allport’s (1954) contact theory. This program has been used in “jigsaw classrooms” in which children are broken up into racially varied group and then each child is given a piece of information to teach to the others (Aronson & Bridgeman, 2007; Blincoe & Harris, 2009). Along with the children learning information, they also showed higher self-esteem, liked school more, and for minorities, their school grades had improved (Aronson & Bridgeman, 2007). The tolerance program is synonymous with political tolerance and the respect program is supposed to reinforce and encourage diversity (Blincoe & Harris, 2009).
Crisp and Turner (2009) hypothesize that imagining contact with an outgroup can have a close or same effect on diminishing prejudice as actual contact with an outgroup. Turner, Crisp, and Lambert, (2007) found that participants who imagined an optimistic interaction with an outgroup member conveyed more positive attitudes and less prejudice than those who did not (as cited in Crisp & Turner, 2009). Stathi and Crisp (2008) did a study that showed that even though projection of positive self traits is higher for ingroups than outgroups (Clement & Krueger, 2002), “positive imagined contact leads to greater projection of positive traits to outgroups” (as cited in Crisp & Turner, 2009, p. 234).
In addition to contact theory, there is the goal based approach which consists of three goals that people need to reach. These are comprehension goals, self-enhancement goals, and motivation to avoid prejudice (Kunda & Spencer, 2003). Kunda and Spencer (2003) say that comprehension goals include “the need to understand events, reduce the complexity of the environment, gain cognitive clarity, and form rational impressions. Stereotypes serve these needs by enabling perceivers to simplify and understand the huge amounts of social information that they confront and to make inferences that go beyond available information” (p. 524). They also say that self-enhancement goals include the need to protect and enhance self-esteem. Lastly, motivation to avoid prejudice inhibits the activation of stereotypes. When people notice that they are treating others differently because of their skin color, they will feel the discrepancies because they know it is not right. Therefore they feel guilty which makes them repress their prejudiced thoughts.
Another part of the goal-based theory is why there is prejudice in the first place. Kenrick, Neugberg, and Cialdini (2009) feel that there are two things that prejudice does for people, it helps us gain economic resources and the characteristics of the other groups bring our economic goals to our attention. The first way to achieve the goals of the goal-based theory is to attempt to change the character of the prejudiced person. The second is to change the situation in which the prejudiced person feels like they can discriminate against others. Next is to give people a different way to satisfy their goals and last is to activate goals incompatible with prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination.
Part of the goal-based approach involves looking at the point of view of other people. Galinksy and Moskowitz (2000) say that when a person looks at themselves, they have higher favorable responses to the ingroup. Turner (1987) says favoritism increases toward the in-group (as cited in, Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000, p. 709). Therefore, thinking that you are part of the outgroup will increase positive responses to them and decrease prejudice thoughts about them (Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000).
In the judicial area, the goal-based approach has some significance. Studying about prejudice and ingroups and outgroups can become very important especially for those who may be suing another person in civil court for injury that they could have caused. People tend to like others who are similar to them (Kerr, Hymes, Anderson, & Weathers, 1995). If a juror feels that they are not similar to the plaintiff in a malpractice case that juror might feel that the plaintiff should get a lower amount of money to compensate for the damages or perhaps believe they should not get any money at all. The same applies to the defendant. If the juror feels they are similar to the defendant than they could be more lenient on his punishment (Green & Bornstein, 2003). However, Marques and Yzerbyt (1988) say that the opposite effect can also happen. That is, the jurors are harsher on an ingroup member because they are part of the ingroup and they pose a threat to the positive image of the ingroup members. They call it the black sheep effect in which positively viewed ingroup members are viewed better than outgroup members but negatively viewed ingroup members are viewed as being worse than outgroup members (as cited in, Green & Bornstein 2003).
Finally, there is the ignorance hypothesis. People experience prejudiced thoughts because they simply do not know any better (Kenrick, Neugberg, & Cialdini, 2009). If everyone would interact with the other groups, they wouldn’t stereotype individuals of other groups. However, Stephan and Stephan (1996) say research shows that this approach does little to reduce prejudice (as cited in, Kenrick, Neuburg, & Cialdini, 2009).
Case (2007) did a study in which college students were required to take a course on diversity. The course was designed to heighten recognition of White privilege and racism, raise support for affirmative action, and decrease prejudice, guilt, and fear of other races. The students took a survey at the beginning of the course which measured White privilege, awareness of racism, and the student’s level of racism to different ethnic groups. The same survey was given at the end of the semester as well. Results showed white privilege, awareness of racism and support for affirmative action increased. However, students reported greater fear of other races. Students’ levels of racism remained constant except for racism against Latinos, which increased. Case explains this as possibly being by chance or that the course could have actually increased prejudice.
Blanchard, Lilly, and Vaughn (1991) hypothesized that hearing another person express strong antiracist opinions would have more of an effect than hearing another person express equal opinions or opinions that were more accepting of racism. They also speculated that when a person hears another person express strong support of racism, the first person showed less support of antiracism. They did two studies in which they interviewed college students in a group with a confederate who either openly expressed strong antiracist views or strong racist views when asked about a false situation in what should happen to another student who wrote racist notes. There was a neutral condition in which the participant answered the questions first and in the other condition the confederate answered first. The authors’ hypotheses were confirmed in both of the experiments.
In 2007, four studies were done by Turner, Hewstone, and Loci that investigated “self-disclosure as a mediator of the effect of cross-group friendship and vicarious experiences of such friendship” (p. 371). The subjects for studies one were children between the ages of eight and twelve. The ages of the children for subjects two and three were 12 through 16. The last study included undergraduate students. In Study One, students were first given tasks that required them to categorize photographs of faces as negative or positive and White or Asian. The last tasks were to categorize White/Positive or Asian/Negative and White/Negative or Asian/Positive. In Study Two, the students were given questionnaires on their thoughts on the other ethnic group. The third study was the same as the second study except the experimenters used a larger group. In Study Four, White participants were given a questionnaire that measured predictor variables, mediator variables, and explicit outgroup attitude. Some of questions were, “How often do you discuss intimate or personal issues with people who are Asian?” (p. 380) and “How rewarding are the interactions you have with Asian people?” (p. 380). All four studies found that self-disclosure positively predicted explicit outgroup attitude.
Vrij, Akehurst, and Smith (2003) conducted a study where people were shown cue cards and then were given surveys to measure prejudice. They focused on seven principles, that they say decrease prejudice when used in public campaigns. The seven principles are “(1) an emphasis on similarities; (2) positive similarities in a positive context; (3) many representative members; (4) provision of explicit information; (5) employ a credible source; (6) state illegality; (7) central and peripheral routes to persuasion” (p. 285). Each of the cue cards had one of the seven principles or the opposite of it. For example, state illegality was shown on one cue card as one White man and one Black man approximately the same age with wording above them that said “These two men applied for a job as an Accounts Manager. The man on the left was turned down because he is Black” (p. 291); the other card was the same as the first one but had the wording “IT IS ILLEGAL TO DISCRIMINATE ON THE GROUNDS OF RACE (RACE RELATIONS ACT, 1976)” (p. 291). Subjects were then given a survey that measured their prejudice. Vrij, Akehurst, and Smith found that if the subject viewed a card that did not have one of the seven principles, their prejudice had increased versus if they had seen one of the principles. The two principles that had the most effect were emphasis of similarities and similarities in a positive context.
Carpenter, Za´rate, and Garza’s study that was done in 2007, focused on using differences and individuality to reduce prejudice in groups that are African American, White American, Mexican American, and Mexican National. In Experiment One, the African American and White American participants were first primed with stories that had an emphasis on the personal self or others. Then, they filled out questionnaires while looking at pictures of African Americans and White Americans. The White Americans, who were primed to have an emphasis on others, had reduced prejudice. However, the African Americans showed no difference in prejudice levels. In Experiment Two, White Americans, Mexican Americans, and Mexican Nationals took self-esteem tests and then answered questions on all three groups. Carpenter, Za´rate, and Garza (2007) found that self-esteem did not have any effect on prejudice and that looking at ways that your own ethnic group is different from other groups can lessen prejudice.
Pettigrew and Tropp (2006) did a meta-analysis of over 500 studies and 713 independent samples that tested the intergroup contact theory. Their findings showed that intergroup contact does decrease intergroup prejudice. Pettigrew and Tropp go on to say that the conditions are not independent but entwined with each other. They also feel that intergroup contact can be utilized to end prejudice against other underrepresented groups.
Racism not only exists among individual people but also in government forms. Billingsley and Giovannoni (1972) have been doing studies that show that African American children have been consistently counted out from services provided by child welfare establishments, they believe this is due to racism that exists in these institutions (as cited in, Miller & Ward, 2008). Miller and Ward (2008) say there has been overrepresentation of African Americans in the welfare system for a long time. They then go on to talk about the Breakthrough Series Collaborative (BSC) methodology was used to analyze the welfare systems’ racism and then identify strategies to reduce the racial disproportions. The BSC theory of change has six areas which are “(1) increase the awareness and understanding of the issue, (2) identify challenges and test strategies for improvement, (3) implement site-level policy and practice improvements, (4) spread the improvements throughout the larger system, (5) sustain system-wide improvements, and (6) improve child and family outcomes” (p. 227). Many participants of the program reported being able to achieve a fully functional program in their location. However, the participants said they had difficulty spreading changes from their location to a larger system. More work still needs to be done to stop the racial prejudice that occurs in the welfare system.
There are also racial discrepancies in the health care system. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2006, the age-adjusted death rate for White Americans of both sexes, was 764.4 and for African Americans of both sexes, it was 982.0 (Heron, Hoyert, Murphy, Xu, Kochanek, & Tejada-Vera, 2009). In 2002, Dovidio et al. conducted a study of racism that occurs during an emergency. White subjects were half as likely to help a Black person as they were to help a White person. While the participants opposed that the idea they were racist, it was the only difference in the fabricated emergency (as cited in Carlson & Chamberlain, 2004, p. 375). Carlson and Chamberlain (2004) say that to reduce the health disparities between White Americans and African Americans, there must be a change in the research areas that combine social conditions with the physiological pathways to health and disease and that we need to join together on emotional levels to understand each other to change racial attitudes.
In addition to healthcare and welfare, racism has even showed up in our grocery stores. In a study that was done in 2003, Topolski, Boyd-Bowman, and Ferguson found differences in the quality of fruits in grocery stores that were part of the same chain but were located in different parts of the city. They collected fruit samples from stores that were located in neighborhoods that had high socio-economic status and low socio-economic status. More minorities lived in the lower income neighborhoods. The quality of the fruit in the high SES neighborhood was better than the fruit that came from the other neighborhood, as judged by students who examined, ate the fruit and then rated them.
As you can see, there is hope for eliminating racial prejudice. On the other hand, a lot of the studies that I presented in this paper were done with children and college students. It still leaves out a majority of the population. Yet, I think we have come a long way from previous generations in accepting others, especially in the case of race and ethnicity. If we eliminate or even reduce racial prejudice, then minority children will do better in school, they will have better economic and career opportunities, and will experience lower rates of crime against them. With the current research on racial prejudice, we could also apply these theories to sexism, homophobia, and ageism. Hopefully, in time, Andy Warhol’s “I think everybody should like everybody” quote will finally be true.
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