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Racism Is Real And You Can't Solve This Problem By Pretending To Be Colorblind

These days it is socially unacceptable to be racist. Even talking about race can make people feel uncomfortable. After all, we are supposed to live in a colorblind society, a society which ignores race and judges someone solely based on their character. Now this sounds wonderful, almost utopian! If we overlook race we can treat everyone more fairly and avoid stereotyping. But here's the problem - no matter how much we claim to be the most racially tolerant generation in history, humans can't ignore race.

Society is definitely less openly racist but there are still unconscious biases and subtle forms of racism everywhere. Racial attacks against Africans and North East Indians is quite common here in India. Just Google search for "racism India" and you will be bombarded with the news of racism from all over India. These news articles only talk about extreme racism, though. There is subtle racism in almost every facet of life that goes unreported. We don't acknowledge how racism is inherent and we are racist. This is where the problem begins.

Most people never admit they are racist. For example - no one will ever publicly say that black people are more dangerous than white people. However, the experiments tell a very different story. The Department of Psychology, University of Colorado published a research paper titled - The Police Officer's Dilemma: Using Ethnicity To Disambiguate Potentially Threatening Individuals which shows that black people are prejudicially considered to be more dangerous than white people. The experiment gathered data via a simple video game. Participants played a computer game in which they were showed pictures of a suspect who is either black or white and either armed or holding something harmless (like a wallet). In less than a second, participants had to decide whether to shoot or not. Now under these tough situations, people are going to make mistakes. However, the mistakes had a clear pattern. People were more likely to shoot an unarmed black suspect than an unarmed white suspect. On the other hand, when the suspect was armed people were more likely to let him go if he was white. But here's the surprising part - this bias was observed in everyone; even black participants playing the game.

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This is all happening at the fundamental level of the brain. If you measure the electrical activity of people's brains as they play this game, there is a bigger threat response when looking at black faces compared to white faces. So while we strongly deny being prejudiced, it's clearly still there.

This is not an isolated research that shows that we all have inherent racial prejudice. Another research paper titled - Are Emily And Greg More Employable Than Lakisha And Jamal? A Field Experiment On Labor Market Discrimination [download this research paper here] shows this inherent racial prejudice. In this study, 5,000 resumes were sent out with either a stereotypically white name or a stereotypically black name. Now even though the content of the resume was the same, white names received fifty percent more replies than the black names. In fact having a white name gave you as much benefit as eight years of experience. The study also went further. They found that a better quality resume led to more replies for a white name, as is expected; but this effect was much smaller for black names. So you would think that good credentials would buffer black names against stereotypes, but employers were still biased. This research shows that people consider black people are less intelligent and uneducated than white people even though when no one would ever openly say that. This is again indicative of our inherent racial prejudice - we don't say it but we do follow it. This is the main problem of a colorblind mentality.

Color blind mentality ignores the fact that racism still exists. Society can say that it doesn't see color but humans aren't at that stage yet. Whether it's due to bias stereotypes in the media or some natural in-group and out-group favoritism; there's still some racism in us and if we pretend to be colorblind and not talk about these issues then it's only going to get worse.

This is particularly true with children. For example, many parents think that pointing out race to their kids makes things worse. Children are believed to be innocently colorblind and will only see these racial differences if you point them out. But this is not true at all. Institute for Research on Social Problems, Colorado published a paper called Racists or tolerant multiculturalists? How do they begin? which shows that even young children aren't colorblind to racism. At age three (3), when asked who they wanted to be friends with, eighty-six percent of children made same race choices. There were several other experiments done in the study which clearly shows that a greater majority of young kids are racist.

Racism is elemental, inherent, innate and deep-rooted.

But research shows that we can choose to be not racist. Here is one of the more hopeful studies on racism; the paper titled- Ambiguity and Guilt Determinations: A Modern Racism Perspective. This research study establishes that we can rewire our brain to not be racist and prejudicial. However, that is only possible by accepting the fact that we are racist in the first place, and then making a voluntary choice of not letting that racial prejudice cloud our judgment. In this study, participants read a description of a rape case where the suspect was either black or white. Initially, black suspects were rated as guiltier than white suspects. However, all it took was a reminder to avoid prejudice and stick to legally relevant information and this effect disappeared.

This suggests that we can consciously suppress any racial biases we might have. So rather than saying we don't see races, we should admit that racism still exists even if it is unconscious. That way we can deal with it head-on and take conscious action to reduce the racial prejudice. So it is essentially talk about racism which can educate people and correct any racial biases as quickly as possible.

Just an honest confession - I am racist, but I intentionally suppress my racial prejudice. So can you!

References -

  1. The Police Officer's Dilemma: Using Ethnicity To Disambiguate Potentially Threatening Individuals  - download here.
  2. Are Emily And Greg More Employable Than Lakisha And Jamal? A Field Experiment On Labor Market Discrimination  - download here.
  3. Racists or tolerant multiculturalists? How do they begin? - download here
  4. Ambiguity and Guilt Determinations: A Modern Racism Perspective - download here
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