Study reveals surprisingly high tolerance for racism

January 8, 2009

White people do not get as upset when confronted with racial prejudice as they think they will, a study by researchers at Yale University, York University, and the University of British Columbia suggests. This indifference helps explains why racism persists even as the United States prepares to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama, researchers say.

Non-black participants who experienced a racial slur against a black person did not get as upset or react against the racist remark as they predicted they would, according to a study published in the Jan. 9 issue of the journal Science. This acquiescence in the face of racism leads to its perpetuation, because numerous studies have shown that people confronted after making slurs are much less likely to repeat the behavior in public or in private, said John Dovidio, Yale psychologist and a co-author of the study.

"We have an unconscious bias that affects us in significant ways," Dovidio said.

The researchers studied 120 non-black participants who volunteered for the experiment and either directly experienced a racial incident or had the incident described to them. The first group watched a black man, posing as a fellow participant, slightly bump a white confederate also posing as a participant. After the black man left the room, the white confederate either said nothing, or "I hate it when black people do that," or said, "clumsy n____." Other groups did not directly experience the event but either read about it or watched it on videotape and were asked to predict their responses to the events.

The subjects who didn't experience the event were much more likely to report that they were upset at the white worker's slurs and to say they would not work with such a person. Those who actually experienced the event were less distressed and were as willing to work with the person who made racist comments as someone who did not.

Dovidio argues that participants who witness racism were much less willing to pay the emotional cost of confronting a racist than they thought they would be. That in turn means the racist pays less of a cost in social ostracism by expressing bias, he said.

Source: Yale University

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3 / 5 (2) Jan 08, 2009
Insults don't count. The comments were a response to what was perceived to be something annoying. The idea of an insult is to do just that - insult. If "nigger" offends the most, then that is obviously the best insult, as compared to (say) "That foolish fellow of African American descent!"
1 / 5 (6) Jan 09, 2009
Why wernt African Americans studied about how upset they would get if a white person was insulted racially by an African American? I know... no African American would ever be a racists..
1 / 5 (1) Jan 09, 2009
People choose to feel offended.

It's just as easy to think "he's ignorant and thoughtless" than to get all worked up about a verbal slur.

Feeling offended is highly overrated.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 09, 2009
I think Dirk is right there being a difference between actively disliking a group vs. trying to be rude about a single individual and selecting what you believe will irritate them most. For example: with referring to someone as a son of a bitch you are not expressing dislike of all people who have mothers it is your intent/hope that the person in question values their parents and will/would be offended.

Racism happens in the minds of the people comments are directed at in as much as those who make the comments. Several years ago while in the service I new a man who was called into company commanders office on a complaint of racism, a significantly more serious accusation in the military than it would be in the general populous. The complaint was that he claimed black men couldn't play golf (this being pre Tiger days) This comment apparently followed a comment came in response to a comment about white men can't jump. Was the first man being deliberately and aggressively racist? Was the second man being racist or responding in kind? While the first two questions are hard to determine racism definitely occurred when the first individual chose to apply a different standard to similar actions based on the race of the participants.

So what category does it fall in if someone says "F you N word" have they been politically correct enough to insult someone without being racist, or are they just thought better of for their polite racism?
5 / 5 (2) Jan 09, 2009
The research simply says people wont confront a rude person even though at a safe distance they would disapprove of their actions. I suspect this would be true of any kind of rudeness not just racism. It takes courage to stand up to bullies.
5 / 5 (2) Jan 09, 2009
It reminds me of a place I used to work. There was a lab manager there who was looking for a dishwasher (lab tech). He didn't hire one black person who applied because he said he "couldn't work with somebody who was black". I felt crappy about it, and I saw the black guy in the hallway walking away, and thought maybe I should tell him, but I didn't. Or tell the professor who was running the lab, actually. Why not? I guess, training from a bad childhood to keep quiet when bad things happen. Things happen that make me uncomfortable, but my reaction is often to shut down, rather than addressing it.
It doesn't just apply to racism, other things also. I saw a kid with parents in the laundromat. The parents were blatantly verbally abusive, the kid was shrinking into her chair. Maybe somebody who knew what to say could find something effective to say, something that perhaps the kid would remember forever and it would support her. But I didn't. Or the time I saw a security guard yelling abusively at a little kid. I guess from a childhood of lying low, I learned to lie low.
People in general usually don't say what they think in social situations, when someone does or says something unpalatable. People try to go along. Even if they do say something, they often make less of it than it really is. They say what they think afterwards, out of the company of the person.
One time a guy called a teenage girl, who wasn't there, "fresh meat". I didn't say anything, but I did communicate my feeling about it nonverbally - I stared at him with my mouth dropping open, feeling hurt. That was because I took it personally, I felt it was an attack on women in general. So if you somehow feel *yourself* attacked by something, you do communicate about it.
I admire people who can act as a moral force, who have quick reactions to situations, and seeing that might help one to do that oneself. Also just working on it - I try to learn to communicate.
What they are talking about is just a general human behavior. We try to get along socially and that normally involves accepting things we don't really like.
1 / 5 (2) Jan 11, 2009
You hit the nail on the head.
not rated yet Jul 08, 2009
i didnt need a study to figure this one out. americans consider racism to be freedom of speech. you will probably get more heat for saying unpatriotic things than you will racist things, which is very sad. europe on the other hand is a little different, and you might get in trouble for saying patriotic things and racist things. not all americans are racist, but they definitely dont stand up against racism. although most americans may not tell racist jokes, you also wont find many americans fighting against racism.

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