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BE MORE LIKE ME!

Thursday, February 26, 2009
posted by Douglas Keene

Rastaman

A new press release from the University of Wisconsin reveals a truth we probably could have intuited through an honest self-assessment. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin and Michigan State University performed six studies to investigate whether whites are more biased against some minority group members than others. What they found is striking: the more a minority group member identifies with their own racial group, the less likely whites are to see them as sharing similar values. And when that happens, the researchers say, whites evaluate those strongly racially-identified individuals more negatively.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, the importance of this research can’t be overlooked. If your client (or witness) appears to be or is strongly racially identified (i.e., they identify with their racial group, are proud of their affiliation, see their racial identity as a core aspect of the self)—then you need to find ways to also highlight how they share worldviews with their local community and the jury of their peers.  It’s okay to be only slightly different, and it does no harm as long as the person is also seen as friendly, familiar, or  safe.

How do you do this? Identify ways in which your client shares widely held values such as:

  • family (children, spouse, parents),
  • commitment to education (their own or their children),
  • religious beliefs (or beliefs in doing the right thing buttressed by examples of what they have done),
  • hard work (cite employment history),
  • concern for the community (volunteer activities or civic involvement).

It even works to reach way back in the witness’ history.  Were they a Boy Scout long ago?  Did they work on a farm before they emigrated?  Was their father a doctor or a shopkeeper?  Were they one of 9 children?  Did their siblings go to college while the client stayed home to support the family?  In short, you want to find ways to make your client ‘like’ jurors so that jurors can see the more complex reality: “this person shares many of my beliefs and values even though they look very different from me” rather than falling into the simple assessment that your client is “different” and making their decisions from a place of automatic bias.

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