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Seeing and Believing and Reducing Prejudice

Wednesday, November 3, 2010
posted by Rita Handrich

Mel Gibson certainly is not the only celebrity to rant racist statements while raving drunk. And we do have evidence that we are less able to censor ourselves when we are run-down and tired.

So how (in brief) can you actually reduce prejudicial behavior? We’ve written a lot about race and racism here so it’s good to see some research that is specifically focused on how learning to ‘see’ inequality and ‘believing’ you can effect change can actually reduce prejudicial behavior.

Researchers from Georgia State and the University of Kansas found students who believed their words could make a difference were more likely to address discriminatory behavior directly. That is, if you believe you can make a difference, you are more likely to speak up. When, on the other hand, you don’t think you will have any impact, you are likely to stay quiet (Stewart, et al., 2010).

That makes sense. So how can you have the most impact? It’s really about a simple conversation. It’s called the “what you did” conversation. The unproductive alternative approach is the “who you are” conversation. We saw this in the storm of reaction to Mel Gibson’s unfortunate appearance and reappearance in the center of controversy. There were those who attempted to have a “what he did” conversation but were drowned out by those focused on defending “who he is”.

In any high conflict (by definition high anxiety) situation, it’s normal to be uncertain what words to use. As a public service, we offer the inimitable Jay Smooth on how to have the right conversation (and therefore, make a difference).  He is spot-on, entertaining, and teaches the difference in 3 minutes flat.  With a cool soundtrack.

Stewart TL, Latu IM, Branscombe NR, & Denney HT (2010). Yes We Can!: Prejudice Reduction Through Seeing (Inequality) and Believing (in Social Change). Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS PMID: 20889931

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