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How can I convince them this wasn’t racist? Just keep talking…

Wednesday, April 23, 2014
posted by Douglas Keene

im-not-racist-butWe just can’t keep up with all the research on racism. So today, instead of a single article, we’re going to cite 3 of them! They are all disturbing examples that racism is alive, well, and measurable. 

Was s/he a good professor? We’ve all sat through disorganized and incoherent lectures at some point in our lives but students now often look at websites akin to to raise their chances of identifying good instructors. According to new research, however, when you look at a site like that, “the very best instructors were more likely to be White, whereas the very worst were more likely to be Black or Asian”. Unfortunately, those students looking at those “objective ratings” may simply be looking up negative racial stereotypes that may have repercussions on the ability of racial minority faculty to obtain promotion and tenure (Reid, 2010).

Didn’t that stuff kill Michael Jackson? No. That was propofol. This one is  called propranolol. And researchers gave it to 36 “healthy volunteers” and asked them to complete an explicit measure of prejudice and the IAT (a measure of implicit racial bias). The propranolol “abolished implicit racial bias” while not affecting the measure of explicit bias at all (Terbeck, et al., 2012). Okay. We think this is unlikely to catch on as a means of reducing implicit prejudice in jurors.

Just keep talking: Researchers presented 51 participants with “a brief vignette describing an instance of subtle racism” and asked them to explain what happened in that situation. Those participants who tested higher in prejudice and social dominance, wrote much longer situational explanations and were more likely to not see the situation as racist. Here are examples of short and long explanations participants offered for what happened in the vignettes:

“The server was prejudiced against Black people and did not hesitate to serve his/her White customers first.”

“I am not a racist person by any means; however, I don’t think this situation can be best described by racism given the facts. While it is completely unacceptable to wait over an hour for food, there seem to have been a larger number of people in your party than the woman who ate alone. I think it is unfair to assume that just because the server was White and you and your friends are African American that racism is going to be involved. It very well may be the reason, but I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt.”

The researchers believe the lengthier explanations were used to help research participants explain away subtle racism and to attribute the interactions to chance (Reid and Birchard, 2010).

We see examples of racism and ethnocentrism almost every time we do pretrial research where race is present. Whether it is:

“Is this an American company?”, or

“Are they legal?”, or even,

“Why does it have to be racism? Maybe s/he was just a bad employee.”,

it’s important for us to be alert to the underlying message contained in subtle (or not so subtle) questions posed by our mock jurors. We cannot afford to explain it away and pretend it doesn’t matter or happened by chance.

Reid, L., & Birchard, K. (2010). The People Doth Protest Too Much: Explaining Away Subtle Racism Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 29 (4), 478-490 DOI: 10.1177/0261927X10377993

Terbeck S, Kahane G, McTavish S, Savulescu J, Cowen PJ, & Hewstone M (2012). Propranolol reduces implicit negative racial bias. Psychopharmacology, 222 (3), 419-24 PMID: 22371301

Reid, L. (2010). The role of perceived race and gender in the evaluation of college teaching on RateMyProfessors.Com. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 3 (3), 137-152 DOI: 10.1037/a0019865


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