A Viral Antidote for Racism
November 7, 2008 8:00 PM   Subscribe

Tolerance over Race can Spread, Study Says. ...psychologists have been able to establish a close relationship between diverse pairs — black and white, Latino and Asian, black and Latino — in a matter of hours. That relationship immediately reduces conscious and unconscious bias in both people, and also significantly reduces prejudice toward the other group in each individual’s close friends. This extended-contact effect, as it is called, travels like a benign virus through an entire peer group, counteracting subtle or not so subtle mistrust. A matter of hours...hmmmm... that might explain the subject of this thread.
posted by storybored (33 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Will it work with other types of bigotry? Should we start introducing our gay friends to our Mormon friends?
posted by Caduceus at 8:17 PM on November 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


However, study says there is no tolerance for FPPs about the same thing. Couldn't this have been included in the thread you linked to here?

And I reject the fact that groups are formed according to skin colour. Culture, maybe, but this (American) obsession with the artificial construct of "race" is truly weird.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:20 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Will it work with other types of bigotry? Should we start introducing our gay friends to our Mormon friends?

I wonder how well it works if one member of the pair is paranoid about being hit on. Or when one member is annoyed by proselytizing.
posted by delmoi at 8:21 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


However, study says there is no tolerance for FPPs about the same thing. Couldn't this have been included in the thread you linked to here?

Oh yeah, storybored totally got mod powers the other day and is allowed to unlock three year old threads.

And I reject the fact that groups are formed according to skin colour. Culture, maybe, but this (American) obsession with the artificial construct of "race" is truly weird.

I know, right? I mean, in other parts of the world, people manage to divide themselves into groups and hate each other when their skin color is the same! Like the Tutsi and the Hutu, or the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, or the burakumin in Japan, or the untouchables in India, or the Serbs, Albanians, and Croatians... We clearly need to come up with less artificial reasons to hate each other, like them.
posted by Caduceus at 8:30 PM on November 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


I hate Sneetches without stars.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:04 PM on November 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


You're a star-bellied Sneetch, you suck like a leech, you want everyone to act like you...
posted by TedW at 9:08 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


On a more serious note, the story of Ellis and Atwater is one of my favorites; thanks for expanding on it.
posted by TedW at 9:12 PM on November 7, 2008


The new relationship can last months or longer, and it almost immediately lowers a person’s score on a variety of prejudice measures. Moreover, it significantly reduces anxiety during encounters with other members of that second group, as gauged by stress hormone levels in the saliva.

Good article, pretty fascinating. In a way, I'm surprised this hasn't been studied as much before - we have so many studies about bias, and (apparently) so few about conditions that encourage tolerance.

In a layperson's way, I've been saying this for a long time. My own father's life is a concrete example. He was brought up in a definitely racist, segregated, white fundamentalist environment in the 1950s and 60s. He took for granted that black people were inferior to white people as he grew up. It was not until he enlisted in the Army and went to serve two tours in Vietnam that his mind changed. He reported it to me in the language I have heard many vets use: "We all bled the same color." In reality, it wasn't the blood, but the time they spent together, person to person, responsible for and dependent upon one another, that made them all realize that their earlier ideas about race were shallow and incorrect.

He never went back to being the way he was before. I was lucky enough to grow up in a town they chose to live in, an integrated one with a lot of mixed ethnicity. I feel fortunate. I also thought everyone grew up that way, and in adulthood, learned that everyone doesn't. The simple fact that so many communities skew toward one ethnic or racial group or another means there are many fewer opportunities for people of different races and cultures to get to know each other as daily, side-by-side classmates, co-workers, campers, extracurricular participants, Scouts, whatever. For years I worked at a Quaker summer camp where there was a pretty awesome degree of urban/rural and white/black interaction and integration; and I lived for a while in Philadelphia, probably the most racially integrated city in the country, maybe barring Chicago.Those experiences stand in stark contrast to the reality that in large swaths of America, including the area I live in now, black and white people don't really come across one another that often, and racial prejudices form in an abstract way that isn't based on direct experience and isn't subject to rational comparison with observable reality.

So come on people now. Everybody get together. It's kind of that simple - experiencing differences in a personal way that, through gradual exposure, gets familiar and comfortable -- this is the way people get beyond their racial prejudice. It's shelteredness that lets it continue.
posted by Miko at 9:33 PM on November 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


The limitation to this is that you need to be able to get people to go through a few sessions of "stop hating each-other" therapy/bonding, or get them to be co-chairs of something where they must work together and go through these sort of trust exercises more naturally (how often do you lead blindfolded people through mazes in most committee situations?)

Some how situations need to shift from rallies where people shout at each-other, to collaborative forums where some goal needs their joined efforts.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:37 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Bah. I clicked "this thread" hoping for doggies and kitties.
posted by Artw at 9:37 PM on November 7, 2008


Miko: so you're saying we should have more wars? Brilliant! Except for that whole fighting someone else. I know, we need ALIENS! Those green-blooded freaks really deserve hot-lazer death!

Sorry, I got excited by the story about you father, then got thinking about an intergalactic battle, and stopped reading. And really, who has time to just go play in the greater out-doors? Especially when there are aliens out there, floating around and spying on us. That's the real threat.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:42 PM on November 7, 2008


And I reject the fact that groups are formed according to skin colour.

ahahahaAHAHAHAHAahahaha...

you do realize what prejudice IS, right?
posted by desjardins at 9:58 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thanks for pointing me to that previous thread. A great story.
posted by painquale at 10:00 PM on November 7, 2008


Tolerance over any new concept can spread, once people are forced to deal with the issue directly. Got a gay family member? All of a sudden you no longer dislike gays.

The ability to easily cope with new concepts distinguishes social liberals from social conservatives.
posted by parallax7d at 10:55 PM on November 7, 2008


Good article, pretty fascinating. In a way, I'm surprised this hasn't been studied as much before - we have so many studies about bias, and (apparently) so few about conditions that encourage tolerance.

Hmm? What makes you think it hasn't been studied? I think this is actually a well-known effect.
posted by delmoi at 10:57 PM on November 7, 2008




Looks like the segregationists were aware of this effect, and based much of their efforts on preventing it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:46 AM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's all very lovely, but we have an inbuilt "us vs. them" template, in which it is, unfortunately, quite easy to slip a new group into the "them" slot, as it becomes socially necessary. So it was the the Japanese and German "them" of the early 1940s, gave way to the Russian and Chinese "them" of the 1950s, and so on. It hasn't been so difficult for us white liberals to replace African-Americans who had been "them" to our parents, with a caricature version "conservatives," "right-wingers," and "Christains," who are now the object of our ignorant scorn.
posted by Faze at 6:19 AM on November 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


This is interesting, but what is perhaps more counter-intuitive (and nowadays more powerful, I think) is the fact that tiny, sometimes unconscious biases can lead to big system level results. Example, a few Ys can be mildly adverse to living next to Xs, and over time the two communities become segregated--even without strong, conscious bias. This is a famous result of early agent based simulation. See the Schelling Model. Somebody who knows more about it than yours truly (who knows next to nothing about anything) should write a FPP's on the topic.
posted by MarshallPoe at 6:34 AM on November 8, 2008


Miko: so you're saying we should have more wars?

Of, of course not. That's why I went into describing other integrated environments. It's not the war itself, but the conditions of side-by-side living and cooperation toward important ends, that have the effect.

Hmm? What makes you think it hasn't been studied? I think this is actually a well-known effect.

I feel like it's well-known anecdotally, at least to me, and certainly the assumption underlying a lot of programs and educational initiatives and such has been that exposure to others reduces prejudice. But I'm not aware of that many studies demonstrating it concretely or describing one method. That's probably due to the fact that I'm not a social scientist - I don't doubt you that they exist - but I haven't run across that many. On the other side, though, when I got my education degree I did use a lot of studies demonstrating conscious and unconcscious bias. There are loads of those...I don't remember coming across as much information demonstrating that certain conditions could measurably reduce bias.

It's all very lovely, but we have an inbuilt "us vs. them" template,

Yeah, so we should just forget the whole tolearance thing and look for the next victim. Smash!

Seriously - obviously it is a tendency, and for good reasons, but it can be overcome with intention and social structure, just as we impose social control and order on many human tendencies (such as using a legal process of fair hearing and punishment instead of rewarding the tendency to desire persona revenge).
posted by Miko at 6:38 AM on November 8, 2008


Chicago may look integrated from the outside, but in reality the neighborhoods follow a narrow patchwork pattern. While the larger "neighborhood" of, for instance Rogers Park may be integrated, with a very even mix of black-white-hispanic-smaller minorities (orthodox Jewish, asian, south asian, etc.), the reality is that it is highly segregated literally block by block. My block is all white families (my family being the one exception); if you walk around the corner it's all black families. Three blocks east, about 80% hispanic. Five blocks west, 60% orthodox Jew. Couple that with the hideous segregetion of Chicago schools due to a network of private schools and the public magnet system that drew all the money and good teachers away from the neighborhood schools, and it means that our interracial interaction (jeez did I just write that) is fleeting and superficial. So we shop and ride the bus and walk down the street with people of other races, but actually engage them without seeking them out? Not so much.

Still looking for the study that demonstrates the supposed natural "clumping" of racially-similar groups in integrated cities like Chicago (it demonstrated how once neighborhoods start integrating, over time they develop exactly this patchwork quality while retaining an appearance of integration over a larger geographic area). I found this, but it's not the same study. Can anyone find this?

That said, the article is a fascinating look at the obvious-- we are more alike than we are different, and once you start talking to people you find this out.
posted by nax at 7:04 AM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Miko -- not that we should forget the whole tolerance thing, but we should recognize that our limbic systems house an innate "enemy" category that needs always to be filled, if not with one group, then another. (It might also be said to have an obverse category to be filled with a "sacred" or revered group or individual.) Being aware of this inborn tendency, we should realize that hate, like lust, is a circumstantial thing, and we should not allow it to shape our lives and social opinions.
posted by Faze at 7:05 AM on November 8, 2008


Hmmm, I wonder if a sort of "Reverse Cultural Revolution" might be a good thing: instead of sending intellectuals to the countryside to dig ditches, send country folk to the big cities for a couple of years to rub shoulders with people who look different, talk different, and act different. Get people out of their little enclaves of homogeneity and into the mix.

It seems that throughout history and around the world, urban people are more liberal than rural people. It's a general trend, not a 100% correlation, but you can see the pattern in the 2008 election returns (just to give one example). A large factor may be that, in urban life, the ethnic and cultural diversity of your neighbors tends to expand your definition of "decent people who are basically a lot like me" - in other words, "Us". Our lizard brains still want to see the world as "Us" versus "Them", but "Us" is a lot bigger box when you live in a city.

Maybe these volunteer corps that Obama & Biden talk about on their change.gov page could accomplish this? AmeriCorps already exists but it's sort of low-profile; maybe some of the new organizations could also get insular small-town people into contact with their diverse urban cousins. (Personal peeve: I'd love to see rich white people get out of their gated communities into the real world.)
posted by Quietgal at 8:55 AM on November 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


That relationship immediately reduces conscious and unconscious bias in both people, and also significantly reduces prejudice toward the other group in each individual’s close friends. This extended-contact effect, as it is called, travels like a benign virus through an entire peer group, counteracting subtle or not so subtle mistrust.

So it would be wise, I guess, for most everyone to go out and spend some time with those who hate your kind. Maybe this idiotic racism/sexism bullshit can finally be put to rest.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:01 AM on November 8, 2008


Maybe Obama's plans for youth work projects is the way to go. Lord knows a lot of the nation's infrastructure needs to be fixed (failing bridges, roads in disrepair, dams that are near failure, disaster areas needing clean-up).
posted by five fresh fish at 9:05 AM on November 8, 2008


So it would be wise, I guess, for most everyone to go out and spend some time with those who hate your kind.

It would be a good idea for some people, at any rate. Utterly unlikeable people such as myself should stay home.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:12 AM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


nax: I think fleeting and superficial interaction still helps to counter stereotypes. You see that the black guy at the bus stop isn't there to mug you. The Mexican guy isn't lazy; you see him going to work everyday. The black woman isn't on welfare and doesn't neglect her kids. Or whatever stereotypes a person might have. A vehement racist isn't going to move into that neighborhood in the first place, but a lot of us have subconscious stereotypes, and I think that simple proximity helps to wear those down. In an integrated neighborhood, where rents are similar from block to block, you also don't have class issues confusing the situation as much. (Gentrification throws a wrench into this, however.)

I grew up in Milwaukee, the most segregated metro area in the US (according to the 2000 census). I seriously did not know there was a black middle class until I moved to Chicagoland. I lived in a white neighborhood across the river from a (mostly) black (and poor) (and high crime) neighborhood, and had almost no interaction with the residents there. You just did not go there. While living there, my experience of blacks included panhandlers and several armed robberies on my block (I was not a victim).

I still live in an almost entirely white suburb, but my workplace is very diverse, and the interactions I've had there have challenged any subconscious stereotypes I may have had. I am not BFF with any blacks at work (or anyone else; there's an age/culture gap as most of the women are more interested in discussing Project Runway than politics). So my interactions still tend to be superficial, if not fleeting. But they help, a lot.
posted by desjardins at 9:43 AM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've spent most of my working life around Toronto, and i believe it is a good example of a not perfect, but healthy, reasonably well-integrated multicultural city.

This didn't just happen automatically. It did require commitments from the various levels of government in standing behind their professed values of equality and tolerance. It also initially required what some might consider a sort of quota-based or "token" public face, such as having visible minorities showing up in commercials, in newscasts, and in other things like TV shows. Etc Etc.

This used to bug my white Anglo-Saxon hetero male ass a bit, as it seemed to be just lip-service to political correctness. But I don't think this anymore; TV shows, newscasts, commercials - they all now simply reflect the reality of this multicultural city, and i can't imagine wanting it any other way.

I believe it's well-known in psychology that if you consciously adopt the physical characteristics of a positive frame of mind (eg the facial expressions of happiness - smiling etc), the subject can often find themself to be feeling genuinely happy. Similarly, if society will continue to support and actively present the face of an integrated society, it will come to be so.
posted by Artful Codger at 9:50 AM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


{edit} ...if society will continue to support and actively present the face of a tolerant, pluralistic, multicultural, multiracial society, it will come to be so.

(Sorry. integrated was the wrong word. the melting pot does NOT work.)
posted by Artful Codger at 9:56 AM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hmmm, I wonder if a sort of "Reverse Cultural Revolution" might be a good thing: instead of sending intellectuals to the countryside to dig ditches, send country folk to the big cities for a couple of years to rub shoulders with people who look different, talk different, and act different. Get people out of their little enclaves of homogeneity and into the mix.

Please tell me you aren't serious.

It seems that throughout history and around the world, urban people are more liberal than rural people.

This is a good point, but it's also true that urban folks brought us several of the disastrous "liberal" social engineering programs that marred the twentieth century (though, to be fair, not without support from rural areas). Perhaps we need this sort of check and balance.
posted by MarshallPoe at 10:07 AM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


MarshallPoe, the reference to the Cultural Revolution was tongue-in-cheek. I don't seriously want Mao-style social engineering. *shudder*

But I do believe that encouraging people to interact with others outside their little homogeneous enclaves is a good thing. How that's done is a big question, but it happens pretty naturally in cities. Also, I use the term "liberal" broadly, to mean tolerant, inclined to live and let live, not inclined to force their perspectives/customs/religion/etc on other people. This type of liberal may well be financially conservative, in favor of small government, devout, etc.
posted by Quietgal at 12:41 PM on November 8, 2008


urban folks brought us several of the disastrous "liberal" social engineering programs that marred the twentieth century

Such as?
posted by Miko at 1:15 PM on November 8, 2008


I think fleeting and superficial interaction still helps to counter stereotypes. You see that the black guy at the bus stop...The Mexican guy isn't lazy...The black woman isn't on welfare and doesn't neglect her kids.

I disagree. I went to an all-white school and was raised by all white people, didn't have a friend of any color until I was 18, I was taught all these things you mentioned. I was spoon-fed all these things for a long time and finally got to the point that I felt everything any white person said to me about any other person of color was an outright lie.

Then I got out of highschool, got a job and met real people. Working in a retail store dealing with lower income people has made me very racist. I have been lied to, spit upon, yelled at, assaulted, bitten, called racist...etc. I could make very specific cases of racial stereotypes by describing the real things that happened to me, the little-old asian lady with the cane stole $600 of groceries over a five day period, the angry black woman with five kids spit on me, the little black boy punched me when I told him to not play on our carts, the asian girl stealing candy bit me, the mexican woman with a forged check called me racist, the white woman called me a faggot...and so on.

Everything began to be filtered by this color scheme but the more I reflect on it and the farther I get from it the less it becomes about race and the more it becomes about respect empathy and dignity.

I really think America's "Race Problem" is more of America's "Respect Problem."

If we keep pretending that the prejudice comes from the color instead attitude we'll never really get past the problem. I hate aggressiveness. The only time I have ever raised my voice is to protect my coworkers from abusive customers and I hated every second of it. I don't care if you're white/black/blue/red/brown. If you yell and stamp your feet at me I am not going to treat you with respect.

The best thing that could happen to this country is that we lose everything and everyone is stuck having to put up with each other to survive. I'm tired of everyone thinking they are "Entitled" to whatever it is that they want. Credit has sucked the humanity out of people.
posted by M Edward at 6:24 PM on November 8, 2008


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