—Martin Luther King Jr. (August 28, 1963)
• Race and Culture
• Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination
• The Relationships Among Stereotyping, Prejudice, and Discrimination
• Theories of Prejudice and Discrimination
• Where Do We Go From Here?
• Suggested Readings
• Key Terms
• Questions for Review and Discussion
Looking back over the more than 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his classic “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, it is easy to see the extent to which race relations have improved in the United States. The Jim Crow laws that limited the rights of minority groups have been dismantled and overt racial segregation, such as in restaurants and on public transportation, is a thing of the past, and today, it is difficult to believe there was a time when White lynching of Blacks took place without serious investigation, let alone punishment. Yet, in this new millennium, vivid examples demonstrate that Martin Luther King’s dream has not been fully realized.
Evidence that racial tensions persist in the United States are illustrated by what has come to be called the “Jena 6” case. The case began with a question asked at a school assembly at Jena High School in Louisiana: Could Black students sit under an oak tree then known as the “white tree” (Coll, 2007)? The principal said yes but, showing stark disagreement, White students hung nooses from the tree’s branches. To them, the tree was, indeed, off limits to Blacks. The school board deemed hanging nooses “a prank” and suspended the White students from school; no criminal charges were brought. Months of high emotions led to a series of fights between Black and White students. At least one incident led to battery charges against a White youth who beat a Black youth at a party; the White student received probation. The violence culminated with six Black students assaulting a White student to the point of his being knocked unconscious (Witt, 2007). Within hours, all six Blacks were charged with attempted murder—a felony. To many, the authorities’ responses to the separate incidents represented typical race-based inequities, a belief supported by national data. In Box 1.1
, we describe social science research on these inequities and discuss recent protests held in response to them.
Following the charges against the “Jena 6” Black students, thousands of people participated in protests across the United States to express their outrage over this inequity in the administration of justice. A few people, apparently supporting the Whites’ “right” to segregate “their” tree, carried out a spate of copy-cat incidents, many involving nooses being left at schools and workplaces (Duster, 2007). From a psychological perspective, this case provides one of many possible illustrations of how racial and ethnic tensions can result in bias against stigmatized groups, not only in the United States but in any part of the world. As a first step toward understanding those psychological processes, we provide an overview of the intersection between race and culture, including a discussion of group privilege. We then review the terminology used in the study of stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination and distinguish between several “isms,” such as racism, classism, and heterosexism. In the next section of the chapter, we examine the history of research on prejudice and discrimination and consider the theoretical frameworks that guide researchers. The chapter concludes with an overview of the rest of the book.
Responding to Racial Injustice: Black Lives Matter
On May 4, 1970, four students engaged in a nonviolent protest against the war in Vietnam were killed by National Guardsmen on the campus of Kent State University. Ten days later, police killed two students and wounded 12 others on another college campus. The first event is well known, as is the iconic photograph of a woman leaning over the body of a fellow student moments after he had been shot. The second event, which occurred on the campus of Jackson State University, received far less media coverage and far fewer people today have heard of that event. Why? Was it because Jackson State was and is a predominantly Black university, whereas Kent State was and is predominantly White (Banks, 2015)? Although this question is difficult to answer, it is certain that recent events surrounding the deaths of young Black men at the hands of the police have not gone unnoticed. As Leonard Pitts (2015), a columnist for the Miami Herald, noted:
These events and others, including the August 9, 2014, shooting of Michael Brown, an African American man, by a White police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, have led to nationwide protests and to the Black Lives Matter movement, which addresses what its organizers see as police brutality against African Americans in the United States. Journalist Jay Kang (2015) calls it “the most formidable American protest movement of the 21st century to date,” stating that the movement marries:
Social science research clearly documents that African Americans perceive a high level of injustice in their interactions with police. For example, Black drivers (67 percent) are less likely than White drivers (84 percent) to report that there was a legitimate reason for their being pulled over (Langton & Durose, 2013). Moreover, when asked about their general experiences with the police, African Americans report greater feelings of threat than Whites do (Najdowski, Bottoms, & Goff, 2015, Study 1) and when asked to imagine they were in a specific situation where a police officer was carefully watching them, Black men were more likely than White men to anticipate being anxious and to expect that the officer would accuse them of wrongdoing (Najdowski et al., 2015, Study 2). These feelings may be justified: Researchers also have uncovered clear evidence of racial disparities in law enforcement. For example, Blacks comprise about 13 percent of the U.S. population, but account for 38 percent of arrests for violent crime and 35 percent of arrests for drug violations (Newman, 2007). In addition, punishments are harsher for Blacks than for Whites and a higher percentage of the African American population is in jail (Free, 2002).
However, as Phillip Goff and Kimberly Kahn (2012) note, answering the question of whether these disparities stem from police discrimination is surprisingly difficult given the available data. That is, racial disparities in the criminal justice system may be due to police officer bias, but may also emerge because other social factors disproportionately affect minorities, such as high unemployment rates and a lack of affordable housing. People who experience these inequalities may see criminal activity as the only way to get the money they need for food and shelter. Hence, “it would be naïve to imagine that officers and departmental policies play no role in the creation of racial disparities [but these inequities may also be] a symptom of racial discrimination in other domains” (Goff & Kahn, 2012, p. 184). The good news is research is under way that attempts to distinguish between these two possibilities.
As we will discuss in Chapters 3
, there is strong evidence that cultural stereotypes, including beliefs linking Blacks to criminality, result in both conscious and unconscious bias against Black men (Najdowski, 2014). The Black Lives Matter movement has ignited a national conversation about these issues and this conversation has been and will continue to be informed by social science research on the oppression of ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system.
Psychological research shows that race, gender, and age are primary categories for organizing information about other people and that these characteristics are likely to be the first pieces of information people notice about others (Schneider, 2004). People do this automatically (that is, without thinking about it) and often subsequently make assumptions on the basis of that quick reading. Historian Ronald Takaki (1993) provides one story of how this process works, writing:
Takaki’s experience illustrates how our snap judgments can lead to stereotypic assumptions. However, as discussed in Chapters 3
, people can and do think past such initial stereotypic judgments under some circumstances. Unfortunately, this does not always happen; consequently, prejudice and discrimination based solely on group membership are alive and well:
(Kennedy, 2002, p. 27; emphasis in original)
Clearly, in some situations at least, people view others through the lens of race, gender, and age; doing so affects their beliefs about and actions toward others. As we will see in this book, the more relevant question may not be whether people are prejudiced but whether and under what circumstances people try to override their prejudices and, instead, step back to measure each person as an individual.
Historical events, both recent and more distant, demonstrate how quickly views of other social groups can change. Although, in the United States, attitudes toward Middle Easterners were not necessarily positive prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, negative reactions toward individuals from those countries definitely increased after that terrible day. Human Rights Watch (2002), for example, reported a tenfold increase in the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes and dramatic increases in violence against mosques after 9/11. Moreover, the Gallup Organization (2002) reported that the majority of Americans polled agreed there are too many immigrants from Arab countries in the United States and 60 percent of respondents favored reducing the number of Arabs granted admission.
Looking further back to the early 1900s, when the immigration of Irish and Italians reached its high point in the United States, evidence abounds that members of those ethnic groups were the targets of ridicule. Remnants of those strongly held beliefs remain: Most people today can still readily identify the ethnic stereotypes associated with these groups (Krueger, 1996; Terracciano et al., 2005). These days, however, individuals of Western European descent who reside in the United States generally do not find that their ethnic background significantly disadvantages them.
A century ago, the Irish were considered non-White in the United States (Ignatiev, 1995). How could that be? If, as most people believe, race and ethnicity are biological categories, marked by differences in skin color, it is not logical that the definitions of who fits a category would change. In fact, there are very few true biological distinctions between what scientists define as racial groups, as explained in Box 1.2
. Moreover, the categories “White” and “non-White” shift with social conventions that, themselves, change over time. Lillian Rubin (1998), writing about the errors in historical memory of immigration in the United States, noted that:
What Is a “Race”?
Morning (2011) defines race as “a system for classifying human beings that is grounded in the belief that they embody inherited and fixed biological characteristics that identify them as members of racial groups” (p. 21) and, as we will see throughout this book, psychological research shows that people use visible cues such as skin color and facial features to categorize themselves and others into groups. Morning also notes that the contexts in which people are asked to report their race are many, including medical visits, applying for college or jobs, or getting a marriage license. If you ask people how they know what race a person is, they will usually tell you that the determining factor is skin color. But why skin color rather than some other physical characteristic, such as hair color or eye color? One answer is provided by anthropologist Audrey Smedley and psychologist Brian Smedley (2011) in their book Race in North America.
Smedley and Smedley (2011) note that the word “race” was not used in English to refer to groups of people until the 1600s and, at that time, the meaning was very broad, referring to any group of people with common characteristics. For example, one writer referred to “a race of bishops.” The meaning of the word race slowly narrowed until, in the late 1700s, it took on its present meaning...