An interesting article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology claims that white people direct prejudice more toward minorities with strong group affiliation. For example, whites are more likely to discriminate against blacks if they are members of an all-black student group.
Research subjects were asked to identify positive or negative attitudes about people who had written introductory paragraphs about themselves. The researchers found that if the descriptions identified with a racial or ethnic group, the subjects rated them negatively. Here’s one example:
Specifically, participants saw the following:
My name is XXXX [there was a black marker strip in the place of what presumably was the target’s name] and I am a freshman at the University of Missouri—Columbia. I am Latino. I have brown hair and brown eyes. I am 18 years old. My hometown is Joplin. I am currently undecided about my major. I belong to a number of clubs on campus, including the Latin American Student Association and Rec Volleyball. In my free time, I like to hang out with friends and watch movies.
In the low-identification condition, the paragraph was identical, except the target did not explicitly state his ethnicity (although it was clearly marked on the descriptive sheet presented prior to the essay) and did not mention belonging to an ethnicity-related group (instead, he mentioned membership in the Missouri Student Association).
I found the conclusions interesting. I did, however, have two qualms with the paper. In the introduction, the authors speculate that this could explain why people who identify strongly with their minority status experience more discrimination. Ihis is dubious. I don’t think everyone who has been denied a table or treated poorly at Blockbusters wears a t-shirt that says “The Black Man is God” or “Kill Whitey.” In the research examples, the identification of the individual with his racial group is a little more on the nose than in the real world. You don’t have to take political surveys to get served at any of the restaurants I eat at.
Problem number two; they tried this for white people, but with a twist. Instead of the essay identifying as proudly white, it identifys the person as Scottish-American. This was done because the researchers were afraid that if they identified the person as prtoud of being white, subjects may see him as a white supremacist. A-ha! I think the problem here is that the researchers may have seen a problem and they altered the experiment slightly in order to maintain their hypothesis.
The problem with Scottish-American is that it doesn’t say anything about race, only nationality. I think people will react differently knowing that someone is proud of their nation of origin than they will if they think the person is proud of their race. The issue here may not be minorities as all, but that strong, in-group racial ties are seen negatively, including among white people. The researchers either overlooked this idea or actively tried to avoid it to keep the racial prejudice thing going.
This is why I love social psychology. It allows us to see what bastards we can really be.
Link to PsychNET Abstract.