Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The "Automaticity" of Stereotyping

The Washington Post conducted a survey "to investigate how racial cues conveyed in news coverage conditioned Americans' response" to Hurricane Katrina. In their experiment, they showed respondents fake news stories about Katrina, and the survivor's attempts to get their lives back.

When some respondents read the stories, the victim was male, for others, the victim was female. The race/ethnicity of the victim was also rotated, with White, Asian, Black, and Hispanic names and faces all used. Occupations of the victim were also changed along a range of professions from custodian to real estate agent.

After reading the fake news stories, survey participants were then asked to indicate how much assistance they would award the victim. They could choose to give aid for three to eighteen months, with an amount of up to $200 per month. The average award given in the experiment was $125/month for one year.

The 2,300 people surveyed consistently awarded more money to White victims than to minorities in general and Blacks specifically. They were also more generous to the real estate agent than to the custodian.

I have worked in the nonprofit sector since 1989, including working in homeless shelters and with those on public assistance, so I am not at all surprised to see the concept of the "worthy" victim expose itself here.

The survey was meant to test whether or not accusations of racism in Katrina's aftermath were justified. The Post points out that in the real media coverage of the hurricane, Whites were portrayed as "looking for food" while Blacks were portrayed as "looting" for the same activity.

The Post concluded that:
People cannot help stereotyping on the basis of ethnicity despite their best efforts to act unbiased and egalitarian. ... The fact that this group awarded lower levels of hurricane assistance after reading about looting or after encountering an African-American family displaced by the hurricane is testimony to the persistent and primordial power of racial imagery in American life.
The "surprising" aspect of the experiment was that the survey group was overwhelmingly made up of people who describe themselves as "liberal" and who purport to support civil rights. According to the Post, this is proof of what psychologists call the "automaticity" of stereotyping.

And yet, I keep on hearing from conservative bloggers that racism has been eradicated in this country. It's no longer an issue, they tell me. It's time to move on.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

No comments:

Post a Comment

Twitter Feed