There is a bitter debate over racism these days -- specifically, whether or not it still exists in a way that actually matters. The argument against goes something like, "Sure, there are neo-Nazis and KKK and YouTube comment sections out there, but we've got a black president, for Christ's sake! Racism has been banished to the craziest fringes of society."
But science says that's just not true -- the prejudice persists, we're just less aware of it, and there's tons of proof that we'll get into starting ... now:
#5. In a Simulation, We're Much Quicker to Shoot Black Men
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In case you have spent your adult life avoiding all forms of news media, the shooting of unarmed black citizens is a huge, urgent issue in modern-day America. To put it in numbers: black teenagers are 21 times more likely to be killed by a cop than white ones. And while there are no doubt lots of reasons why this happens -- arrest procedures, training issues, etc. -- science says that at heart we're all just more afraid of black people. Mostly on a subconscious level -- which, in fact, is where most prejudice happens.
We've covered a bunch of these experiments before -- one study found employers were hesitant to pick applicants with black-sounding names. Another found people get visibly nervous during interracial conversations, even friendly ones. Another bizarre study found racist impulses come bubbling out as soon as you lower a person's inhibitions even a tiny bit (in that case, just at the suggestion of drinking alcohol). They even found that you can change how someone reacts to a photo just by digitally darkening or lightening the subject's skin tone. But, just to drive the point home, somebody decided to see how subjects react with a (pretend) gun in their hand.
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Call in the SWAT Team.
Joshua Correll, a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder, developed a web-based game that puts the player in the role of a police officer who randomly encounters a series of black and white men -- some armed and some holding objects like wallets, cellphones, and Slurpees (but holding them aggressively). The player is then given a short amount of time to decide whether or not to shoot (which must be strange, because shooting in most games is a foregone conclusion -- it's just a question of where to aim).
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"He threatened to freeze my brain and you expected me to not shoot?"
You already can guess the result. When presented with a black subject, players had a much itchier trigger finger -- even if the object held by said subject was something decidedly nonlethal, like a Slurpee (which, to be fair, is apparently something you can hijack a plane with, according to the TSA). By contrast, they took much longer to decide whether the white subjects presented an immediate danger, even when the subject was obviously holding a handgun. Now, here's the kicker: results were similar across the board, regardless of whether the player was white, black, young, or old enough to be Marge Schott's bridge partner.
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"Watch out; he's got a bad credit rating!"
In case you're thinking, "Man, what kind of asshole brigade did they round up in order to end up with those results," go ahead and give the game a try for yourself. What you may find is what science already knows: being open-minded and tolerant takes effort and consideration. When put under stress and made to make a split-second decision, we tend to fall back on old knee-jerk impulses implanted by years of bullshit conditioning.
And there's an even weirder aspect to this ...
#4. We're Oddly Sure That Black People Are Incapable of Feeling Pain
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The above seems to combine two beliefs: that black people are more likely to have evil intentions and that it takes a more immediate and violent response to stop them. In other words, that blacks are not only more dangerous but are superhuman. Not in a good way, either, but in the way zombies and bears are perceived -- relentless and impervious to harm.
"The test results are in. You're an unstoppable killing machine."
First, researchers decided to test the racial empathy gap, which suggests that people are unable to empathize with pain in people of different races. A series of experiments showed that white subjects' palms began to sweat uncontrollably when they were forced to watch a white person's skin get prodded with a needle. Conversely, when watching the needle come into contact with black skin, they sweated less -- meaning that they didn't "feel the pain" as much when seeing it inflicted on a black person. This potentially goes a long way in explaining why the survival rate for every non-white character in a horror movie hovers somewhere between 10 percent and "Sean Bean."
"Walk it off, pussies."
Another study asked participants to rate how much pain they would experience from everyday occurrences, such as stubbing a toe or getting shampoo in their eye, as compared to another randomly selected black or white subject. The participants overwhelmingly rated the same injuries as being more painful for white people. Even nurses assumed that common injuries cause more pain in white people (again, regardless of the race of the nurse -- even black nurses subconsciously think that other black people are cyborgs). This bias extends beyond race to perceived privilege, as well: people tend to think that a broken leg hurts a lot less for a street kid in a drug-ravaged neighborhood than it does for a kid in the suburbs whose biggest hardship thus far was getting an iPhone 6 a week after launch day.
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"I had to take all your Vicodin just to make it through the weekend."
It's tempting to say this is actually an anti-white bias (that black people are seen as tougher and white people are pussies), but remember that not even doctors are immune to making this unconscious assumption: minorities are prescribed a lot less pain medication than white people are, even when being treated for the exact same conditions. Furthermore, doctors are twice as likely to marginalize and misdiagnose painful symptoms in black patients than in any other ethnicity. That is, a black person may tell their doctor they're experiencing a pain level of 8, but the doctor will record it as a 4 to adjust for the Herculean pain sensors it has been randomly decided that black people possess. Having a reputation as a badass becomes a huge negative when even doctors don't believe how much pain you're in.
#3. College Professors Favor White Males Over Everyone
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College is that period of life in which you're called upon to make seemingly major decisions about your future despite not having any more of an idea of what the hell you want to do with yourself than you did in high school. Luckily, college campuses are full of prickly yet kind-hearted professors dedicated to mentoring bright young people onto the path of wisdom and fortune -- that is, as long as those young people happen to be white men. Everyone else can apparently go straight to hell.
A group of researchers led by Katherine Milkman at the University of Pennsylvania wanted to see if professors responded differently to unsolicited emails reaching out for mentorships, depending on whether said request came from Todd Stevenson, Jenny Bluth, or Lamar McPersonofcolorston. After emailing more than 6,500 professors at the top 250 schools in the country, they found that names that sounded like they belonged to minorities and women were as much as 25 percent less likely to get a positive reply than white-sounding male names, such as Channing Butterworth.
"Good morning, sir, I'm ... Cornelius Rockefeller the Third."
Other than the names of the senders, the messages were completely identical. They were all some variation of, simply, "I'm a big admirer of your work, and I am considering a PhD in your field. Would you kindly take 10 minutes to meet with me?"
Some of the findings, while totally depressing, weren't exactly that surprising: the biggest disparities happened among professors in private universities and in fields that are very lucrative, such as engineering and the sciences. The stats on business schools were the worst, which pretty much coincides with the rich, white, boys club we all picture big business to be.
"I remember the good old days when I didn't have to talk to you women either."
What was surprising was that, again, the professor's race, gender, and department had no bearing on the snubs -- the fictional white male sounding names were heavily favored above everyone else. So, if you're a college hopeful looking to earn a PhD with the help of a mentor in your chosen field, the best advice we can offer is to change your name to Channing Butterworth. Regardless of the race or gender of the person at the other end, chances are they'll (consciously or subconsciously) decide you're more deserving of their time.