5 Studies That Prove Racism Is Still Way Worse Than We Think
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:
In a Simulation, We're Much Quicker to Shoot Black Men
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.
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).
"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.
"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 ...
We're Oddly Sure That Black People Are Incapable of Feeling Pain
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.
"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.
College Professors Favor White Males Over Everyone
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.
We're Less Willing to Pay Blacks for the Same Services
Airbnb, the eBay of renting your child's room to a dangerous transient while they're away at camp for the summer, has become incredibly popular within the last few years. It allows you to pick up some substantial extra money by sidestepping all the taxes and regulations put in place to defend renters from exploitative landlords and hoteliers. Indeed, it is an incredible moneymaker for everyone who chooses to participate -- just so long as you aren't a black person.
"But we redid our kitchen in white to make you feel more welcome!"
Airbnb (again, similar to eBay) operates on the basis of trust. Every host has a detailed profile that includes a photograph, reviews from past hosts or guests, and recommendations from friends. It's basically Facebook, if Facebook included an open invitation for strangers on the Internet to sleep in your guest bed for hundreds of dollars a week. However, research shows that people, regardless of skin color, tend to find white faces more trustworthy than black faces. This is especially true when money is involved: people are willing to take bigger financial risks with a stranger if the stranger looks more like Randy Quaid than Denzel Washington.
This helps explain the results of a recent study by two professors at Harvard Business School examining the differences between what white and black hosts charge for rooms on Airbnb. The professors canvassed every New York City listing on the site and found that white hosts were able to charge 12 percent more than black hosts for near-identical rooms in practically the same location.
"Don't worry; the only black you'll find here is the plague."
The difference in price is greater in neighborhoods that people think of as unsafe -- suggesting that rooms in less desirable areas offered for rent by white hosts are seen as safe havens in unsafe neighborhoods, while those from black hosts are perceived as being about on par with the Thunderbird Motel in terms of likelihood of being murdered in a late-night invasion. Despite the fact that the rooms in question are virtually identical, people would apparently rather sleep in their cars than pay a black host the same amount as a white host on Airbnb.
Speaking of which ...
Related: Hey Spotify, Pay the Comics
Real Estate Agents Have All Sorts of Creative Ways to Avoid Working With Minorities
Housing discrimination was once as blatantly rampant as televised singing competitions, until the practice was officially banned by the federal government in 1968. Unfortunately, as with most things that are banned by the federal government, many people view that as less of a roadblock and more of a rough spot in the pavement that simply requires a bit of "creative" (aka "sidewalk") driving.
"I know you think this house is beautiful, but do you know what else is beautiful?
The bride who was murdered here on her wedding night."
We know this because about once every 10 years the Department of Housing and Urban Development tests the housing market for discrimination. The first test, in 1977, showed that real estate agents were essentially behaving like bouncers for the world's most unabashedly racist nightclub: they'd tell black buyers that there were no listings available, then turn right around and show all those "unavailable" properties to white buyers. Sure, it's different nowadays -- minorities have about the same chance of getting shown available units as white people. But that's only because real estate agents have figured out a bunch of sneakier ways to avoid actually leasing anything to non-white applicants.
They'll show minority prospects fewer of their available units or show them homes in less desirable neighborhoods. Real estate agents and landlords also tend to hassle minorities more about their finances: in one instance from the latest HUD test, an agent refused to meet with a black tester who hadn't prequalified for a loan. However, that same agent happily met with a white tester and didn't even ask whether or not she had prequalified. And speaking of loans, agents are more than happy to help white applicants secure financing, but any minority prospects are expected to figure that shit out on their own.
"I think I figured out the down payment. How attached are you to having two kidneys?"
Finally, in what is arguably the most insane submarining tactic of modern real estate, agents will often tell minority candidates that a unit is more expensive than it actually is, to discourage them from leasing it (the unit's actual price is freely disclosed to white applicants, however). Additionally, white prospects are told that certain costs, such as deposits, are negotiable, whereas minority prospects are given static, immovable figures across the board. This means that if a person of color actually succeeds in finding a place to live, they'll often wind up paying more for it than a white tenant would.
None of this speakeasy bullshit is meant to suggest that the more overt discrimination in real estate has completely died out, however -- one undercover investigation by the Fair Housing Justice Center discovered that some superintendents in New York City are still sticking to the time-honored tradition of straight-up telling minority applicants that no units are available, while simultaneously showing any and all Princes of Whiteness their cornucopia of available properties. And unless you feel like returning in a few weeks to knock on every single door in the building to see if anyone answers, you have absolutely no way of knowing whether that landlord who brusquely told you there were no vacancies left in his building was lying or not.
"This apartment isn't vacant; they're ... minimalists. Ghost minimalists."
And that's the thing -- you'd like to think that in the cold, cruel world of business, only the bottom line matters. Why say no to a paying customer, regardless of race? But think about everything you've read up to now: in a world where people are afraid of (or at least, unnerved by) black folks, you might figure it's bad business to rent to them if it means scaring away your other customers. It's kind of like how supposedly liberal Hollywood is careful not to cast too many black actors in a movie, for fear it will scare away white audiences. Even if you're not racist, you might wind up running your business on the assumption that other people are.
And thus the whole cycle just perpetuates itself.
For more ways bigotry still exists in plain sight, check out 8 Racist Ads You Won't Believe Are From the Last Few Years. And then check out 19 Changes to the Internet If All Prejudices Were Reversed.
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