February 16, 2009

Stop Being So Prejudiced!

Over a month ago I came across a Harvard University study called Project Implicit. The idea was to create a series of web based tests that would reveal the positive and negative perceptions a person has of various kinds of people. There are tests for everything; race, ethnicity, political candidates, sexuality, religion, etc. The whole project was extremely interesting to me so I began taking some of the different tests. Each test would give you four variables; the one dealing with race for example had variables like Caucasian, African-American, Good, and Bad. The idea here is to see if you can put African-American together with good just as easily as you can Caucasian with good and vice versa.

After completing an exam on race I began to think about the progression of the term "racism". At one time for example being racist meant using derogatory language, treating members of particular groups as inferior people, and possibly even committing crimes against the group. If the racism of the future is going to be a much more subconscious phenomenon then in my opinion that suggests some degree of progress. Of course progress does not mean there isn't much more work to be done. Historically people don't look at problems of prejudice, and intolerance in these terms. We usually as a society have attacked the problem from a strictly legal point of view. If group A does not have the same rights as group B then we'll create some sort of legislation that will make the problem go away and that will be the end of it. This solution usually eneds up being part of the problem. Affirmative Action for example has potentially only reinforced stereotypes of minority groups in the eyes of the majority.

The other option is to create some sort of mandated diversity system. In other words just throw a bunch of different kinds of people together and hope they get over their differences. The idea here being that if people are exposed to individuals that come from many different backgrounds that they would be more accepting of differences. We could start by implementing a pro diversity system in our public schools. Unfortunately such a plan would never work because many parents choose school districts based on which ones will most shelter their children from the kinds of people they have prejudices against. I've always felt that a city's school district lines should be cut like a pie. Each district would have students who are rich, poor, black, white, rural, urban, and everything in between. I realize that I may be naive and that a plan like this could result in complete and utter chaos, but it could eliminate prejudice.

Unlike the public school system Colleges and Universities have always supported the idea of diversity, but even these institutions are facing resistance. The fact is that many colleges have numerous clubs, fraternities/sororities, and organizations aimed at bringing like minded people together. Many fraternities and sororities are even based on what racial, and ethnic group a person belongs to. Granted its normal for young people (most of whom are leaving home for the first time) to gravitate towards the familiar, but these clubs and organizations also prevent people from meeting new kinds of people.

Even if various institutions seem to only enforce prejudice there are still a lot of things that can be does on an individual level to overcome this problem. The Project Implicit website has a question and answer section which explains that by having experiences that contradict prejudices one may be able to alter their perceptions. I've always tried to broaden my perspective by watching equal amounts of MSNBC and FoxNEWS, listening to types of music I once told myself I never would (Country, and HipHop), and just in general tried to keep an open mind about things. I think these are a good first step, but like the Project Implicit Q&A says one must create new experiences that contradict stereotypes and that means spending time with people who are different; not simply watching them on t.v, or listening to their music.

Project Implicit

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