Now that we have examined prejudice, discrimination and racism in the United States, what have we found? Did the historic election of Barack Obama as president in 2008 signify a new era of equality between the races, "post-racial" as many observers wrote, or did his election occur despite the continued existence of pervasive racial and ethnic inequality?
On the one hand, there has been cause for hope. Legal segregation is gone. The vicious, “old-fashioned”, overt racism that was so rampant in this country into the 1960s declined dramatically since that tumultuous time (though such racism is on the uptick). People of color made have made important gains in several spheres of life, and African Americans and other people of color now occupy some important elected positions in and outside the South, a feat that would have been unimaginable a generation ago. Perhaps most notably, Barack Obama has African ancestry and identifies as an African American, and on his 2008 election night people across the country wept with joy at the symbolism of his victory. Certainly progress has been made in US racial and ethnic relations. In a surprise win in 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become one of the most outspoken members in the U.S. House. Kamala Harris is now the first female, and first person of color, to hold the position of Vice-President of the U.S. In a 2021 competitive run-off election in Georgia, Reverend Raphael Warnock claimed victory, and he became the 11th African American elected to the U.S. Senate.
On the other hand, there is also cause for despair. Old-fashioned racism has been replaced by a modern, symbolic racism that still blames people of color for their problems and reduces public support for government policies to deal with their problems. Remember how Asian Americans were stigmatized and blamed for COVID-19? Institutional discrimination remains pervasive, and hate crimes, cross burnings, and white supremacist rallies remain all too common. Pervasive is also suspicion of people based solely on the color of their skin, as the Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor tragedies reminds us. And, Obama's election triggered the racist "birther movement" - which erroneously charged that he was not born in the United States - and perhaps fueled the alt-right, white supremacist backlash that has reared its head many times in the past several years, most recently with domestic terrorism at the U.S. Capitol riot on January 6, 2021.
Reducing Prejudice through Intergroup Contact
One of the reasons that people may hold stereotypes and prejudices is that they view the members of out-groups as different from them. We may become concerned that our interactions with people from different racial groups will be unpleasant, and these anxieties may lead us to avoid interacting with people from those groups (Mallett, Wilson, & Gilbert, 2008). What this suggests is that a good way to reduce prejudice is to help people create closer connections with members of different groups. People will be more favorable toward others when they learn to see those other people as more similar to them, as closer to the self, and to be more concerned about them.
The idea that intergroup contact will reduce prejudice, known as the intergroup contact hypothesis, is simple: If children from different race-ethnic groups play and interact together in school, their attitudes toward each other should improve. And, if we encourage college students to travel abroad, they will meet people from other cultures and become more positive toward them.
One important example of the use of intergroup contact to influence prejudice came about as a result of the important U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed, based in large part on the testimony of psychologists, that bussing Black children to schools attended primarily by white children, and vice versa, would produce positive outcomes on intergroup attitudes, not only because it would provide Black children with access to better schools, but also because the resulting intergroup contact would reduce prejudice between Black and white children. This strategy seemed particularly appropriate at the time it was implemented because most schools in the United States then were highly segregated by race.
The strategy of bussing was initiated after the Supreme Court decision, and it had a profound effect on schools in the United States. For one, the policy was very effective in changing school makeup—the number of segregated schools decreased dramatically during the 1960s after the policy was begun. Bussing also improved the educational and occupational achievement of Blacks and increased the desire of Blacks to interact with whites; for instance, by forming cross-race friendships (Stephan, 1999). Overall, then, the case of desegregating schools in the United States supports the expectation that intergroup contact, at least in the long run, can be successful in changing attitudes. Nevertheless, as a result of several subsequent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the policy of desegregating schools via bussing was not continued past the 1990s.
Although student bussing to achieve desegregated schools represents one prominent example of intergroup contact, such contact occurs in many other areas as well. Taken together, there is substantial support for the effectiveness of intergroup contact in improving group attitudes in a wide variety of situations, including schools, work organizations, military forces, and public housing. Pettigrew and Tropp (2006) conducted a meta-analysis in which they reviewed over 500 studies that had investigated the effects of intergroup contact on group attitudes. They found that attitudes toward groups that were in contact became more positive over time. Furthermore, positive effects of contact were found on both stereotypes and prejudice and for many different types of contacted groups.
The positive effects of intergroup contact may be due in part to increases in other-concern. Galinsky and Moskowitz (2000) found that leading students to take the perspective of another group member—which increased empathy and closeness to the person—also reduced prejudice. And the behavior of students on college campuses demonstrates the importance of connecting with others and the dangers of not doing so. Sidanius, Van Laar, Levin, and Sinclair (2004) found that students who joined exclusive campus groups, including fraternities, sororities, and minority ethnic organizations (such as the African Student Union), were more prejudiced to begin with and became even less connected and more intolerant of members of other social groups over the time that they remained in the organizations. It appears that memberships in these groups focused the students on themselves and other people who were very similar to them, leading them to become less tolerant of others who are different.
Although intergroup contact does work, it is not a panacea because the conditions necessary for it to be successful are frequently not met. Contact can be expected to work only in situations that create the appropriate opportunities for change. For one, contact will only be effective if it provides information demonstrating that the existing stereotypes held by the individuals are incorrect. When we learn more about groups that we didn’t know much about before, we learn more of the truth about them, leading us to be less biased in our beliefs. But if our interactions with the group members do not allow us to learn new beliefs, then contact cannot work.
When we first meet someone from another category, we are likely to rely almost exclusively on our stereotypes (Brodt & Ross, 1998). However, when we get to know the individual well (e.g., as a student in a classroom learns to know the other students over a school year), we may get to the point where we ignore that individual’s group membership almost completely, responding to him or her entirely at the individual level (Madon et al., 1998). Thus contact is effective in part because it leads us to get past our perceptions of others as group members and to individuate them.
When we get past group memberships and focus more on the individuals in the groups, we begin to see that there is a great deal of variability among the group members and that our global and undifferentiating group stereotypes are actually not that informative (Rothbart & John, 1985). Successful intergroup contact tends to reduce the perception of out-group homogeneity. Contact also helps us feel more positively about the members of the other group, and this positive affect makes us like them more.
Intergroup contact is also more successful when the people involved in the contact are motivated to learn about the others. One factor that increases this motivation is interdependence—a state in which the group members depend on each other for successful performance of the group goals (Neuberg & Fiske, 1987). The importance of interdependence can be seen in the success of cooperative learning techniques, such as the jigsaw classroom (Aronson, Blaney, Stephan, Sikes, & Snapp, 1978; Aronson, 2004).
The jigsaw classroom is an approach to learning in which students from different racial or ethnic groups work together, in an interdependent way, to master material. The class is divided into small learning groups, where each group is diverse in ethnic and gender composition. The assigned material to be learned is divided into as many parts as there are students in the group, and members of different groups who are assigned the same task meet together to help develop a strong report. Each student then learns his or her own part of the material and presents this piece of the puzzle to the other members of his or her group. The students in each group are therefore interdependent in learning all the material. A wide variety of techniques, based on principles of the jigsaw classroom, are in use in many schools around the world, and research studying these approaches has found that cooperative, interdependent experiences among students from different social groups are effective in reducing negative stereotyping and prejudice (Stephan, 1999).
In sum, we can say that contact will be most effective when it is easier to get to know, and become more respectful of, the members of the other group and when the social norms of the situation promote equal, fair treatment of all groups. If the groups are treated unequally, for instance, by a teacher or leader who is prejudiced and who therefore treats the different groups differently, or if the groups are in competition rather than cooperation, there will be no benefit. In cases when these conditions are not met, contact may not be effective and may in fact increase prejudice, particularly when it confirms stereotypical expectations (Stangor, Jonas, Stroebe, & Hewstone, 1996). Finally, it is important that enough time be allowed for the changes to take effect. In the case of bussing in the United States, for instance, the positive effects of contact seemed to have been occurring, but they were not happening particularly fast.
Why is it Important to Reduce Racial Prejudice and Racism?
Here are some reasons why racial prejudice and racism should be reduced:
- They impede or prevent the object of racism from achieving his or her full potential as a human being.
- They impede or prevent the object of racism from making his or her fullest contribution to society.
- They impede or prevent the person or group engaging in racist actions from benefiting from the potential contributions of their victim, and, as a result, weaken the community as a whole.
- They increase the present or eventual likelihood of retaliation by the object of racist actions.
- They go against many of the democratic ideals upon which the United States and other democracies were founded.
- Racism is illegal, in many cases.
Racial prejudice and racism feed on each other. If racial prejudice is not reduced, it could lead to racism, and if racism is not addressed, it could lead to more prejudice. This is why strategies to address discrimination on the basis of race should be thorough and multifaceted so that both individual attitudes and institutionalized practices are affected.
In addition, here are some examples of why racial prejudice and racism should be addressed in your community building effort if more than one racial or ethnic group is involved:
- Every participant in your effort has his or her own understanding of the world and how it works. The European American residents in the neighborhood don't understand why the new immigrants from Guatemala have to stand at the street corner to get work (they are commonly referred to as day laborers). They think it is because they are either "illegal" or too lazy to find full-time jobs. Part of the problem is that the residents have not had the opportunity to debunk these stereotypes through direct interaction and contact with the day laborers and to hear their stories.
- Every participant in your effort is polite, respectful, and empathetic towards each of the others, and understands that in order to address a common concern, they all have to work together; yet, they have not been able to engage a representative from the Black members in their community. It helps to understand why Black folx have traditionally been "left out" and how important it is to keep finding ways to engage them.
- The board of directors of a local community center gets together to discuss ways to improve the center so that it is more welcoming to people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. They come up with ideas such as hiring more culturally diverse staff, posting notices in different languages, hosting food festivals, and celebrating various cultural events. It helps the participants to understand that even though they are taking the first steps to becoming culturally sensitive, their institutional policies may still be racist because they have not included anyone from the various racial and ethnic groups to participate in the strategic planning process, thereby not sharing their power.
Addressing racial prejudice and racism also means dealing with racial exclusion and injustice. Ultimately, this means that your community building effort is promoting democracy, a value of the United States and its Constitution.
In other words, there are both moral and sometimes legal reasons to act against racism. There are also strong pragmatic reasons as well. Racial prejudice and racism can harm not only the victims, but also the larger society, and indirectly the very people who are engaging in the acts. What's more, some important new research suggests that in some cases, racist actions can cause physiological harm to the victims. For example, a recent review of physiological literature concludes:
Interethnic group and intraethnic group racism are significant stressors for many African-Americans. As such, intergroup and intragroup racism may play a role in the high rates of morbidity and mortality in this population (Clark, Anderson, Clark, & Williams, 1999).
Before you decide on the best activities and strategies, do the following:
- Learn about your community (e.g., what groups live there, what has been the nature of their relationships, what incidents have occurred in the past due to racial prejudice or racism).
- Document activities in your community that reflect racial prejudice or racism. Documentation will show proof that there is a problem, especially when the community is in denial that racism exists.
- Invite a group of people to participate in the planning process, if appropriate (e.g., the advocates who always take action, the representatives of each group, the people who are affected).
- Understand the depth of the problem (e.g., it's a new problem because of a group of newcomers, or it's an old problem that won't go away).
- Identify and understand the kinds of policies that may need to be challenged.
- Determine the short-term and long-term, if any, goals of your strategy (e.g., change people's attitudes and/or change an institutional policy).
- Consider how far the selected strategy(ies) will take your community (e.g., as far as initial awareness, or all the way to electing officials from the under-represented groups).
- Consider what existing resources you can build on and what additional assistance or resources you may need (e.g., anti-racism training, funding, or buy-in from the mayor).
- Consider how much time you have (e.g., are you responding to a crisis that needs to be dealt with immediately, to the need to curb a festering issue, or to the desire to promote the value of diversity).
- Review your strategies to ensure that they deal with racial prejudice and racism at the individual, community, and institutional levels, and they link dialogue to action.
Things You Can Do in the Workplace: From Reducing Racial Prejudice to Reducing Racism
- Actively recruit and hire a racially and ethnically diverse staff.
While it's not enough just to fill your staff with a rainbow of people from different backgrounds, representation from a variety of groups is an important place to start. Contact minority organizations, social groups, networks, media, and places where people of different ethnic and cultural groups congregate or access information. If you use word-of-mouth as a recruitment tool, spread the word to members of those groups, or key contact people. Also, consider writing an equal-opportunity policy for hiring and promoting staff.
- Actively recruit culturally and ethnically diverse board members, executives, and managers.
Racial prejudice can be reduced if the staff becomes diverse and raises the awareness of each other, but racism is reduced when power is shared by the leadership.
In order to move beyond racial prejudice and ensure inclusiveness, your organization’s board members and executives should reflect the communities or constituencies it serves. For instance, one group decided to reserve a certain number of slots on its governing board for representatives of the cultural and ethnic groups in the community.
- Talk to the people of color on your staff and ask them what barriers or attitudes they face at work. Examine your newsletter or other publications and look out for negative portrayals, exclusion, or stereotypes.
Find out how you can improve your workplace for members from diverse racial and ethnic groups that work there. This will not only give you some practical ideas about what you need to work on, but it will also signify that the needs of every group is taken seriously. Look around at any artwork you have in your offices. Are any groups represented in a stereotypical way? Is there diversity in the people portrayed? For example, if all the people in the clip art used in your newsletter are European Americans, you should make an effort to use clip art that shows a bigger variety of people.
- Form a permanent task force or committee dedicated to forming and monitoring a plan for promoting inclusion and fighting racism in your workplace.
Racial prejudice is reduced by developing relationships and ensuring that materials are culturally sensitive, but racism is reduced when there is a permanent task force or committee that becomes part of the governance structure to ensure inclusive and just institutional policies.
Things You Can Do in the Media: Reducing Racial Prejudice to Reducing Racism
- Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper or contact your local TV and radio station when the coverage is biased or when there is no coverage at all.
The media plays a powerful role in conveying messages to the public. Racial prejudice exists in the media if, for instance, the reporters always reveal the cultural or ethnic background of a group of loitering youth when they are persons of color, but not otherwise. Writing a letter or contacting the local media stations will help increase their staff’s awareness about the implications of the prejudiced way in which they cover the news.
- Organize a coalition of leaders from diverse communities and from the local media groups to discuss how they can work together to address the way people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds are presented in the media.
Having a long-term vision of how the community and media representatives can work together will help address racism at the institutional level. In order to do this, it is advisable to organize the community leaders and media representatives separately to discuss their issues and then facilitate a meeting between them. This will provide you and the facilitator a chance to know about the concerns and challenges before convening everyone.
- Contact the local media and organize presentations.
You can contact and organize presentations to educate the staff about the values and traditions of diverse groups and help them understand the negative implications of their coverage related to race and ethnicity.
- Pressure the local media organizations to develop and enforce policies for hiring staff from different racial and ethnic background.
You can help broker relationships between the media organizations and organizations that serve a specific cultural or ethnic group (e.g., NAACP, National Council of La Raza) so that networks can be developed to distribute job announcements.
In order to get information about how to cover different cultural and ethnic groups, media representatives can seek advice from the following:
- Asian American Journalists Association
- South Asian Journalists Association
- National Association of Black Journalists
Things You Can Do in the Schools: Reducing Racial Prejudice to Reducing Racism
- Form a diversity task force or club. Recognize holidays and events relating to a variety of cultural and ethnic groups.
This can be done in a school or university setting. Your diversity group can sponsor panel discussions, awareness activities, and cultural events to help prevent racism. Observing and conducting educational activities about events like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, Juneteenth, and other dates of significance to people of colors provides an opportunity for students to learn about the history of different cultural and ethnic groups and reduce misinformed or inaccurate perceptions.
- Conduct field trips to historical places that represent struggles against racism or places that embody the values and traditions of another group of people.
- Work to include anti-racism education in your school's curriculum. Develop a strategy to change racist policies in your school.
Recognizing the traditions of other cultural and ethnic groups and developing intercultural relationships will reduce racial prejudice. Examine and change school policies that perpetuate exclusion of some cultural or ethnic groups.
Develop procedures for dealing with racist acts and provide incentives (e.g., extra credits, special recognition) for efforts to promote cross-racial understanding.
Lobby your school board to make changes or additions to the curriculum to teach anti-racism and to provide seed grants to teachers or instructors to help them conduct research and activities about racism and to promote anti-racist values and principles.
Examine the recruitment, application, and admissions process for students, teachers, and staff from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Things You Can Do in Your Neighborhood: Reducing Racial Prejudice to Reducing Racism
- Welcome all newcomers. Make "safe zone" signs or stickers.
Form a committee to welcome anyone who moves into your neighborhood regardless of what they look like. Send representatives from your committee or neighborhood association over to the new person's house with flowers, a fruit basket, or some other small gift and say, "We're glad you're living here. We welcome you." Some neighborhoods have made small signs or stickers for their homes that read, "We welcome good neighbors of all traditions, backgrounds, and faiths." These stand in contrast to the small signs in many yards that warn would-be intruders of the particular security system they've had installed.
Write articles about different cultures and their traditions in the neighborhood newsletter or newspaper. Place advertisements about different cultural celebrations.
- Identify and change policies that are exclusive and maintain the status quo.
Making someone feel a part of your neighborhood helps to reduce racial prejudice. Addressing redlining (the illegal practice of a lending institution denying loans or restricting their number for certain areas of a community) reduces racist policies.
Organize a committee of lawyers, real-estate agents, lending institutions, and community and civil rights leaders to conduct a study and present the facts to the local government. If there is a neighborhood association or council, consider if it is representative of the neighborhood's demographics and diversity. If not, develop strategies for engaging leaders (formal and informal) from the underrepresented groups.
Things You Can Do in Your Community: Reducing Racial Prejudice to Reducing Racism
- Organize a cleanup or rebuilding campaign to erase racist graffiti or eliminate vandalism. Put up "Hate Free Zones" signs in the community.
Doing something as a community to repair physical damage done by racism shows that the people in your town won't stand for such displays of hatred. It also can attract media attention to your cause and put a positive spin on a negative situation.
- Organize a city-wide coalition of community leaders made up of representatives from the different cultural and ethnic groups, as well as different community sectors (e.g., police, schools, businesses, local government) to examine their existing policies and determine what needs to change.
Doing something as a group of residents demonstrates the individuals' commitment to reduce prejudice. Creating a governing body that represents institutional leaders helps to reduce racism at the institutional level.
Reviewing hiring and contracting policies in the city government will help change institutional norms that could be perpetuating economic disparities.
- Identify and support new candidates from different racial and ethnic groups to run for city council and other community-wide governing bodies.
Conducting candidate forums and voter registration drives will increase residents' knowledge about the candidates and what they stand for, and increase the candidates' accountability to their constituents should they win.
St. Francis De Sales Central Elementary Cleanup Campaign
In Morgantown, West Virginia, a convenience store had been painted with racist skinhead graffiti. After their teacher showed them a video on how another town had fought hate, a 6th grade class at St. Francis De Sales Central Elementary decided that if the graffiti was left alone, it would give the impression that the community didn't care about racism. The kids got together and painted over the graffiti, earning them the thanks of the state Attorney General and publicizing their point.
Toronto Coalition Against Racism
In the summer of 1993, Toronto experienced a rise in increasingly violent racism, much of which was directed at Tamil immigrants. Much of the violence was being done by neo-Nazis. Eventually, a large protest was held, with 3,000 people led by the Tamil community chanting "Immigrants In! Nazis Out!"
The people who organized the protest went on to form the Toronto Coalition Against Racism. TCAR is a coalition of 50 community-based anti-racist and social justice organizations. According to its website, TCAR has been involved in many community actions since forming, including:
- Opposing a ban placed on Filipino youth from entering a local mall
- Working with the Somali community to oppose harassment by security guards and landlords at a housing complex
- Mobilizing the public through forums and actions in defense of immigrant and refugee rights
- Supporting the Tamil Resource Center as it struggled to rebuild its library and office after a firebombing in May 1995
- Put together a community forum or town event on racism.
Give citizens a chance to talk about how racism affects your community can give you insight into how people feel on the subject, ideas on what you and others can do to combat racism, a chance to let people who share similar concerns to network with each other, and to publicly let racists know that your community will not stand for racism in its midst.
- Create an intentional strategy that engages local government, business, education, media, and other leaders to demonstrate the commitment to eliminate racism in the institutions in your community.
Conducting public forums and events will increase awareness and reduce racial prejudice. Working in a coalition made up of cross-sector leaders and developing a clear plan will move your community towards a more sustainable effort to eliminate racism.
Bringing together leaders to create a strategy that deliberately, systematically, and explicitly deals with racism will enable your community to have a longer-term vision for a just and healthy community. Each institution should find a way for how it can contribute to eliminating racism in its policies and practices. The media should be involved to help get the word out. Credible leaders need to take a public stand to promote and validate the effort. Work to ensure that diversity is valued and included in the city government's mission statement
- Make an effort to support events that celebrate the traditions of different cultural and ethnic groups.
This can be as simple as including such events on the community calendar and actively publicizing them. Your organization can also co-sponsor these events to show its support.
- Organize vigils, anti-racism demonstrations, protests, or rallies.
If a racist group or incident occurred in your community, organizing a vigil, demonstration or public protest will not only give you and others some effective way to respond, but also help give hope to your community by having everyone come.
After September 11, various immigrant communities held vigils to express their sympathy for the World Trade Center and Pentagon victims and their families, speak out against anti-Muslim acts, and show their commitment and loyalty to the United States.
The Center for Healthy Communities in Dayton, Ohio hosted a community forum titled "Race, Ethnicity and Public Policy: A Community Dialogue" in the fall of 1997. This community forum gave a panel of local expert as well as members of the audience the chance to ask mayoral and city commission candidates questions about the impact of racism on the Dayton community and the role it plays in local public policy decisions. More than 150 people attended, including state and local officials, community organizers, clergy, citizens, and students.
South Orange/Maplewood Coalition on Race's long-term vision for an integrated community
The Coalition developed strategies at the individual, community, and institutional levels to foster and support an integrated neighborhood. The Coalition is planning to conduct study circles to provide residents an opportunity to build relationships. A community-wide activity was to invite Beverly Daniel Tatum to a community forum to talk about racism and how it affects our children's education. The Coalition worked with local bookstores to first sell Ms. Tatum's book at a reduced cost and to publicize the community forum. During the community forum after Ms. Tatum's presentation, small group discussions were held by facilitators that the Coalition provided. At the institutional level, there is loan program for homebuyers that is designed to encourage and improve neighborhood diversity in particular areas of the community where one race is underrepresented. They also worked closely with the school district to "reinvent" a school to become a "Lab school," which has attracted a more diverse student population to the school, and increased demand among people of different races for the neighborhood around the school.
Things You Can Do as an Individual: Fighting Racial Prejudice to Fighting Racism
You don't have to form a group to do something about racism. As an individual, there are many steps that you can take to reduce another person's prejudice, including:
- Make a commitment to speak up when you hear racial slurs or remarks that signal racial prejudice.
- Take advantage of events and other informational materials during Black History Month or Hispanic Heritage Month and make it a point to learn something new about different cultures.
- Think about ways to improve your workplace to promote racial understand and equity. Be proactive about making suggestions.
- If you are a parent, give your child opportunities to attend events about other cultures. Integrate different traditions about parenting and children's festivals into your parent teacher association and your child's school. Work with the teachers to coordinate such opportunities.
Changing people's attitudes and institutional practices is hard but necessary work. A commitment among individuals, organizations, and institutions to valuing diversity is essential for healthy communities. Changes will not happen overnight, but you can begin to take small steps towards making a difference, as suggested in this section. These small steps build the foundation for more organized, deeper, and larger efforts to build inclusive communities, a topic that will be discussed in the next section of this chapter.
As we all learn how to be more committed and caring to each other, we will build a strong foundation for change in our communities. The stronger the trust and commitment people have, as individuals and between groups, the more effective they will be in uniting around important issues.
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