Monday, August 28, 2023


I love watching Korean tv series, but admit other than a few stars I have trouble identifying some of the lesser roles which too often results in confusion about who is the good one and who is not and of course in reality it is more complicated.  This phenomenon is not as rare as I thought.  Author Jennifer L. Eberhardt recalls as a young black student her parents moved to a mostly white neighborhood where she found it very difficult to distinguish the faces of her new white friends.  

Another (true) story recounts how elderly Chinese women found their purses being snatched by young black men, but they couldn't identify them in a police lineup because they all looked alike.  This of course leads to fear of all black men.  The point of these stories is that most people are better at recognizing the faces of their own race.

Personal stories are one of the tools used by the author to help us understand bias.  Her stories come from Harvard, Jamaica, grocery store, prison, school, children, relatives, etc.  There are a lot of scientific studies referred to, but for some stories have more impact.  Check

Blacks perhaps represent the most obvious example of prejudice.  Prejudice starts with a bias for one's own group.  To justify the degrading handling of black people the white elites dehumanized them.  They lacked intelligence and morality.  When evolution was publicized it was pointed out that whites were at the top of the human scale.

Discrimination is pointed out from many angles.  Under Jim Crow, blacks were poorly educated, kept outside of white neighborhoods, unable to vote and forced to defer to whites.  They were very restricted for available housing and had to pay a premium for loans.  Going through until current times blacks were far more likely to run into problems with the law.  The United States has the highest  incarceration in the world and blacks are over represented.   The bail system handicaps blacks who in turn spend more time in jail exasperating problems with employers and family.  The discrimination is to an extent self reinforcing which further justifies prejudice.  The color black itself triggers prejudice.

Police officers are also biased like the rest of the population.  The nature of their job creates stress, that heightens bias, even among black officers.  They witness violence and people they are trying to help turn against them.  Police are not trusted which results in witnesses refusing to testify.   This creates a vicious cycle.

Jennifer Eberhardt visited Charlottesville a few months after the riots.  In truth the racists were outnumbered and many of the students and staffs were very upset about what they saw as an invasion.  Eberhardt points out that although there have been some victories towards equality we take too much for granted and much work remains.

Another story with deeper implications.  Two black men waiting for a colleague at Starbucks found themselves handcuffed and escorted to a police vehicle.  Starbucks did try to remedy the situation not only with an official apology delivered in person, but also spent a lot of money for bias training sessions.  The author then reflected that perhaps the original complaining waitress was trying to do her job and was concerned about how other customers were reacting.  Perhaps she was just reacting to a public bias. 

A reference to Donald Trump is short, but impactful.  Ron De Santis is not mentioned, but his attacks on Critical Race Theory bring out biases from his supporters.  Such politically powerful men set an example that for many reinforces their deepest biases.  I have always felt that education is a key to minimizing prejudice.  Also close contact, but the author contends we need to realize there will be bumps along the road.

AirBnb found that both whites and black hosts would turn down blacks.  A pledge to abide by some ethical standards helped to reduce discrimination, but some potential hosts declined the opportunity.

Oakland police alarmed over criticism took some steps to improve.  Training for greater awareness of bias is one aspect the author has been directly involved in.  In the past, pursuing suspected criminals too often led to innocent people getting hurt.  The new policy would call off pursuit when suspects entered back yards or dead end alleys.  Backup was to be called and officers to slow down.  It was acknowledged that bias kicked in for high stress situations.   They were also an early adopter of body cameras which helped make officers aware they were being recorded.  The result was less civilian injuries while the crime rate was lowered.

Blacks are far from the only victims of bias.  Other racial minorities, women, gays and Jews are referred to in this coverage.  Whatever one feels affiliated with must be okay, but others not necessarily.

The term bias is perhaps the key to understanding prejudice.  One of my university sociology professors told us that "pride" in your own group makes you think those outside your group are not as good.  Now I would substitute the word "comfort"  We feel most secure with those like us and too often are afraid of others.  We need to seek common ground.  From the same course we were asked to write about our own prejudice and I chose older people, even though I had good relations with two grandmothers.  Now that I am 75 I feel there definitely is prejudice against older people as there also is against younger people.

I have been a bit self-righteous, thinking I was beyond prejudice, but digging inside I learned that was never true. 

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