Post No.: 0280
When talking about racism, to generalise too far from specific individual cases is to be racist, whether you, for instance, want to kill ‘any’ black person just because ‘a’ black person raped someone you knew, or kill ‘any’ white person just because ‘a’ white person raped someone you knew, or so on with any other ethnicity. It’s racism to discriminate according to the group a person apparently belongs to rather than treating a person according to his/her own individual merits and flaws. It would be a personal and intellectual step towards enlightenment though if one learns that this attitude is racist rather than continuing to believe that it is not.
It’s like if an alien from another planet killed someone you loved – to then generalise that all members of this alien planet are evil and should be eradicated would be exactly like if one human killed a member of this alien species and then those aliens generalising all humans on Earth as being evil and should be eradicated, or at least any random human would do for revenge. The less we know – and this concerns any subject whatsoever – the more we’ll generalise, stereotype and treat things with overly broad strokes. And we won’t be aware that we’re doing so because we won’t know any better than the limited amount we do know – we logically won’t know what we don’t know. And we can only learn that we once didn’t know something after we’ve learnt about it through education and/or experience, if we ever personally do. For demonstration, you probably didn’t know that you didn’t know that a ‘Löwenheim-Skolem theorem’ existed until you just read it just here, and if you didn’t read it here then you might never have learnt about its existence ever. If you didn’t know such a thing existed then you likely didn’t consider that you might’ve been missing it at all. Therefore, logically, no one can ever be a good judge of the extent of their own knowledge. We are all logically always blind to what and how much we don’t know, no matter how much we do know.
It’s also wrong to believe something like ‘all black people’ aren’t funny. Although humour is based on one’s own subjective opinion, you’ve not heard every black person in the world to justify such a sweeping belief so it’d be more correct to believe that you don’t find ‘those particular black people’ funny – or really, that you don’t find those ‘particular people’ funny because, after all, you probably don’t find everyone from your own ethnicity funny either hence it’s not about the colour but about the particular individuals regardless of their colour. Of course, the same applies with any other combination of ethnicities. Simple minds prefer simple rules of thumb such as ‘all’ or ‘none’, whereas reality is far more complicated and one has likely not experienced or met all instances or cases of something within a (supposed) set, category or group.
We might be okay to speak generally about a group, when addressing a group as a group, if that generalisation is true for that group in general (e.g. ‘dogs generally bark’ is okay but ‘dogs generally attack people’ is not). But we often cannot reliably apply those generalisations to all specific individuals within that group (i.e. not all dogs bark and only a small percentage of dogs are so dangerous). If you’ve seen one dog or a thousand, it doesn’t mean you’ve seen them all. Woof!
Stereotypes can form incredibly early in life, sometimes as a result of how one is raised (e.g. people buying tough trucks for boys and dainty dolls for girls). Commercial advertisements, movies and the media in general also play a major role, and it all adds up and reinforces our perceptions over time. Since we mainly and biasedly take note of salient cues when observing people (such as points of differences because that’s where the interesting information is) we can form stereotypes based on personal experiences too, but our selective perceptions can make us see illusory correlations. Distinctive and unusual pairings are more easily remembered (hence why mentally creating them is one technique to improve one’s memory e.g. visualising a fuzzy wombat with a wonky eye) but they sometimes only stand out precisely because they’re unusual or rare.
Stereotypes can be self-perpetuating due to self-fulfilling prophecies, confirmation biases and priming effects. One’s explicit (conscious and overt) biases/attitudes may change but implicit (unconscious and hidden) biases/attitudes may take many years to change, if ever – overall, fewer people are overtly racist nowadays compared to in the past (although the past is a poor benchmark!) but many still hold racist views and implicit biases deep inside of them somewhere, waiting for the right moment or (echo chamber) environment they feel safe to air these views publicly (such as a perceived collective movement in the community or country that is expressing anti-immigrant sentiments).
We may be able to control our conscious prejudices if we have the desire and put in the effort to, but we may still be prone to our implicit and unconscious biases borne from our upbringing and surrounding culture (e.g. we may still stand further away from, avert our gaze from or smile relatively less towards members of personally less familiar ethnicities, or assume people from a certain ethnicity will only go out with other people of the same ethnicity). So racist people often say that they’re not racist but in private they are, whether consciously and/or unconsciously.
Covert racism is consciously being racist but trying not to show it in public for the risk of the social repercussions, whereas unconscious racism is not consciously realising that one is effectively being racist but is via one’s subtle decisions and actions – which can arguably be revealed via an implicit-association test (IAT) or go/no-go association task (GNAT). Like many biases, there’s a strong bias to not realise or admit that one is racist if one is racist (which is essentially a bias over another bias). Even when tests uncover people’s subconscious or unconscious biases, their conscious minds won’t likely easily accept or believe it because it may be dissonant with their self-concepts.
Therefore an implicit-association bias test can backfire if someone is not truly willing to address their biases – learning about their implicit biases via a test could make them feel exposed and defensive, thus increasing their avoidance of the issue. We may think we do but we don’t have conscious access to our unconscious processes. And just like any trend can make a thing seem ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ in society – people with far-rightwing political views can gradually make far-rightwing views seem ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ within a community or echo chamber i.e. our perceptions of what are ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ can shift depending on the state of our culture or chosen sources of information.
The ‘cross-race effect’ leads to people thinking that members from less familiar ethnicities are less distinguishable from each other (arguably in a similar way that most humans think that all fluffy tigers look the same, or all furry giraffes look the same, etc.).
Aversive racism is when people don’t want to be perceived as racist so they actively avoid people from different races. But this self-reinforces negative and aversive racial interactions with other ethnicities, and thus likely makes such people feel more racist even though they don’t want to be racist at all. So instead of avoiding people of other ethnicities, one must seek friends and interactions with members of other groups, identify what one has in common with them as well as the differences, and speak against racism wherever it appears. Although implicit and unconscious, these prejudices can be indirectly changed over time with constant conscious effort – automatic racial prejudices can be countered by deliberate attempts to counter them, exposure to counter-stereotypical exemplars and positive cross-race interactions. Being exposed to diversity every day is the key. A problem though is that people tend to self-segregate i.e. like tends to prefer to hang around like.
Why are some people surprised if they meet a nice family that has come from abroad or when they’re abroad on holiday? They were surprised because they assumed these people were relatively more primitive or less civil than them and/or they assumed that their own ingroup held one of the highest levels of morality, fairness and so forth possible in the world. We all perceive everything as if we’re at the centre of the universe because that’s what our own eyes and limited experiences experience, and so we each hold enormous fallible biases of perception even though we are each just one being amongst billions. So if you think you or your local ingroup is the greatest then you’re probabilistically not – hence the need for us to be humble, to prejudge strangers better and to not stereotype any group too firmly. Every large outgroup is as diverse as those immediately around us within our own ingroups. And everyone can have bad days too that you just managed to catch if you’ve only seen them once or twice. If you’ve truly interacted with enough people from all across the world enough times, you’d know that good and bad people exist everywhere across the globe, not just in one’s ingroup or country – all countries have bright and dim people, kind and selfish people, pretty and ugly people, etc..
So our reactions of surprise reveal a lot about our own internal biases and worldviews i.e. the reaction is a sign that something has violated what we expected or thought we knew. When someone says, “People in that country were actually very friendly”, it sounds like a compliment and is normally meant well and said without sarcasm, but that compliment reveals an implicit assumption that people in such countries are or were considered inferior or otherwise less friendly than members of other groups. The personal amazement that such people are nice is as patronising as being amazed when blonde women demonstrate great mathematical skill, as if the observation is novel and worth remarking about. No one bothers to say, for instance, “Those women are actually very competent at changing nappies” or, “Those children are actually very adept at playing” – no one feels it needs to be said because no one expects these people to be otherwise. Thus these kinds of reactions reveal so much about our own expectations, assumptions and implicit prejudices. What we are impressed by (which is a surprise response itself) reveals a lot about our own expectations and limited past experiences. Again, it’s usually meant well so doesn’t deserve a harsh retort, but can sound patronising and can reveal our prejudicially low (or high) expectations concerning certain people or groups.
These implicit or unconscious biases and covert prejudices don’t just apply to racism but discriminations related to people’s gender, age, sexuality, disability, religion or weight, for instance. Implicit or unconscious biases do exist. However, whether implicit-association tests are reliable and valid tests to measure such implicit stereotypes or biases has faced strong criticism relatively recently. And when people hold conscious biases then they indeed should be held accountable for their conscious attitudes and behaviours – but does something being unconscious and not under our conscious control make it legitimately excusable? How can it be fair to hold people responsible for things they cannot consciously control?!
Well if some error or injustice is not down to our individual responsibilities then it’s down to society to collectively correct for it, such as via affirmative action policies at workplaces and structural strategies of positive discrimination at the governmental level to readdress the underlying or historical negative discrimination against certain groups. And if changing our unconscious attitudes is incredibly difficult then we must prevent implicit biases from forming in people in the first place i.e. by exposing children to more ethnic, (non-)religious, (dis)ability, etc. diversity starting from as young an age as possible.