Monday, April 07, 2008

Acting White: When Racism Meets Common Sense

I found this site at the University of Chicago, and thought it raised some interesting issues, not the least of which is how guilt-driven thinking can obscure the obvious. The researchers are attempting to ascertain racial bias by measuring reaction times to armed and unarmed white and black men. Those being tested are asked to either shoot in defense or holster their weapon, whichever is warranted.

The study makes certain assumptions that I question out of the gate. The first is that we should naturally respond to depictions of armed black men and white men exactly the same, or something is wrong. Now if black men and white men committed lethal violence at the same rate, I would expect this. Of course we know that black men commit lethal crimes at 5-6 times the rate of white men, so I would expect reaction times to armed black men to be lower – which they are.

The second, and greater, assumption is about stereotypes themselves, and that they are automatically misleading and should be avoided. In reality, the stereotype at play here, black men as more dangerous, is accurate and the heightened sensitivity this brings is only natural, and would, on average, aid those who might otherwise add themselves to the wrong end of the homicide statistics.

It is guilt-driven thinking that automatically labels all stereotypes as bad, even though such labeling has never stopped anyone, white or black, from continuing to employ them as, sometimes life-saving, shortcuts in support of an increasingly complex world. To survive, every stereotype must contain a ‘kernel of truth’. Without empirical backing they wither onto the scrapheap of selfish bigotry.

As for my test, my split between armed men, black and white, showed that I hesitated more, as did most, on counter-stereotyped targets. In other words, I shot armed black males 15 milliseconds faster than armed white males. My reaction time to unarmed subjects was 2 milliseconds longer for blacks.

I can forgive the crudeness of the on-line test, the actual research efforts (paper) looks to be significantly more robust. The NYT took its own cut as well. However, avoiding the taboos in the assumptions is a fatal flaw.

James C. Collier


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afronerd said...

Thanks for the tip regarding this site, James. I will include a link to your post from my site as well. Ironically, my last entry deals with this subject (sort of) perating to the Sean Bell case:

focusedpurpose said...

maybe it is just me---i think white folks are more violent than black people. as more black folks start "acting white" we see this change. when white folks go violent, they do it on a grand scale. like the congo big. 45,000 thousand dead a month. in fact, white folks are big on genocide, historically and today around the world.

also, why do we not see black police officers "accidentally" shooting white citizens repeatedly? there is a reason for that.

it is global violent white supremacy that can be thanked for the position of black people around the world. that and the unnatural love and trust that black people have for white and white like folks. today, we are our worst enemies. we are on auto self destruct.

acting white to me means feeling violently fearful and entitled to dominate non white people. always has, always will.

thanks for listening.


Dave Myers said...

interesting thread over at , "usa & the america's sect. , "my bi-racial american experience" ...