Friday, November 19, 2010

Anti-Racism: Does the Witchhunt Become the Primary Goal?

Calling anti-racism a witchhunt is certainly provocative, but when you put the two side by side, there are certain commonalities: the idea that the superordinate, defining feature of a person with racist beliefs is racism, the assumption that a person with racist beliefs as inherently disgusting, and the belief that the punishment should entail a permanent banishing of the person in question.

Given these similarities and America's Puritanical roots, it's not surprising that a few researchers have chosen to measure a person's racism not by whether they actually demonstrate any racist behavior, but by whether they choose to report racist behavior that they view. To put it less gently, they place import on how much you support the witchhunt, not on much you internalize racial equality.

In their study, they were attempting to determine whether teaching children colorblindness is an effective means to end future racial inequality. But they rig their study to come to the conclusion they want to. Instead of measuring any indications of implicit (or, for that matter, explicit) racist behavior by the child, they choose to measure whether the child reports a racially charged incident to the authorities. The authors elide the fact that this is exactly a sort of scenario where you would definitely expect colorblind children to behave exactly as they did. Colorblindness, by definition, preempts one from comprehending that a conflict has a racial element.

Moreover, a society that is comprised of colorblind people cannot, by definition, have racial conflicts, so it would be completely moot to find out whether people are alarmed by racist conflicts. There is a transitional period when a society moves from non-colorblindness to colorblindness, but I imagine the goal of colorblindness supporters is to achieve colorblindness among all citizens or at least enough to establish herd immunity.

I'm not making this argument because I think there's compelling evidence that colorblindness is effective. I am, however, arguing that this study is thoroughly flawed, but, remarkably, the flaws are more informative than the content.

Disclaimer: I can't get the full text version of this article through my library, so I'm working from the abstract here. Even if the authors addressed the above issues in their paper, I doubt that they have a compelling defensive argument for their choices in methods and measures.

Article: Apfelbaum, E. P., Pauker, K., Sommers, S. R., & Ambady, N. (2010). In Blind Pursuit of Racial Equality? Psychological Science, 21 (11), 1582-1586.


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