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“Can Sitcoms Erase Bigotry?”: What Exclusion Otherizes, Inclusion Normalizes

So it turns out sitcoms can erase bigotry.

That’s the bottom line of a study recently presented before a conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. And it doesn’t even have to be a particularly good sitcom.

To judge, at least, from a screening of its first two episodes, the Canadian sitcom on which the study is based was earnest, amiable, and about as funny as “Schindler’s List.” Apparently, however, Canadian television viewers liked it well enough. “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” a culture clash show about life at a Muslim worship house in small town Canada, premiered in 2007 and ran for five years. Here in the United States, it’s available on Hulu.

Sohad Murrar, a doctoral candidate in social psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, used the show to test whether entertainment media can reduce prejudice. She gathered a representative sampling of white men and women between the ages of 18 and 60, first testing them to establish a baseline measurement of their prejudices. Then they were divided into two groups. One was assigned to watch episodes of “Friends.” The other watched “Little Mosque.”

Afterward, when Murrar again tested the groups for prejudice, she found that while the “Friends” group showed no movement, there was a reduction in anti-Muslim bias among those who had watched “Little Mosque.” Nor was this a fleeting thing. Four to six weeks later, the “Little Mosque” group still showed less bigotry.

The study participants, she says, “were identifying with the characters. Just seeing these characters, these Muslims, go through everyday life situations that they themselves could imagine themselves in or they themselves could relate to … kind of led our participants to feel like, ‘Hey, yeah, that’s something I myself could experience.’”

Prejudice, she notes, derives from the identification of an “in” group and an “out” group and the social distancing of the former from the latter. It’s a process some have dubbed “otherization.”

For all that academia and news media might do to combat that process, entertainment media are uniquely positioned to neutralize it. It is one thing, after all, to read statistics or hear arguments on the humanity and equality of, say, African Americans. It is quite another to have Anthony Anderson in your den every week giving you belly laughs or to root for Denzel Washington shooting it out with bad guys on the big screen.

Murrar’s study is only the latest to quantify this. And mind you, some of us didn’t even need a study to know it. Some of us have always regarded the likes of Sidney Poitier and Diahann Carroll, Ellen DeGeneres and “Will and Grace,” Mary Tyler Moore and “Cagney and Lacey” as the unsung heroes and secret weapons of the movements for African-American, gay and women’s freedom.

Still, Murrar’s study underlines a truth often overlooked when the talk turns, as it has with this year’s snow white Oscar nominations, to Hollywood’s dubious track record on diversity. Namely, that inclusion is not some enlightened sop to political correctness. Nor is it just good business, though it is that.

Rather. Inclusion changes the society itself. It lessens fears, opens eyes, unsticks hearts, makes people better. What exclusion otherizes, inclusion normalizes.

In a nation that has seen Islamophobia rise with the inexorability of floodwaters and racial animus spike to levels not seen since Jim Crow, a nation where Holocaust survivors say a leading presidential contender actually reminds them of Hitler, that’s no trivial thing. There is a great power here and those of us who have been too long defined as “other” must use every form of pressure we can to ensure that that power includes us in the circle of what America deems “normal.”

Or else find more constructive uses for our money and our time.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; Featured Post, The National Memo, February 8, 2016

February 10, 2016 Posted by | Bigotry, Entertainment Industry, Prejudice | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Plutocrats And Prejudice”: The Base Isn’t Taking Guidance The Way It Used To

Every time you think that our political discourse can’t get any worse, it does. The Republican primary fight has devolved into a race to the bottom, achieving something you might have thought impossible: making George W. Bush look like a beacon of tolerance and statesmanship. But where is all the nastiness coming from?

Well, there’s debate about that — and it’s a debate that is at the heart of the Democratic contest.

Like many people, I’ve described the competition between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders as an argument between competing theories of change, which it is. But underlying that argument is a deeper dispute about what’s wrong with America, what brought us to the state we’re in.

To oversimplify a bit — but only, I think, a bit — the Sanders view is that money is the root of all evil. Or more specifically, the corrupting influence of big money, of the 1 percent and the corporate elite, is the overarching source of the political ugliness we see all around us.

The Clinton view, on the other hand, seems to be that money is the root of some evil, maybe a lot of evil, but it isn’t the whole story. Instead, racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice are powerful forces in their own right. This may not seem like a very big difference — both candidates oppose prejudice, both want to reduce economic inequality. But it matters for political strategy.

As you might guess, I’m on the many-evils side of this debate. Oligarchy is a very real issue, and I was writing about the damaging rise of the 1 percent back when many of today’s Sanders supporters were in elementary school. But it’s important to understand how America’s oligarchs got so powerful.

For they didn’t get there just by buying influence (which is not to deny that there’s a lot of influence-buying out there). Crucially, the rise of the American hard right was the rise of a coalition, an alliance between an elite seeking low taxes and deregulation and a base of voters motivated by fears of social change and, above all, by hostility toward you-know-who.

Yes, there was a concerted, successful effort by billionaires to push America to the right. That’s not conspiracy theorizing; it’s just history, documented at length in Jane Mayer’s eye-opening new book “Dark Money.” But that effort wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far as it has without the political aftermath of the Civil Rights Act, and the resulting flip of Southern white voters to the G.O.P.

Until recently you could argue that whatever the motivations of conservative voters, the oligarchs remained firmly in control. Racial dog whistles, demagogy on abortion and so on would be rolled out during election years, then put back into storage while the Republican Party focused on its real business of enabling shadow banking and cutting top tax rates.

But in this age of Trump, not so much. The 1 percent has no problems with immigration that brings in cheap labor; it doesn’t want a confrontation over Planned Parenthood; but the base isn’t taking guidance the way it used to.

In any case, however, the question for progressives is what all of this says about political strategy.

If the ugliness in American politics is all, or almost all, about the influence of big money, then working-class voters who support the right are victims of false consciousness. And it might — might — be possible for a candidate preaching economic populism to break through this false consciousness, thereby achieving a revolutionary restructuring of the political landscape, by making a sufficiently strong case that he’s on their side. Some activists go further and call on Democrats to stop talking about social issues other than income inequality, although Mr. Sanders hasn’t gone there.

On the other hand, if the divisions in American politics aren’t just about money, if they reflect deep-seated prejudices that progressives simply can’t appease, such visions of radical change are naïve. And I believe that they are.

That doesn’t say that movement toward progressive goals is impossible — America is becoming both more diverse and more tolerant over time. Look, for example, at how quickly opposition to gay marriage has gone from a reliable vote-getter for the right to a Republican liability.

But there’s still a lot of real prejudice out there, and probably enough so that political revolution from the left is off the table. Instead, it’s going to be a hard slog at best.

Is this an unacceptably downbeat vision? Not to my eyes. After all, one reason the right has gone so berserk is that the Obama years have in fact been marked by significant if incomplete progressive victories, on health policy, taxes, financial reform and the environment. And isn’t there something noble, even inspiring, about fighting the good fight, year after year, and gradually making things better?

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 29, 2016

January 30, 2016 Posted by | Election 2016, Plutocrats, Prejudice | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Reality Of Implicit Race Bias Is Well-Documented”: Overcoming Implicit Prejudice And The Heightened Perception Of Threat It Brings

I once read a question that went as follows:

Two groups of young men are walking on opposite sides of the street. One group is black, the other, white. Both are loud and swaggering, both have baseball caps turned to the back, both are brandishing bats.

Which one is the baseball team and which one, the street gang?

The truth is, many of us — maybe most of us — would decide based on race, giving benefit of the doubt to the white group, leaping to the harshest conclusion with the black one. Some will resist that notion, but the reality of implicit bias has been exhaustively documented.

Dr. Angela Bahns, an assistant professor of psychology at Wellesley College who describes herself as a “prejudice researcher,” wanted to push the question further. Earlier this year she published a study testing what she says is the prevailing theory: Prejudice arises from threat, i.e., you perceive those other people over there as dangerous and that’s what makes you biased against them.

“My research,” she said in a recent interview, “tests whether the opposite is true, whether prejudice can precede and cause threat perception.” In other words, is it actually pre-existing bias that causes us to feel threatened? It’s a question with profound implications in a nation grappling with what has come to seem an endless cycle of police brutality against unarmed African-American men, women and children.

Reliably as the tides, people tell us race played no role in the choking of the man, the arrest of the woman, the shooting of the boy. But Bahns’ research tells a different story. She conditioned test subjects to feel negatively toward countries about which they’d previously had neutral feelings, including Guyana, Mauritania, Surinam and Eritrea. “And I found,” she said, “that when groups were associated with negative emotion, they came to be perceived as more threatening in the absence of any information about what the people are like objectively.”

This column, by the way, is for a woman named Tracy from Austin who wrote earlier this year to ask “What can I do?” to fight police brutality against African-American people. I promised her I would seek answers. Well, Bahns’ research suggests that one answer might be to encourage police departments to incorporate bias training in their regimens.

According to Bahns, this training can help people overcome implicit prejudice and the heightened perception of threat it brings, but there is an important caveat: They have to be motivated and willing and have to leave their defensiveness at the door. “Before any change can happen, the first step … is that the perceivers — in this case, the white perceivers, or police officers — have to be open to admitting that they might be influenced by bias. I think we’re not getting anywhere when there’s this defensive reaction. … We’re all prejudiced and until we admit that, we’re not going to get anywhere in terms of reducing its effects.”

Not that people’s defensiveness is difficult to understand. “Everyone’s motivated to see themselves in a positive light,” said Bahns. “..People that genuinely hold egalitarian values and desperately do not want to be prejudiced are very motivated not to see bias in themselves.”

The thing is, we cannot wait passively for their conundrum to resolve itself. Some of us are dying because of this inability to tell the ball club from the street gang. And frankly, if people really do hold egalitarian values and desperately don’t want to be prejudiced, those deaths should push them past defensiveness and on to reflection.

As Bahns put it, the idea “that threat causes prejudice assumes that something about them — the out group — makes them threatening rather than assuming there’s something about us that makes us see them that way.”

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, November 4, 2015

November 6, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Police Brutality, Prejudice, Racial Profiling | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Must Examine Our Own Prejudices”: Removing The Confederate Flag Is Easy; Fixing Racism Is Hard

Protesters hold a sign during a rally to take down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina Statehouse, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Columbia, South Carolina.

When the Republican National Committee chose Tampa as the site for the party’s 2012 national convention, it seemed quite fitting—Florida being a red state and all, and one in which evangelical fervor mixed freely with the brand of Tea Party vindictiveness epitomized by Governor Rick Scott.

As I traveled to the city limits, destined for a motel reserved for any C-list, left-wing journalists covering the confab, the taxi I occupied exited the highway on a ramp dominated by perhaps the largest thing of its kind I had ever seen. Hoisted on a 139-foot pole, this Confederate battle flag measures 30 feet high and 60 feet long. That’s a lot of cloth, and the day I viewed it, it whipped violently against the winds stirred up by Hurricane Isaac, who mercifully defied predictions by remaining offshore.

I nearly jumped out of my skin at the sight of the immense flag; whoever had placed it there clearly meant to make a statement, and not one of peace, love, or understanding. When I recaptured my ability to speak, I stammered to the cab driver, who was black, “What on earth is that?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “They put it up a few years ago,” he said. He drove past it pretty much every day, he said.

It was 2008 when the flag first ascended the pole at the junction of I-75 and Interstate 4 on June 3, the birthday of Jefferson Davis, the only president of the short-lived Confederate States of America, a day observed in many Florida localities as a holiday. In what may or may not have been a coincidence, Barack Obama was closing in on the Democratic presidential nomination. (Hillary Clinton would suspend her campaign four days later.)

The land on which the flag stands was owned at the time by Marion Lambert, a proud member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and who since donated the parcel to the group. According to a June 21 report in the Tampa Bay Times, Lambert called the flag “a catalyst for a mental movement.”

“The reason we put that flag up is to start people thinking,” he told the Times.

He said this as white people across America began debating whether the white murderer Dylann Roof, who gunned down nine black people in a church rooted in the rebellion of enslaved people, is a simple racist or a mentally ill one. In Lambert’s “mental movement,” Roof is, at the very least, an army of one.

Roof’s actions, combined with photographs of him bearing the treasonous battle standard, have touched off a furious cry to rid the land of the symbol of one of America’s original sins (the other being the genocide of the land’s indigenous people). While it would be lovely to never gaze upon such a disgraceful emblem again, the rush to do so is fast becoming a diversion useful to those who seek to continue the nation’s long denial of its own bloody history of race-based oppression, which will do nothing to forestall the growth of racism in its lesser-seen forms.

Yes, it is a big deal when even Republican governors and luminaries—including the party’s last presidential nominee—call for the removal of the flag from state capitols and public buildings, a phenomenon unthinkable a decade ago. But party leaders also know it’s what needs to happen in order for the party to survive, since millennials are not terribly keen on displays of racial hatred.

But allowing the removal of the flag to stand as the sole answer to the Charleston massacre would let the North entirely off the hook for its own brand of racism, often every bit as brutal, if occasionally more subtle, as that displayed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans—or an almost entirely white Republican Party entertaining speech after speech at its Tampa national convention peppered with the Jacksonian language of “makers” and “takers,” and throwing the old welfare-queen card in the face of a black president.

But the white people of the North have plenty to account for, too, in the construction and maintenance of a racist society. I grew up in a New Jersey town that no black person dared to drive through. It was a nearly all-white town; we had one Chinese family, and two or three Latino families. No real estate agent who valued his or her job would show an African American buyer a house there. The cops in the Township of Clark were notorious for pulling over African American drivers seeking to enter the Garden State Parkway from the on-ramp that put our town on the map. And Clark was hardly an outlier among the burgs of the Northeast; it was just crassly obvious in its redlined bigotry.

You can take down all the Confederate flags in the country, and you won’t change a thing in Clark, or the thousands of towns just like it above the Mason-Dixon Line.

Nor should the progressive movement be let off the hook, despite its vociferous and righteous cry against the racist evil channeled by Dylann Roof the day he went on his murderous spree. In organizations not specifically focused on matters of race, it’s rare to see a black person in leadership, just as it’s rare to see women lead progressive organizations that are not specifically feminist. Until that changes, the underpinnings of a racist society remain intact. Until that changes, the false and evil narrative that claims those of African descent to be a lesser race lives on in the recesses of our minds, shaping the nation to its confines.

So, yes, remove the Confederate flag—that standard of dehumanization, treason, and murder—from our sight. But proof of our intention demands great change in the way in which we lead, the way in which we live, the way in which we think; we must be willing to truly open the riches of progressive society and culture to all. To do that, we must—each and every one of us—examine our own prejudice, and be determined to transcend it. Then the real work of a just society can begin.

 

By: Adele M. Stan, The American Prospect, June 24, 2015

June 25, 2015 Posted by | Confederate Flag, Prejudice, Racism | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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