Sunday, January 5, 2014

Law Enforcement / Profiling and Prejudice

I’d like to discuss social bias, prejudice, bigotry; all the usual suspects that make up who we are and how we treat others.

I was reading an article in the Scientific American magazine (January 2014) about the unconscious mind and how it controls human behavior.  It would seem that the goal of overcoming prejudice against various minority groups is a nearly impossible goal for the majority of us.

One of their experiments found that “many people who say they have a positive attitude toward minority groups are astounded when social scientists reveal contradictions (in that belief) using a simple test.”

My first reservation about this simple test is that the word ‘social’ should never be considered an appropriate descriptive modifier for ‘scientist.’  But, that’s just a pet peeve of mine.  However, I should point out that my major in college was Social Sciences – very interesting, but not a subject area that one would normally describe as science.  I found that sociology and psychology were far easier than zoology.

The test in question involved two buttons and a computer screen.  The left button to be pressed indicated either ‘good or white.’  The right button to be pressed indicated either ‘bad or black.’  Various pictures were shown to include puppies, spiders, snakes, kittens and a series of faces of different races.

The same pictures, or variations thereof, were later shown to the same group of test takers.  However, the buttons were changed:  left button indicated good or black, right button indicated either bad or white.  Latent prejudice among the test-takers was proven / at least indicated because the test-takers took longer to press the appropriate button – apparently indicating they had more difficulty associating black with good.

The article did not reflect whether or not minority individuals fared better on this test than Caucasians.  Furthermore, it did not indicate that all children grow-up with a notion that white is generally and intrinsically good, versus black which is generally and intrinsically bad.  Example:  good cowboys tend to wear white and bad cowboys usually are dressed in black, good witches are white and bad witches are black, when mourning people traditionally wear black, etc.  Now, some might jump-in with ‘yes, that’s true and children are programed from a very early age.’  OK, perhaps, but that concept of white / good, black / bad goes back centuries.  And, the association was usually not associated with race.

I’m sorry, but I hate this kind of research.  It does no good, draws lines apparently based in science, and makes one feel hopeless that things will ever change.

Which brings me to another related subject, law enforcement profiling:  good or bad.

To be continued…

True Nelson
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