In this essay I shall address the topic of aversive racism, what it is, how it is expressed and why it is difficult to combat. Firstly, I shall define `Aversive racism` in relation to `dominative racism`. Then I shall explain in detail the classic experiment by Dovidio & Gaertner (2000), which explores the subtle act of aversive racism and how racism has changed over a 10 year span. Later, I shall investigate further evidence to support the existence of aversive racism, including the effects of social categorization. Finally, I shall address the possible roots of aversive racism and why aversive racists are unlikely to change.
In this present day, equality is seen as a fundamental value within society (Schuman, Steeh, Bobo, & Krysan, 1997). We have learnt to be less prejudiced, such that it is seen as a taboo to discriminate against somebody publicly and overtly. Living in an egalitarian society, where `equal rights` for all is encouraged and discrimination is discouraged, promotes liberalism and equal treatment towards all races and religions. `Dominative racism` is still present amongst the minority of the population. This is when one does not conceal their racist thoughts and discriminates openly and publicly, with no means of justification, except that they are primarily a racist and aim to spread racial hate. On the other hand, `aversive racism` is when one holds egalitarian values, know that discrimination is wrong, and classify themselves as non-prejudiced. They do however hold unconscious negative beliefs about blacks or other minority groups. Therefore, aversive racism is seen to be more subtle, sly and indirect in comparison to "old fashioned" racism. And just like overt racism, it does lead to similar long term consequences, such as the limitation of job prospects for blacks in America (Gaertner & Dovidio, 1986) and a lower family income than whites (Blank, 2001).
Dovidio & Gaertner (2000) conducted a classical experiment which puts the aversive racism framework into perspective. In order to give a comparison of how racism has changed over the years, the experiment was conducted during 1989 and 1999. The experiment was conducted on white American college students, who are usually found to be more open-minded and liberal in nature. During the first part of the experiment, subjects were asked to complete several questionnaires, of which some assessed their racial attitudes. Later subjects were presented with extracts from an interview, and were asked to make a decision as to whether a particular candidate was suitable for the job of peer counselling at their university. The candidates varied in their level of qualification (strong vs. ambiguous vs. clearly weak) and in their race (white vs. black). Hence, each participant was allocated to one of six conditions. Results found that a black candidate was just as likely as a white candidate to be accepted or rejected for the job, if they had strong or clearly weak qualifications, respectively. Shockingly, on the other hand, when the candidates` qualifications were ambiguous, blacks were significantly less likely to be recommended than whites. Hence, when the black candidate`s qualifications were evident, the participant could only respond according to who was clearly suitable for the job, in which there was no room for race to interfere. However, when the qualifications were ambiguous, participants were able to rationalise their discrimination against blacks in a subtle manner, on the grounds that they did not qualify for the job. Furthermore, after comparing the results in 1989 and 1999, it was found that although levels of overt prejudice, as measured by self-reports, declined over this 10-year period, levels of aversive racism, as measured by participants` candidate recommendations, remained constant. Hence, although overt racism decreases over the years, aversive racism does not. Although dominative racists are likely to change due to social pressures and the rise of egalitarian practices and beliefs, aversive racists are not. How can one be expected to change if they are unaware of their prejudiced attitudes?
Unfortunately, it is challenging to maintain validity within a highly controlled laboratory experiment. It is questionable as to whether the self reports used are a reliable measure for overt racism. Nobody wants to be identified as a racist. It is a possibility that participants would seek socially desirable responses during 1999, where it is socially unacceptable to express discriminatory and prejudicial beliefs, more so than 1989. Hence, it may appear that overt racism has declined over the years, where in actuality it may not have.
Research on aversive racism does not stop here. Nail, Harton, and Decker (2003) explored aversive racism within politics. It was found that liberal participants responded more favourably towards a black person than a white person, where race was salient. On the other hand, conservative participants responded more favourably towards whites. This is highly characteristic of an aversive racist. However, it was also found that after being touched by a black person, only liberals displayed greater physiological arousal, in comparison to being touched by a white person. This was argued to have been a reflection of the inner conflict aversive racists possess between their explicit and implicit attitudes towards blacks.
A field experiment conducted by Gaertner (1973) further demonstrates the nature of aversive racism. In summary, subjects received wrong-number phone calls by an identifiably black or white caller, asking for their help due to insufficient money. A "helping", "not helping" or "premature hang up" response by the subject was noted. This was measured according to if they helped, refused or hung up after the request for help, or hung up before knowing the caller had no more change, respectively. Results found that conservatives showed a greater helping response to whites than blacks. Liberals helped both blacks and whites somewhat equally. However, liberals hung up prematurely more on blacks than they did on whites, a finding that was not demonstrated by conservative participants. It`s human nature to hang up prematurely on a wrong-number call. Therefore, hanging up before being notified of the caller`s need for help was seen as an indirect form of discrimination, as the subject opted out of the conversation before being burdened with this request. However, refusing to give help after request, especially because of race, breaches the norm of social responsibility whilst honouring discrimination.
It`s `us` versus `them`. Social categorization is the notion that people tend to categorise themselves into in-groups and out-groups. Although it may have positive connotations for the in-group, such as a strong in-group identity (Tajfel & Turner, 1979), it faces consequences for the out-group. Out-group members are discriminated against, whilst in-group members are evaluated more favourably (Tajfel, 1970). Therefore, although `liberals` may condemn prejudice and any form of discrimination, it is difficult to change one`s automatic attitudes towards in-group favouritism, that arise out of habit (Neal, Wood, & Quinn, 2006). In order to overcome this, we must shift the dimension of categorization away from race, such as being part of a multiethnic team or supporting the same football team (Nier, Gaertner, Dovidio, Banker, & Ward, 2001). However, this may only work as a temporary solution, covers up the issue and does not eliminate it.
Aversive racism is seen to be a system of dual attitudes that arose developmentally (Wilson et al., 2000). One`s initial and original attitudes and beliefs have become stored unconsciously through repeated over-learning, and are activated automatically without one`s control (Wyer & Hamilton, 1998). Due to the repeated exposure of negative images and ideologies black people are associated with in the mass media, the white society have learnt to develop stereotypical and prejudicial attitudes towards blacks fairly early in life, causing these attitudes to be triggered habitually (Devine, 1989). However, aversive racists later develop a strong egalitarian belief, which condemns prejudice and discrimination. However, this new `equality for all` attitude does not replace their original racist approach; it merely masks it, leaving it stored in memory and to remain implicit (Wilson et al., 2000). Hence, aversive racists are unlikely to change because these attitudes are implicit, unconscious, habitual and over-learnt.
Research on aversive racism is vast. It opens our eyes to a greater problem that we have not been aware of initially. The aversive racism framework hopes to represent all ethnic minorities and disadvantaged groups. Regrettably, many of these works have been focussed within American society, primarily on discrimination against blacks. However, evidence has suggested it`s generalisability onto orientations towards women (Rudman & Kilianski, 2000), homosexuals (Hebl, Foster, Mannix, & Dovidio, 2002), and minority groups in general (Dovidio, Gaertner, Anastasio, & Sanitioso, 1992).
You may attempt to cross a busy road, at your own cost. However, attempting to be a racist is at the cost of others. Whether this is dominative or aversive racism, the recipient may face long-term consequences. Whether this be within the health and medical domain (Whaley, 1998) or in terms of career dynamics (Rosenfield, 1998), blacks are not treated equally. Although we work towards a democratic society, old habits die hard. Holding and maintaining strong beliefs of equality is easier said than done. Without conscious awareness, aversive racists will continue to discriminate when a rationalisable opportunity strikes.
TLDR(UD definition): aversive racism
Consciously knowing, and professing that all people are equal, yet subconsciously treating and judging some groups (races, genders, Ethnicities) differently.