Thursday, July 2, 2015

A New Example to Go with My Old Example

This recent post on Boing Boing, Adventures in Racism at the Supermarket Checkout, makes me think of a 2014 post of mine.

In the Boing Boing story, a white woman watches three black women in a row get their EBT cards rejected because of incorrect PINs. The cashier is unhelpful, and after the women leave the line, she comments to the white customer who followed them in the line (and who wrote the Boing Boing post), "I hate to say it, but people like that just don't keep track of their money. They think they have all of it on their cards, but they just don't budget well."

You may not be surprised to hear that when the white customer ran her own debit card through the same card reader, it was also rejected for an incorrect PIN. And the cashier immediately put a call into the manager to get it fixed.

My post described research on implicit bias among welfare case managers. Since it was part of a "too many tabs" article, it may have been overlooked, so here is just that portion all on its own, describing a fact we should all remember:

We used identical, made-up case files. The only differences between them were that some had what are considered “black names,” and others had “white names.” So one would be like, Emily O’Brien and on another we put Lakisha Williams. We pretested them to show that most people who saw these names, right or wrongly, associated them with white or black people — or Latinos.

And we then presented actual welfare case managers with cases where it wasn’t quite clear whether the person should be sanctioned or not. Again, it was the exact same case, except we varied the name, and therefore, the race they associated with the person.

And then we also varied one other thing, which you can call a discrediting marker. So in one of the experiments, we looked at what happens if you add information that the imaginary beneficiary had been sanctioned before — maybe that would lead the case worker to think they’re a troublemaker. That should have no bearing on the current sanction decision, but it might just change their view. Or we changed the number of children they had — for half of the case managers, the person had one child; for the other half, they had four children and were pregnant.

And we found that, across all of our experiments, for the white client, adding that marker — which invoked a negative image of welfare recipients — had no effect at all. They were still judged the same way on the current matter.

The black client or the Hispanic client, when they did not have this discrediting marker, were also judged neutrally on the borderline problem we gave these managers. So there wasn’t an automatic bias. But when you added that discrediting marker, the likelihood that the person would get sanctioned went through the roof if they were a person of color. soon as you added something that seemed to confirm the negative stereotypes about welfare recipients, it had no effect on the white client, but it made the black client seem like a person who should be sanctioned, and the rates went up.
People of color, especially black people, get no slack. White people get slack all the time and don't realize it, or that others don't get it. That's part of how it all works. We need to remember, and have handy examples when it's time to make the case to those who don't believe in the power of their own privilege.

1 comment:

Gina said...

It will take generations to purge the beliefs and attitudes that lead to this kind of discrimination, I think. How wonderful to see it happen in our lifetimes, but I fear they are way too entrenched and deep right now and they need lots of work, people wanting to change, etc.