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Race Talk

With a black man running for president for the first time, white people?including children as young as 10?may avoid talking about race so as not to appear prejudiced. But that approach often backfires, as blacks tend to view this "colorblind" approach as EVIDENCE of prejudice, especially when race is clearly relevant.

In one study, 101 white undergraduate students were paired with either a white or black female partner who pretended to be another participant. The pairs were presented with 30 photographs of faces that varied in race, gender and background color. Each white participant's objective was to guess which of the photographs the partner was holding by asking as few yes-or-no questions as possible. Even though asking about the race of the person in the photograph was an obvious strategy, white participants were far less likely to do so with a black partner. When 101 children between the ages of 8 and 11 did the same set of experiments, they also adopted this colorblind approach.

Researcher Samuel Sommers says, "Whites are strategically avoiding the topic of race because they?re worried that they'll look bad if they admit they notice it in other people."

Researcher Evan Apfelbaum says, "Efforts to talk about race are fraught with the potential for misunderstandings. One way that whites try to appear unbiased is to avoid talking about race altogether, a tendency we refer to as strategic colorblindness?The findings suggest that when race is clearly relevant, whites who think that it is a wise social strategy to avoid talking about race should think again.

"Our findings don?t suggest that individuals who avoid talking about race are racists. On the contrary, most are well-intentioned people who earnestly believe that colorblindness is the culturally sensitive way to interact. But, as we've shown, bending over backward to avoid even mentioning race sometimes creates more interpersonal problems than it solves."

Does the past tell us what will happen today?or in the future? Only if we have the right interpreter!

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