News Stories

Why You're Really a Racist

Everyone’s a little bit racist, but it may not be your fault. A research team thinks our culture may be partially to blame. And another team of researchers has found that the perception of race can be altered by cues to social status as simple as the clothes a person wears.

In one experiment, participants were asked to determine the race of computerized faces. Faces accompanied by business attire were more likely to be seen as white, whereas faces accompanied by janitor attire were more likely to be seen as black. Racial categorization represents a complex and subtle process powerfully shaped by context and the stereotypes and prejudices we already hold.

Psychologist Paul Verhaeghen says, "There's one idea that people tend to associate black people with violence, women with weakness, or older people with forgetfulness because they are prejudiced. But there’s another possibility that what's in your head is not you, it's the culture around you. And so what you have is stuff you picked up from reading, television, radio and the internet. And that's the question we wanted to answer: are you indeed a racist, or are you just an American?"

For years, social scientists have uncovered the unsettling truth that no matter how egalitarian a person purports to be, their unconscious mind holds some racist, sexist or ageist thoughts. Verhaeghen says, "One of the things (our) findings suggest is that for those of us who, like me, very often feel guilty about these gut reactions you have and you're not supposed to have is those gut reactions are normal and they have very little to do with you. They have more to do with the culture around you. What is more important is your behavior, rather than your gut reaction."

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