2003-02-12 Grand Haven Tribune Aversive racism explored at third annual Summit on Racism

Aversive racism explored at third annual Summit on Racism
Grand Haven Tribune

Holland – Colgate University Professor John Dovidio believes there is a new virus going around, and most people are unaware that they even have it.

Aversive or subconscious racism is the newest mutated form of prejudice today, Dovidio said. The professor, provost and dean of students explained this new form of racism at the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance third annual Summit on Racism at Hope College.

Gail Harrison, summit coordinator and LEDA executive director, said nearly 500 people attended the day-long event and called it a success.

“I was really pleased with the turnout,” Harrison said.

“That says to me that people really care about this issue,” she added.

Harrison said she was also pleased with Dovidio’s speech that explored subconscious racism.

“It is what we as good people need to hear and understand,” Harrison said. “In spite of our good intentions, there are (factors) that drive our behaviors.”

Dovidio defined aversive racism as “good people” unknowingly exhibiting prejudicial behavior towards a particular group(s) of people.

According to Dovidio, there are three primary factors that contribute to this newest form of racism, including social categorization, social dominance and culturalal stereotypes.

When social categorization occurs, Dovidio said an individual will set others into groups separating the “wes” from the “theys”. Those who do this also value people in their groups more than other groups

Ethnic groups resist change in an effort to maintain social dominance, Dovidio said.

While there are racial divides among a number of ethnicities, the research Dovidio presented focused on racial attitudes particularly between African Americans and Caucasian Americans.

According to Dovidio’s research, approximately 90 percent of those who say they are not prejudice exhibit racist actions.

While there has been progress, Dovidio said infant mortality, unemployment and poverty rates have not significantly changed since the late 1940s. African Americans still rank higher than Caucasian Americans today as they did then.

“Things are no better now than in 1949,” Dovidio said.

Studies have also shown that when right and wrong are clearly defined, aversive racists tend not to discriminate so as not to appear racist to others. However, when the line between right and wrong becomes fuzzy, discrimination tends to increase.

One of the first things that can be done to combat this type of racism is make people aware of their prejufice and confront it.

“Most whites don’t intend to be racist,” Dovidio said.

Dovidio also said that constructive dialogue is another tool needed in the fight against racism.

“If we possess the desire, we can produce significant change.”

Dovidio’s message is one that some summit participants say they will remember.

“I think those issues need to be addressed in all sects,” said Kathryn Curry, Holland West Middle school assistant principal.

“People don’t think about unconscious (racism,” she added.

Others thought the conference overall went well. “I think it’s an excellent program,” said Elizabeth O’Neill, Grand Haven High School junior.

O’Neil said she was inspired by the summit because “there are so many people working against racism.”

Kim Shriver, Perrigo Pharmaceutical representative, said Dovidio’s speech raised her awareness of prejudice.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Shriver said.

Following Dovidio’s speech, participants divided up into action teams in several areas, including community, government, education, art, health care, and media relations.

The summit also included a theatrical performance by KMR Diversity Theatre of “The Unusual Things,” portraying a loan officer’s realization of his prejudices and stereotyping by reliving a typically day in his life though a conversation with a psychiatrist.