Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Irreconcilables

From a Times Op-Ed on School integration:
Diverse classrooms reduce racial bias and promote complex reasoning, problem solving and creativity for all students.
From a Vox article on where Donald Trump's supporters are concentrated:
The broad pattern here uniting the South with the Northeast may strike many as bizarre, since these two regions typically find themselves on opposite sides of political disputes.

But as Duke University sociologist Kieran Healy has observed, many surprising-looking maps of the United States end up largely tracking a map showing which parts of the United States contain large numbers of African Americans. . . .

The map is not a perfect match for the Trump support map but it is pretty close. Both African Americans and Trump supporters are generally located in an arc that starts in eastern Texas, sweeps east toward the Atlantic Ocean, and then up through the Washington-Boston megalopolis. Michigan is blacker than the red of the Midwest, and it's Trumpier too.

Of course, that's not to say that Trump is popular overall in Northeastern states like New York and Massachusetts. The defining characteristic of these places in partisan politics is that they contain very few Republicans. It's just that those Republicans who do live in the Northeast tend to like Trump.
I think the racial situation in America is far too complex for generalizations like "diverse classrooms reduce racial bias." Seems to me that more exposure to other races and ethnic groups makes some people more open and tolerant, and others more closed and intolerant.

7 comments:

G. Verloren said...

I think the racial situation in America is far too complex for generalizations like "diverse classrooms reduce racial bias." Seems to me that more exposure to other races and ethnic groups makes some people more open and tolerant, and others more closed and intolerant.

Firstly, you're misunderstanding how "racial bias" is being used in this context. The study in question is examining classroom performance, and "racial bias" in this case pertains to whether a given student's race produces a bias in their perforance. Basically, the less integrated a classroom is, the more the race of a given student impacts their academic achievement. I think you can draw your conclusions as to why that likely is.

Secondly, even if "racial bias" instead referred to societal tolerance, who is to say that "reduced bias" is irreconcilable with the patterns of voter preference we see? Just because there are still intolerant people in regions with exposure to other races and ethnic groups doesn't mean we wouldn't see even more intolerance without that same exposure.

Thirdly, the simple fact of the matter is that intolerance is the product of a failure to understand the other, and to therefor reject it. "Exposure" is a broad term, and it can easily encompass entirely different sorts of behaviors. Just because you live in an area with black citizens doesn't mean you at any point meaningfully interact with them. And without interaction, you cannot possibly achieve a proper understanding of them. And without understanding, you cannot achieve tolerance - you continue to separate out "Us" and "Them", The Self and The Other, and use that as justification for your prejudices and biases. To suggest that tolerance can be achieved through isolation is absurd.

John said...

It is certainly possible that diverse classrooms lead to lees racism in society overall, while still leading to more racism among the 10 to 20 percent of the population that supports Donald Trump. So maybe in that case it would be a good idea. But there are no political measures that work for everyone or even almost everyone. There is a downside to everything. I think it is important to acknowledge this.

David said...

Yugoslavia is a good example of the conundrum. Decades of living together in a single, relatively peaceful polity produced plenty of mixed marriages and surely, plenty of other less-easily-recorded cross-ethnic interactions. But this did not prevent motivated ethnic separatists from pursuing ethnic cleansing and mass murder in the 1990s. Indeed, some of them were probably spurred onward precisely by the mixed marriages and general diminution of intensity of identity that toleration brings.

Katya said...

Diverse classrooms can have a negative effect on racial perceptions.

Of course, my son getting bullied by students of African American descent while in third grade is merely my own anecdotal experience.

My own experience as a white person *living* in a racially diverse neighborhood prior to kindergarten was all positive. My best friend (and next door neighbor, by a few doors down) was black, I was taught to ride my training-wheel-free bicycle by another black kid, and we had great, great block parties. But I can't say that my racial experiences in public school, starting after 4th grade (and a move to a new school) did anything particularly positive for my racial perceptions. In fact, without my preschool grounding experiences, I probably would have formed very different racial impressions--and many of them not particularly positive.

"I'm going to kick your ass after school" is not an interaction that is going to leave anyone with a good impression, regardless of whether or not the threat is followed through.

G. Verloren said...

1/2

In the case of Yugoslavia, the sad fact is that "decades" should really be considered a very small span of time, rather than a lengthy one. People don't change quickly.

Moreover, how much genuine interaction do you really think ethnic separatists had with those of other ethnic groups? You can live side by side in the same society as someone else and never really interact with them except as peripherally. Would anyone honestly expect to find that ethnic purists ever interacted with other ethnicities on a meaningful level that would build human understanding?

And even if you do have regular interactions, then comfirmation bias starts to set in - many positive interactions get forgotten or dismissed, while most negative one get emphasized and overblown. If you're distrustful of someone else, it's easy to downplay the trustworthy things they do and cling to even the slightest negative as proof that your suspicions about them must be correct.

The simple fact is that human psychology doesn't change, and it applies universally across countless scenarios. If you grow up to become afraid of dogs, it's because you had some trauma involving a dog when you were young, and you've never overcome that trauma since. Your phobia is self perpetuating, and the only way to shed it is to confront it - to prove to yourself that reality doesn't match your preconceived notions. Which means you have to go and interact with dogs again, and discover that the traumatic experience you suffered before was an unfortunate outlier, and not the norm - that the vast majority of dogs aren't vicious brutes, but rather simple animals with thoughts and feelings comparable to our own.

The same psychology is in play with racial intolerance. It's why people lock their car doors when driving through ethnic neighborhoods, despite the inherent absurdity of doing so. It's why people caricature others and cling to stereotypes, despite reality bearing only the most passing of similarities. And it's why intolerance perpetuates itself - people go their entire lifetimes suffering from their delusions, and then they have children whom they pass their intolerance on to.

It's easy to hate someone you don't understand, and it's easy to not understand someone you don't interact with, and it's easy to not interact with someone you hate. It's a Catch-22 that can only be broken by some event or interaction which alters one's understanding of the other. Intolerant people need to have moments comparable to Malcolm X's trip to Mecca - experiences that powerfully contradict their preconceived notions, with reality flatly refuting their self delusions.

G. Verloren said...

2/2

Look at World War II veterans of the Pacific Theatre - why did some hate the Japanese to their dying days, while others came to admire of befriend their former enemies? You can very easily break down those views based on which veterans had what kinds of interactions during and after the war.

The soldiers who stayed in Japan to help with the occupation and rebuilding were given a chance to have very different experiences with the Japanese than they had during the fighting. In contrast to the traumas of war they suffered at Japanese hands, they began to accrue more positive experiences with the Japanese to contradict them. They could see people going about their daily lives, they could witness the traumas that the Japanese survivors had themselves suffered at the hands of Americans during the war, they could even forge friendships and develop relationships among the populace, even falling in love and marrying. Basically they were given the chance to see the Japanese as humans and fellow people, rather than purely as enemies.

Now does that mean that every soldier who stayed in Japan began to change their perceptions of the Japanese? No, of course not. Some never had enough positive interactions to counteract prior negative ones. Others simply had been too badly traumatized by the horrors of war to counteract the effect in the time they would stay in the country.

But for those soldiers who simply left Japan and went home, and never interacted with the Japanese in a meaningful way for the rest of their lives, it's clear that their lack of interaction made any shift in their opinions or feelings about them impossible. You cannot understand others if you don't interact with them. You cannot humanize an enemy if you never witness them in human lights.

David said...

G., you make some good points, but you seem to be ignoring the role of individual psychological difference--or perhaps I should say, different psychological patterns among subsets within any population. I think John is saying, and I would agree, that 10 to 20% of any group are simply irreconcilables--no matter what you do, difference excites their hostility. Their minds will turn any "meaningful" interaction into a reason for discomfort at best and programmatic hate at worst. This isn't because some external event has traumatized them, or because they haven't had the right meaningful interaction, or because history hasn't forced enough years of meaningful interactions on them, but because that's the way they are.

The benefit of interaction is that it increases the chances that the psychology of other subsets within the group will allow them to have positive experiences and be less susceptible to the slogans and fear/hate-mongering of the irreconcilables. But you won't get rid of the latter.