A new study from Northwestern University's Department of Social Psychology finds that many whites worry about inadvertently getting into trouble for seeming biased. As a result, says study author Jennifer Richeson, Caucasians seek to avoid situations where bias might be revealed, such as in the company of black people...Whoa! NPR and Prof. Richeson, I'm going to have to just stop you right there. Are you really willing to say that white people's insecurities about exposing their own racists attitudes should be handled more delicately? And Don Imus is your example? The man called the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos" - this wasn't a joke between friends gone wrong, he wanted to insult these women and framed his insult in racially and sexually demeaning terms. If people are going around saying that sort of thing, they need to know that it is absolutely not okay.
How to make interracial interactions less anxious? "We need to get out of the business of giving the scarlet letter brand of 'bigot,' " Richeson says. That type of label is really not useful, she says, citing the example of Don Imus drawing fire for racially charged comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team in 2007. Imus later met with the Rev. Al Sharpton, one of his most vocal critics, and insisted he's not a racist.
Perhaps, rather than encouraging people of color to say nothing in the face of racist comments, we might instead focus on teaching all people to respond more productively when we are made to acknowledge our prejudices. In particular, it seems like Prof. Richeson, her interviewers, and the people she defends might all need to go over rules 2 and 3 again, as laid out in Alas, A Blog's useful guide, "How Not To Be Insane When Accused of Racism":
2) Take the criticism seriously - do not dismiss it without thinking about it. Especially if the criticism comes from a person of color - people of color in our society tend by necessity to be more aware of racism than most Whites are, and pick up on things most Whites overlook. (On the other hand, don’t put the people of color in the room in the position of being your advocate or judge.)
3) Don’t make it about you. Usually the thing to do is apologize for what you said ... resist your desire to turn the [conversation] into a seminar on How Against Racism You Are. The subject of the conversation is probably not “your many close Black friends, and your sincere longstanding and deep abhorrence of racism.”
Unfortunately, the whole NPR interview with Prof. Richeson is pretty shallow and insulting. At its best, it suggests that we perhaps need to think about the way we apply the terms prejudice, bias, and bigotry. At worst, it is a ridiculous ploy to shame people into silence. As for the "study" that prompted the interview - there is no link to the actual data, but it reportedly involved only 30 people. The methods are not described.