What are the Implications Behind Racial Colorblindness?

People who claim they “don’t see race” when they evaluate others may think they all have similar beliefs about racial justice – but they’re very wrong, according to a new book.

In fact, the belief in “racial colorblindness” unites people who range from liberal to conservative and hardened racists to egalitarians, according to Philip Mazzocco, author of The Psychology of Racial Colorblindness: A Critical Review.

“There’s never been a racial ideology like colorblindness that unites such very different types of people,” said Mazzocco, who is an associate professor of psychology at The Ohio State University at Mansfield.

“Their beliefs are often wildly different. The only thing they all have in common is a general distaste for racial categories.”

In his book, Mazzocco outlines a new model of what it means to be racially colorblind in today’s society. He disentangles the different meanings and comes up with four categories of colorblindness: protectionist, egalitarian, antagonistic and visionary.

Mazzocco doesn’t believe that any type of racial colorblindness is good for society, although some of the four types are clearly more offensive than others. His model focuses on whites, but could be used for all races.

The fact that these different varieties have been lumped together helps explain why research findings on the issue have been so contradictory, according to Mazzocco.

“Some studies have found colorblindness is associated with higher levels of prejudice, while others have found lower levels,” he said.

“It has been really hard to figure out. That’s because these different studies were not looking at the same construct. The point is there are four types of colorblindness and not one.”

His new model bases the four types on two variables: levels of prejudice and awareness of racial inequality. Here are the types, and where they fall on those two variables:

  • Protectionist (High prejudice, low awareness): They believe interracial inequality is minimal, or the fault of minority culture. They are likely to say minorities who complain of mistreatment are “playing the race card.”
  • Egalitarian (Low prejudice, low awareness): They want racial justice and think it has been mostly achieved. As a result, they believe discussion about racial issues is no longer necessary.
  • Antagonistic (High prejudice, high awareness): They know there’s a problem with racial justice, but they are fine with it, because they believe it is their privilege as white people to be favored in society. They disingenuously use claims of colorblindness to oppose programs like affirmative action, saying that government policies shouldn’t favor one race.
  • Visionary (low prejudice, high awareness): They agree there is a racial justice problem and believe the way to overcome it is to stop emphasizing racial boundaries and differences and to focus primarily on what people have in common.

Mazzocco conducted a small internet survey of 153 Americans through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service to determine how many people may fall into each category. He cautioned that this was a preliminary survey and not necessarily nationally representative. But he said it can give a snapshot of where Americans stand.

As expected, most participants claimed to be racially colorblind – only about 27 percent said they weren’t. The egalitarian group was the largest at 29 percent, followed by protectionist at 20 percent, visionary at 18 percent and antagonistic at 7 percent.

The fact that nearly three-quarters of Americans claim to be colorblind is a problem, Mazzocco said, because claiming you don’t see race is “a conversation ender.”

“One of the implications of racial colorblindness is that we’re not going to have a discussion about the topic. You can have two people who say they’re colorblind, one of the visionary variety and one of the antagonistic variety, with wildly different sets of belief,” he said.

“But they may think they have similar viewpoints and therefore believe that many people share their opinions. If they had a true conversation, they may find out their views aren’t so common and they might need to consider other opinions.”

Mazzocco said colorblindness of any variety is harmful because it does not recognize the myriad problems minorities face in our society.

“There are real struggles and real costs. If you pretend like race doesn’t exist, you put people who are struggling at a real disadvantage.”

One alternative to colorblindness is multiculturalism – the ideal that society tolerates and even embraces differences in culture. Under multiculturalism, people don’t pretend racial differences don’t exist – they celebrate the diversity.

Some white people have bristled at multiculturalism because they believe it means they and their culture aren’t valued, Mazzocco said. But multiculturalism can be all-inclusive in a way that says all people, including whites, are valued.

“When this inclusive form of multiculturalism has been studied, whites have reported a much more positive experience.”

Mazzocco said he hopes his book will inspire more research, now that there is a clearer idea of the different meanings of colorblindness.

“We are at a crossroads regarding our willingness to discuss race explicitly. Social scientists can make a real contribution by helping us to understand what our views are and how to talk about them.”

A Practical Guide on How to Confront Hate

Tina Kempin Reuter, Ph.D., director of the UAB Institute for Human Rights Photo Credit: UAB

In the wake of violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, Tina Kempin Reuter, director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Institute for Human Rights offers some practical tips on how to confront hate.

Know your human rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the key document guiding human rights advocacy. It is based on the universality, inalienability, and indivisibility of human rights and is founded on the core values of equality, non-discrimination and human dignity.

“Knowing one’s human rights is an important step that often gets forgotten,” Reuter said. “Learning the content and extent of basic human rights will give people the tools and language needed to address certain issues. Discrimination, suppression, racism, marginalization, and violence against individuals or groups are human rights violations that must be confronted.”

Reuter urges reporting human rights violations to the authorities such as the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice or other entities such as the American Civil Liberties Union. If an incident occurs in the workplace, inform your human resources representative or a diversity officer. At UAB, students, faculty, and staff can contact the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. You can learn more about international human rights by visiting the United Nations Human Rights website and by reading the UAB Institute for Human Rights blog, where faculty and students write about international human rights issues.

Speak up in the face of injustice

Once you know what human rights and human rights violations are, Reuter encourages everyone to pay attention and speak up in the face of injustice. Pay attention to what happens in your everyday life. Document, record and monitor what is going on around you, and if you see injustice, say something.

“The goal is to make everyday suppression of a specific group based on race, color, religion, ethnicity, immigration status, sex, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability status just as unacceptable as the violence and hatred that has occurred in Charlottesville,” Reuter said. “It’s these normal, hidden human rights violations that are particularly dangerous to our society and that we have to confront together.”

Be aware of your own biases

One of the ways to overcome biases and stereotypes is to engage with those who are different. Research shows that interpersonal contact is one of the best ways to reduce prejudice. This theory is called contact hypothesis. The theory suggests that under appropriate conditions interpersonal contact is one of the most effective ways to reduce prejudice between majority and minority groups.

“It is incredibly important to be aware of your own biases,” Reuter said. “We all have them. Realize if you cross the street when a person of a different race walks toward you. Notice if you assume that someone is less competent because she is a woman, a person of color or Muslim. Think about systemic racism and structural violence in your own environment, and find ways to confront them. Actively learn about how our society has grown to marginalize some to the benefit of others. I encourage people to reach out and make new friends outside of their race, religion and gender.”

Join a movement or a cause that fits your passions and interests

Join a movement, and talk with others who feel the same. Look for a rally in your community. Organize a vigil. Participate in a discussion. Engage with others. Get together formally or informally. Look for opportunities to talk. The UAB Institute for Human Rights is a part of the StandAsOne Coalition. If you are a UAB student, you can join the Students for Human Rights club.

“Not all of us are born to be activists or community organizers,” Reuter said. “We cannot all become Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela or Leymah Gboweee; but we all can contribute by supporting the movement. Think about what you are good at and how your skills and talent can be used to move a cause forward.”

Call your representatives

One of the most effective ways to achieve policy change is to call local and state representatives. Reuter says calling is much more impactful than writing an email, Facebook message or letter. She advises anyone contacting their local representative to be polite to the staff, which is who you will most likely get on the line. Their staff members do not have influence on the decision-making process, but they will record your call and do not mind taking opposing views as long as the conversation is civil.

Educate others

This step does not have to be formal. You can educate others by leading by example, or by bringing a friend along to a conversation you are having. It can happen person to person, on social media or on any other platform you use to connect with others. Creating art, poems and performances are incredible ways to get your point across to people who might find that formal ways of education do not resonate with them.

“It is such a privilege to be an educator,” Reuter said. “It is one of my favorite parts of my job to talk to students about issues that affect the world and to encourage them to learn more about these topics. It’s something that everyone can do. Teach your children and young relatives about kindness, human rights, and peace building. Teach them also about systemic suppression, racism and the way our society has oppressed minorities. Talk to them about what bothers you and what you would like to achieve. You don’t have to be a professor or teacher to educate others.”

Donate

One of the fastest and easiest opportunities to make an impact is to donate to an organization that fights for human rights or civil rights.

There are a number of organizations dedicated to ensuring the preservation of individual rights and liberties, one of which is the UAB Institute for Human Rights. You can learn more about the Institute here.

Take care of yourself

Confronting issues such as hatred, violence, and suppression can take a mental and physical toll on anyone. Reuter says it is important to know what you can and cannot do, what you are willing to do, and what your priorities are.

“Focus on the local level. Start in your own community,” Reuter said. “That world is changed person by person, but don’t forget to take care of your needs. When you start to feel overwhelmed, shut down Facebook, Twitter, cable news and other forms of media. Enjoy time with your friends and family. Be kind to yourself, and realize that real progress takes patience.”

Crime, Punishment and Biased Sentencing

University of Utah honors and law professor (lecturer) Randy Dryer, right, and University of Utah School of Computing associate professor Suresh Venkatasubramanian, center, teach an honors class on how software algorithms used in judicial courts to evaluate defendants could be biased like humans – Photo Credit: University of Utah

When it comes to crime and punishment, how judges dish out prison sentences is anything but a game. Students from the University of Utah have created a new mobile game for the iPhone and Android devices that demonstrates how software algorithms used by many of the nation’s judicial courts to evaluate defendants could be biased like humans.

Justice.exe is now available for free on Apple’s App Store and Google Play.

The students, part of a university honors class this semester called When Machines Decide: The Promise and Peril of Living in a Data-Driven Society, were tasked with creating a mobile app that teaches the public how a machine-learning algorithm could develop certain prejudices.

 

“It was created to show that when you start using algorithms for this purpose there are unintended and surprising consequences,” says Suresh Venkatasubramanian, associate professor in the U’s School of Computing who helped the students develop the app and taught the class with U honors and law professor (lecturer) Randy Dryer. “The algorithm can perceive patterns in human decision-making that are either deeply buried within ourselves or are just false.”

When determining bail or sentencing, many judicial courts use software programs with sophisticated algorithms to help assess a defendant’s risk of flight or of committing another crime. It is similar to how many companies use software algorithms to help narrow the search field of job applicants. But Venkatasubramanian’s research into machine learning argues these kinds of algorithms could be flawed.

Using the Justice.exe game is simple: It shows players the mugshot of a criminal defendant, his or her offense and both the minimum and maximum sentence. Additional information about the defendant is provided including education level, the number of prior offenses, marital status and race.

The player’s job is to decide if the defendant should get the minimum or maximum sentence. Fifty defendants are provided for the player to go through. During the course of the game, the app will begin eliminating certain pieces of information — such as the person’s race — so the player must decide on a sentence with less facts to go on. Meanwhile, the app is adjusting its own algorithm model in order to try and predict how the player might sentence future defendants.

“What you’re doing is creating the data that the algorithm is using to build the predictor,” Venkatasubramanian says about how the game works. “The player is generating the data by their decisions that is then put into a learner that generates a model. This is how every single machine-learning algorithm works.”

At the end of the game, the app tries to determine how the player sentences defendants based on race, type of offense and criminal history. The point of the game is to show players that how they intended to mete out punishment may not be how the algorithm perceived it.

“Algorithms are everywhere, silently operating in the background and making decisions that humans used to make,” Dryer says. “The machine does not necessarily make better or more fair decisions, and the game was designed to illustrate that fact,”

The honors class, comprised of nine students from departments such as bioengineering, School of Computing, nursing and business, also gave a presentation to the Utah Sentencing Commission earlier this month to demonstrate how algorithms can be biased and gave recommendations on how to approach the problem.

“There are things you should be asking and things you should be doing as policy makers. For the public, you need to know what kinds of questions you should be asking of yourself and of your elected representatives if they choose to use this,” Venkatasubramanian says. “The problem is there aren’t good answers to these questions, but this is about being aware of these issues.”

Observations of a Danish Social Worker on Social Work Practice in the United States

cancer-patient

I was working as a social worker in Denmark for some at a highly specialised university hospital until I moved to the United States, and I have been wondering about the differences and similarities in working with cancer patient in both places. With 10 years of experience working with cancer patients, their families and palliative care in Denmark, I can see how different Denmark is from the U.S. health and social system. I don’t think it will be fair or even possible to do a one to one comparison of the two countries.

In Denmark, the government plays a major role in providing citizens with fundamental social security and access to healthcare, which dates back to the 1800s. With a comprehensive social security system, most of the welfare state tasks is financed by taxes. In the United States, I have learned most of the social support is provided through non-profit organisations and healthcare is mostly secured by insurance. So with such big differences, I thought it would be interesting to see if there are any common denominators.

In my search for work in the United States a question I often get is do you have experience in working with Afro/American women? In the beginning I wondered a lot about that question, but then it made me really think about how do I define myself as a social worker. Working as a social worker here in the United States at a clinic for low income women with cancer I met many different ethnicities.

Mohammad, a 50-year old man, who was working as a bus driver when I first met him. Originally he was from Iraq, but came to Denmark as a political refugee. He was married and had four children. Mohammad’s wife didn’t speak Danish and she didn’t work. I met Muhammad because he was diagnosed with Colon Cancer and wasn’t able to work much longer.

Being diagnosed with cancer is mostly associated with uncertainty, hopelessness and anxiety of not having any control. Many cancer patients also experience stigma, shame and blame depending on the diagnose. Besides that most people are filled with fear of the disease, many also have concerns of what the diagnose means in relation to work, social life, economy and everyday life. A life threatening disease is an extreme and potentially stressful triggering life event which requires psychological coping.

The best results in our line of work I believe is created by being humble in the approach to the patient and by having a natural curiosity towards the patient’s life story. We must first and foremost see the patient as a person who comes to us for help because they are in a place in their life where they cannot stand alone, and we need most of all take a look at the patient’s individual experience of his or her situation. Whether the individual can adapt to the new life situation depends partly on their degree of resilience.

The first couple of times I met with Muhammad he didn’t say much, I would just talk with him about life in general, so he wouldn’t feel I pressured him into speaking about his situation. In my experience, working as a social worker, a patient in a situation like Muhammad’s is going through a lot of emotions. They may have the feeling of loneliness, lack of understanding from their surroundings, social isolation and financial difficulties.

Moreover they go between accepting the situation, to denial or to have some degree of acceptance. Every time I met with Muhammad I told him you can always come back. I would ask him how his treatment was going and asked about his life in general, this was to not only define him by his diagnose and the disease. Then after a couple of meetings he brought his wife and from there the contact to the family became more frequent. I was Mohammed and his family’s social worker until he died 4 years ago.

Sabrina a young mother of three, was diagnosed with melanoma cancer metastasis to the brain and because of some insurance issue, she had not gotten her treatment and scans. Sabrina’s husband was providing for the whole family and wasn’t home a lot which made Sabrina feel very alone in her situation. Also, Sabrina was going to die and she knew and recognized it.

Speaking with a patient in Sabrina’s situation you need to find out what is most important for her to talk about. Is it emotional support or is it more practical support she needs. First of all, I believe that we should all have an open heart, open mind and listen to the stories the patient has to tell, without race or color in mind.

It is important as a social worker to start a conversation with a patient and imperative to distinguish between the problem and the condition for knowing when to take have a solution-oriented approach, and when we do not need to act, but do something else for the patient. Problems such as financial aid, help to clean, help to care for the children and figuring out what the insurance and pension rules are, can be solved. Conditions are more definable as distressing life events, something the patient has to live with. A burden or a grief to be worn like that I am not able to work longer, I have to die from my children and the disease itself. These circumstances affect the patient on a more emotional and spiritual level.

However, it can be difficult to distinguish between problems and conditions as the patient will often ask questions or talk about the difficult life conditions in a way that invites to problem solving. The patient’s narrative and questions must be recognized and unfolded before we can assess whether it is something we must act on or not. It can be difficult to distinguish in practice, since a situation may contain aspects of both conditions and problems. Here, we must be careful not to solve problems before we acknowledge the losses that the patient has in their changed conditions of life.

I think it’s very important to remember to be truly present with people. We bring knowledge, skills, and compassion to listen in a unique and dedicated way. We need to bear witness to people’s physical and emotional pain without abandoning them or being judgmental in any way. Our role is to create a safe space for the patient to share their joys, regrets, fears, strengths, and sorrows.

I do believe parallels can be drawn between the experiences with patients that I’ve had in the United States and in Denmark. When everyday life is shaken by serious life-threatening disease and families are affected, concerns that arise in both countries are similar in nature regardless of social status and ethnicity.

However, it has surprised me that there is so much focus on ethnicity, especially when I see basically the same problems regardless of race and social status.

It is my experience from what I’ve seen here so far, that here it is more about what ethnicity do you have and what social class do you belong to, that determines how the approach to the patient will be.

A different culture, ethnicity or religion it self does not necessarily accompanied by challenges or the need to have a specific kind of approach.

A cancer – regardless of diagnosis – contains significant psychosocial impacts. In addition to the diagnosis of specific problems, patients often live with fear of relapse, depressed mood, attention and memory impairment, reduced work ability, problems in relationships which, individually or together, may adversely affect rehabilitation and retention of social and cultural status.

It’s essential for a good dialog and contact that we listen with an open-mind and acknowledge the problems coming up during the conversation. Also, it is equally important to see the patient as an individual and avoid judging or being distracted by the patient’s cultural or religious appearance. Otherwise there is a risk that factors such as racism and prejudice will get in the way of the patient receiving the best help.

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