How does raising awareness stop prejudice?

Imagine you are in the habit of treating people who have lesser social status as if they are below you. One day you hear an advertisement talking about a group of people you know nothing about. It’s main thrust is that these people are as good as everyone else, or perhaps even special in some ways which the advertisement informs you are good, and that therefore you should respect them.

ANTaR informs us that Aboriginals do not get enough respect

ANTaR informs us that Aboriginals do not get enough respect

What do you infer?

  1. These people are totally normal except for being special in various exciting ways, and you should respect them.
  2. These people are so poorly respected by others that somebody feels the need to buy advertising to rectify the situation.

What about the next day when you hear that other employers are going to court for failing to employ these people enough?

I can’t think of any better way to stop people wanting to associate with someone than by suggesting to them that nobody else wants to. Low social status seems like the last thing you can solve by raising awareness.

14 responses to “How does raising awareness stop prejudice?

  1. True, but in social circles in which compassion and regard for others confers status, a person can gain status by defending marginalizing groups even if the defense is ineffective because the onlookers usually do not make a careful examination of the expected effectiveness of the defensive strategy. Also, the person builds a record that will help him or her get appointed to the Committee to Defend the Rights of Marginalized Group X, which raises his or her status further, as now he or she gets to throw his weight around and tell people what to do.

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  2. “marginalizing” –> “marginalized”

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  3. You’re completely right, but I’m wondering if there are any minority groups that first came into the public eye through “awareness campaigns”. I can’t think of any, just off the top of my head.

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    • Do you think there would be a different effect if you already knew of the group? I only said they were an unknown group to remove other variables in the thought experiment.

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  4. I always wondered why minority groups weren’t more offended by ad campaigns and demogogues that basically state that 1) The people in the minority group are very and specifically different in real ways from everyone else and 2) They need to be helped along because, apparently, they are uncapable of functioning in this new fast paced world by themselves.

    I always liked the ads that just show a bunch of different people sharing something in common. The NFL used to have an ad out with people from different backgrounds saying, “This is my NFL.” It seems to me that prejudice is a problem best overcome by neutralizing it instead of fighting it head on.

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  5. Good, it looks like we might disagree about something!

    Certainly there are people who conciously and unconciously discriminate against those of various kinds of lower social status – “I’m racist and proud of it”. These people will have their existing prejudices confirmed and strengthened by any form of special pleading – see for instance Rush Limbaugh’s horrible vitriol about Obama being an Affirmative Action president.

    People who do little concious or unconcious discrimination are unlikely to be affected, either. “Yeah, that person is in minority… what’s your point?”

    These people seem to be pretty damn rare – Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist! (forgive me, but Avenue Q has only just arrived in the Antipodes). They are ones you care about – those at the margin, who have conflicting or underdeveloped beliefs about minorities.

    By bringing their attention to the ongoing existence of discrimination, you’re hoping to prod the part of their mind that agrees with you into greater awareness of, and vigilence against, the part of their mind that tends to fall for the same old cognitive biases which underly most forms of xenophobia.

    Of course, most awareness campaigns seem to do the job poorly – it’s a hard battle to fight, especially as evidence seems to suggest that knowling you possess certain cognitive biases doesn’t necessarily reduce them at all.

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    • It is these ‘a little bit racist’ people I’m thinking of. I don’t think that being made extra aware that it is naughty to not want to affiliate with people makes anyone want to affiliate with the people. It makes them feel obliged to a veneer of friendliness, or it makes them want to be seen being friendly, but these are not the same. And I doubt they are worth the cost to the low status people in question of having their low status advertised.

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  6. Interesting point. But are these ads aimed at people who are, or who are not, members of the group described? An ad describing the achievements of George Washington Carver might be aimed at improving self-esteem of blacks, not at making non-blacks more aware of prejudice.

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  7. “Of course, most awareness campaigns seem to do the job poorly – it’s a hard battle to fight, especially as evidence seems to suggest that knowling you possess certain cognitive biases doesn’t necessarily reduce them at all.”

    Yes exactly. I bet seeing ads like this just reinforces the idea that there is this other ‘inferior’ group and reinforces the problem.

    It is probably not possible to fight subconscious racism except by removing actual differences between groups. Subconscious racism looks a lot like a rational heuristic to me (if a pernitious one), so it’s no surprise it’s hard to shift.

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