Can America Be Colorblind? Research Findings Suggest Not

August 14, 1997

Beyond Desegregation, Intergroup Cooperation Necessary to Overcome Personal Biases

CHICAGO -- Most Americans agree that eliminating racism and providing equal opportunity in education and the workplace is an important national goal. There is disagreement however on how best to achieve that goal. A paper released today by the American Psychological Association at its 105th Annual Convention in Chicago, "Can -- or Should -- America Be Color-Blind?", states that a color-blind approach to equal opportunity for all Americans will fail. This conclusion is based on research findings that skin color, ethnicity and gender figure prominently in American's attitudes and behaviors toward each other.

Based on more than two decades of research, James H. Jones, Ph.D., professor of Psychology at the University of Delaware, has concluded that:

  • Human beings react to racial differences between themselves and others at elementary levels of thinking, perceiving and feeling. "In subtle ways, behavior toward a person of another race frequently reveals deep-seated racial biases. Such automatic responses operate without conscious intervention or awareness," Dr. Jones states.

  • Being expected to do poorly, especially by an authority figure, can result in poor performance.

  • People from different groups tend to experience similar situations differently. Also learned from the psychological research is that having people work together in groups -- intergroup cooperation as a step beyond simple desegregation -- helps overcome the racial and cultural biases described above. But, specific conditions are necessary for the cooperative setting to have an optimal effect. Among the conditions that improve intergroup acceptance are:

  • Equal status in the setting. Women and minority groups must have the same status as other group members.

  • Sanction from those in authority. Persons in authority and other opinion leaders must communicate that intergroup cooperation is a key goal, and beneficial to the organization's overall goals.

  • Interpersonal intimacy. Cooperative effort must allow people to get to know each other and understand each other's differing perspectives.

    In summary, the research suggests that "race does matter," Dr. Jones says. "Therefore recognizing the differences in people and their experiences is the only equitable way to achieve social justice."

    Paper: Can -- Or Should -- America Be Color-Blind? Psychological Research Reveals Fallacies in Color-Blind Response to Racism. The American Psychological Association, August, 1997.

    (Full text available from APA Press Room.)

    The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 151,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 50 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

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