Studies on racism?
December 20, 2011 5:09 PM   Subscribe

Studies on race and racial epithets

I'm curious to find if any psych or sociology studies have been conducted into racism, racial epithets, and their societal impact. I'm of the current opinion that, while reprehensible, racist terms do not have much impact as do conditioning and attitudes, but I'm an empiricist at heart! I want to know if these things actually do matter. Does anyone know of any studies?
posted by satyricaldude to Human Relations (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Jane Hill's The Everyday Language of White Racism is a great place to start.
posted by Milau at 5:22 PM on December 20, 2011

No impact on whom? Surely, you don't mean the person being called a racial epithet.
And don't racist terms reflect attitudes?

Mapping the language of racism: discourse and the legitimation of exploitation
The Poetics of Anti-Racism
posted by shoesietart at 5:48 PM on December 20, 2011

You really should read Judith Butler's "Excitable Speech"
posted by vivid postcard at 6:20 PM on December 20, 2011

It's not a study, but Lester Bangs' article The White Noise Supremacists is telling.
posted by scruss at 6:27 PM on December 20, 2011

I highly recommend Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word. Highly.
posted by batmonkey at 6:30 PM on December 20, 2011

@shoesietart I'll cop to being a clueless white guy, albeit gay, so I don't know much about getting shit for my minority status. I'm also a fairly big guy so I could beat the tar out of someone who decided to let me know how they felt about my status. So yeah, I'm curious to hear if there's been studies on using bigoted terms and a corresponding spike in discrimination. I mean a societal impact, not necessarily an impact on the person being called an epithet. I don't know if racist terms reflect attitudes. That's why I want to find out some empirical evidence.

By the way these are all fabulous. Thank you all.
posted by satyricaldude at 6:35 PM on December 20, 2011

No impact on whom? Surely, you don't mean the person being called a racial epithet.

Actually, if you read Losing the Race by John McWhorter (who's black — as in, both of his parents are black Americans), he has a section where describes various incidents where he was a victim of racism, including being angrily called the n-word. It's worth just reading the book to get the full nuances, but in a nutshell, he concludes that it hardly ruined his life or prevented him from being successful, and in fact it gave him a sense of superiority and pity for the racists.
posted by John Cohen at 6:48 PM on December 20, 2011

@John Cohen Black Berkeley linguistics professor? Yep, probably the best of the pack thus far. Seriously! THANKS.
posted by satyricaldude at 6:55 PM on December 20, 2011

he concludes that it hardly ruined his life or prevented him from being successful

If every black person let being called the n-word ruin their lives, there would be no successful black people.
posted by shoesietart at 7:12 PM on December 20, 2011

Epithets function in multiple ways. Epithets can have a direct impact on the well-being of individuals. I'm getting the impression this is the only way you're currently thinking of as"impact". Racial epithets, in that way, would be more akin to bullying. It would target individuals - and the study would need to take into account how being called a racial epithets impacts life trajectories. (Which, well, let's face it, most of us have been called a racial epithet at one point, so, really, it would be hard to delimit the factors in such a study).

There is another way in which epithets have been shown to have an effect on society (note: sociologists like to talk about effects more than impacts): through discourse. The first thing you need to understand is that epithets are not merely a reflection of attitudes, they also contribute to reproducing the attitudes. The George Dei and Judith Butler books all touch upon various aspects of this - but I think Jane Hill exemplifies it in a more empirical way. Anti-racist sociologists tend to give "discursive effects" more importance than individual impact because they hold discourse accountable for the reproduction of social inequalities: from lower income, to the tolerance of discrimination in schools, etc. In this way, the way we think and talk about race is correlated with individual's life opportunities.
posted by Milau at 7:15 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here is one study, unfortunately paywalled.

Subjects watched a debate between two people, one of whom was black. Then they were asked to rate the skill of the black debator. In one condition, it was arranged that the subject would overhear someone using a racial slur against the black debator; in the other conditions, the subject overheard a non-racist criticism of his debating skills, or they didn't overhear anything at all. Subjects who heard the racial slur gave lower ratings on average than subjects in the other two conditions.

In other words, yes, there is empirical evidence that racial slurs create bias. According to this study, if A hears a racial slur used against B, he is more likely to form a negative opinion of B.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:57 PM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

You might also try looking around with the search term race-related stress. This gets you research on the general question, "Does it make your mental health worse to be on the receiving end of racist treatment?" So they're not focusing on racist slurs in particular, but "How often have you been called a racist name in the past month?" is one of the questions they ask.

Long story short, there are all sorts of correlations between suffering racist treatment (including name-calling) and suffering from various other mental health problems.

These are just statistical correlations. There are some people who aren't affected much by hearing slurs — and, hell, maybe even people who feel better about themselves after hearing one — but on average, yes, studies suggest that if you're getting called racist names on a regular basis, you'll be more stressed, more prone to depression, less optimistic about your life, etc. etc. etc.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:29 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm curious to hear if there's been studies on using bigoted terms and a corresponding spike in discrimination.

I agree with Milau -- I think you need to broaden your question. I would guess it's the other way around, with prejudice and discrimination coming before the use of bigoted terms. You mentioned you're gay. If where you grew up was anything like where I grew up, you probably heard people contemptuously call each other "fags" or say things were "so gay". That language was accepted at the time because there was so much societally sanctioned discrimination against gay people that it was totally fine for someone to equate being a jerk or an idiot with being gay. But these days, with much greater acceptance of gay people generally, it's much harder to get away with calling someone a "fag" (meaning "I hate you," rather than "you are gay").

Sorry, no empirical study to share, but wanted to question your assumptions here.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:11 AM on December 21, 2011

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