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Kansas State Professor Examines How People Express Racism

Kansas State Professor Examines How People Express Racism

Racism is still expressed in people’s actions, even in today’s society, where voiced racism is overwhelmingly shunned.

That’s the conclusion of Dr. Donald Saucier, a Kansas State University psychologist, who has been studying the modes of racism for the past nine years. He says if people understand and recognize this, they can begin to put an end to any expression of racism, whether direct or indirect.

“We have always said that if you hide the behavior, then it is good enough,” Saucier says. “But that’s not good enough. I want to stop the behavior.”

Saucier said there are two types of people when it comes to racist behaviors: those who know they are racist, but are hiding it; and those who aren’t sure if they are racist and try not to be, with varying degrees of success.

“The people who know it and are hiding it are going to let it come out when given the opportunity,” Saucier says. “The other people who aren’t sure are trying to guard against it because they are not sure it’s there. But they may not guard against it very effectively and it may still come out.”

With his team of undergraduate students, Saucier has been investigating trends in discrimination and “helping” behaviors by analyzing situations where discrimination occurred. The team reviewed studies where people needed help in various ways, from having dropped their books or groceries to having passed out on a subway. Overall, research has shown that people were more apt to give excuses for not helping when a Black person needed help.

“When individuals were asked why they didn’t help the person, they never say ‘Well, that person is Black,’” Saucier says. “Instead, they say it is because they didn’t have time or they didn’t notice the books fall.”
To get a more accurate view of discriminatory behaviors, Saucier has devised a racial argument scale. In this study, participants are given a series of arguments and conclusions. Their task is to decide whether they agree that the argument supports the conclusion.

“An argument may be something like ‘on average, Whites score a full deviation higher on IQ tests than Blacks.’ If you think that Whites are more intelligent than Blacks, then you say it works. If you don’t agree with the argument, then you say the IQ test is culturally biased,” Saucier says. “What happens is their beliefs, by necessity, are determining whether or not it is a good argument.”

Participants are also asked to edit a series of essays written by a White and a Black student. This study showed that people who supported the racial arguments in the previous tests were more hostile toward the Black author by making large marks and flamboyant comments.

Likewise, the people who did not support the arguments proved to be more constructive toward the Black authors.

Saucier hopes the impact of his research  will be increased social consciousness.

“Racism does emerge and has real-life consequences in other areas that you wouldn’t necessarily consider,” Saucier says. “We try to get people to help members of other groups. If you are helping members of other groups and you are racist against them, then there is an inconsistency that you have to resolve.”

Although racism is not limited to only Blacks and Whites, Saucier says that is where most of the research is focused.

“We see similar things happen with sexism, prejudice against homosexuals, Asians, Latinos and other groups, but most researchers focus on White/Black because it is a very salient stigma.”

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