Thursday, 5 September 2013

Racial slurs: who suffers and who speaks out against them


A recent article investigates racial slurs in the workplace, an important issue that is under-researched. Across a series of studies, Ashley Rosette and colleagues presents data from US samples that show different quantities of racial slurs experienced by white and black people, how gender and race interact with producing them, and how these factors influence willingness to speak up when a slur is witnessed. Tying this all together is a theoretical model based around who benefits when a workplace denigrates a group.

The first study asked 471 participants recruited via online survey to detail their experience of being targeted by a racial slur. The researchers controlled for socio-economic status and household income - both markers of status that reduce the likelihood of suffering abuse - and also for the degree that the individual's work interactions are same-race versus other-race, as this may provide different opportunities for abuse. Holding these factors constant, black people were subjected to a larger quantity of slurs than whites were, and the most common situation was white-to-black slurs. When gender was considered, a richer picture emerged: black men were far more likely to be targeted by slurs than white men, but for women, the difference was much slighter and did not reach significance.

Rosette and her team understand these findings in terms of social dominance and gendered prejudice. Essentially, slurs function to sustain social inequality, keeping one group down so a dominant one will prosper. In this US context, those who have most to gain from this are whites, and specifically white men, as they are both the greatest material beneficiaries of hierarchy and the gender more socialised to seek and defend status. The team predicted that observers of slurs are also more likely to be white men, as previous research has indicated that people are more likely to be interpersonally aggressive when amongst like-minded individuals. Their second study looked at this by harnessed existing telephone survey data, accessing information on 2480 participants which included the question: "Did you hear one or more colleagues at work use a racial slur?". Far more white men answered affirmatively than black men, with no differences seen in the women respondents; in fact, the overall effect of race, collapsing across genders, did not reach significance.

The final study investigated the individual differences that prompt some people to act and others to remain silent when they witness a slur. Conventionally, the background reasoning around these situations (such as whistleblowing or the bystander effect) looks at risk and cost to individuals who act. Rosette's team flip this by considering who benefits from silence. They measured social dominance orientation (SDO), "the desire for generalized, hierarchical relationships between social groups, and ingroup dominance over out-groups", in their sample of 133 students. The study asked these students to observe an online chat meeting between two simulated co-workers  discussing who to include in a task force.

After each candidate was discussed, participants were invited to record feedback on the decision-making process that would be sent on to the CEO. However, each candidate discussion included a racial slur derogating black people. Who was less likely to use the feedback to speak out? White people, who were twice as likely to remain silent. Moreover, a one-unit increase on the (7-point) SDO scale increased the odds of remaining silent 1.5 times. Finally, the race and gender interaction remained, but the black-white differences for men all but disappeared when comparing men who did have a strong component of race in how they saw their identity. In sum, those most  likely to be silent were white men for whom whiteness was important to them, and who are comfortable with, if not eager for, ingroups to dominate out-groups.

Slurs matter. Quite aside from the substantial harm they can produce in their targets, their use within groups can shape attitudes and mobilise environments against those they denigrate. Their function of keeping hierarchy in place is a contradiction to the stated meritocratic aims of most organisations. But if we want people to speak out and unmask the aggressors, it may not be sufficient to encourage safe routes. Instead, as Rosette's team conclude, 'managers should be aware that the establishment of a climate that prevents discrimination and prejudice may need to begin within socially dominant groups' who may view slurs as in their interests, or at least not against them.



ResearchBlogging.orgAshleigh Shelby Rosette, Andrew M. Carton, Lynn Bowes-Sperry, & Patricia Faison Hewlin (2013). Why Do Racial Slurs Remain Prevalent in the Workplace? Integrating Theory on Intergroup Behavior Organization Science DOI: 10.1287/orsc.1120.0809

Further reading:

Graumann CF (1998) Verbal discrimination: A neglected chapter in the social psychology of aggression. J. Theory Soc. Behav. 28(1):42–61.
 

17 comments:

  1. Prejudice in the workplace is a major issue. It's based on the exaggerated notion that members of different social groups are far different than members of our own social group. However, different racial and ethnic groups are more alike then they are different, especially in the workplace. According to the in-group bias, it is our tendency to make more favorable, positive attributions for behaviors by members of our in-group and unfavorable, negative attributions for behaviors by people of out-groups. I believe people can overcome this separation by realizing they each have similar goals and they must work together to accomplish them. When workers hear a racial slur in the work place I think it is highly important for them to report it in order to get the issue addressed. To help avoid this bystander effect, managers should set in place guidelines for employees so they know how to help.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I must say that I'm not at all surprised with the results of this case study. I would agree that it is human nature to want to fit in. Unfortunately even if that means the individual develops a negative attitude about someone they believe to be in the out-group. In my opinion racial slurs are disgusting behavior. Who has the right to determine who's "in" and who's "out." In some situations racism can be an unconscious thought due to different cultures. I didn't think they did a very good job at the scientific method. I would have liked to see the study across the world instead of focusing on a country that is mainly an individualistic culture.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I must say I'm glad this study was done, however I am not surprised by the results. Past studies have shown similar outcomes based upon our cultures social influences. Unless we as a society do something to recognize and eradicate the prejudices we have, whether consciously or unconsciously, then we will continue to have these perceptions in future generations. We live in a time were most of our explicit cognition and behavior has been replaced by implicit cognition and behavior, however this study shows that the former is still a major problem in society. I do however have questions about the slurs themselves...were they being directly said to the target or were most of the slurs back-handed comments made by people who didn't think anything of it? Neither scenario is acceptable, however, knowing this would show whether the offenders were making a conscious effort to be racist or if they were doing it implicitly.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Even in the twenty first century racism plays a big factor in today's work place. There are however some positive steps that can be taken to reduce the amount of racist slurs in the work place. People in the work place could cooperate together to achieve a common goal. Sherif demonstrated how hostility between groups could be over come. His experiments could be brought into the work place such as to sabotage a business project so the two groups would have to combine to fix the problem. This would bring the two groups closer to each other, which in return would create more respect between them. Ultimately the more respect between the groups the less racism/slurs there will be. Also social psychologist Elliot Aronson found that racial slurs might decrease if cooperation replaced competition. This could be incorporated into the work place because it will bring the two groups together to have success on a mutual project.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I do not feel these researcher's conclusion's were necessarily accurate. For instance, presuming that the reason racial slurs were more often targeted at black men than black women is to sustain social inequality seems unlikely to me. This is because it presumes a consciousness of racial rivalry, as opposed to unconscious prejudice built by social cognition and influence. It seems much more likely to me that racial slurs would be uttered as a result of mindset, not strategy.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I am not surprised by the results of this study. Black men got significantly more racial slurs than white men due to the fact that racism has been around for so long that some people conform to what their friends or family say which adds up. If more white men were around when a racial slur was said to a black man, nothing was done since the white men wanted to be the dominate in-group and because of the bystander effect. Since many other people were present at that time no one wanted to step up to help or defend the black man in front of all the others.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I agree with the researchers findings in this study, but only to a point, i agree that white males are more likely to use slurs more than white women and black males and females. but i do not believe that racist slurs are used as a form of social dominance toward a group in order to gain power over a group. i instead think that the slurs developed from cultural upbringing and underlying prejudice in a person's subconscious.

    ReplyDelete
  8. First off I just think it's unfortunate that we even have to deal with this stuff. Nothing good comes out of racism in any way. But I think when it comes to speaking out against it, people kind of hide behind everyone else. No one wants to be "that person". They just want to let it slide and go with it. It's hard to speak out against anything, much less racial slurs like that. I think people just want to fit in. They hear one co worker or one person do it, and then another, and then another, to the point where you don't want to be the odd one out so they just do it too. It's sad, really..

    ReplyDelete
  9. I am taking a psychology class this semester and we have learned about this in class. I find this topic very interesting for two reasons. The first being that yes maybe it was in-group bias but there is no way of knowing that they made a racial slur or kept quiet on purpose to assert social dominance or to conform. It is also very possible that it could be implicit attitude. Which is preferences and biases toward particular groups that are automatic, spontaneous, unintentional, and often unconscious. Basically someone could make a racial slur without realizing but there would be no way to figure out if it was intentional or unintentional. Secondly conformity may play a part only because someone could be adjusting their opinion or behavior to match another person or fit in with the social norms of a social group.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I am in a psychology class this semester and we were just talking about this the other day. Yes the racial slurs were coming from the racial biased in-group, this being said it is possible that the people in this group could also be having implicit attitude towards these people, meaning that it just came out of their mouths not knowing and thinking about what they were doing or saying.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I am in a psychology class for school, when they said in the first survey between white and black males that the black males were more targeted than the white males was because there are more stereotypes toward blacks than there are whites also the reason I believe that bystanders were more likely to be white males was because the comment was not toward them and that they were apart of the in-group status, and so they conformed with the who is being prejudice.

    ReplyDelete
  12. This proves that racism still exists! Everyone has thoughts that unknowingly are racist. Your mind tells you not to act on them. However, people act on the thoughts and discriminate against others! People don't have the courage ask someone to stop using these slurs, hoping someone else will, which is the bystander effect. Sadly, some people will even start in on the racist slurs if the majority of the people are saying them.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I'm just going to say that I was not really surprised at all about the results of the findings from the experiment. But I did just want to add that the work place would be very easy for people to "fall" into conformity for sure! There will always be racism, sadly. It's going to be hard to stop because of people falling into the by-stander effect or even the diffusion of responsibility phenomenon. Most people will hear the racial slur and join in not wanting to be the "odd man out" now I'm not saying at all that is okay but you also have to think from their prospective because EVERYONE has fallen for the conformity. And may I add that there are people who just don't want to get involved for what ever reason it may be.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I believe that when prejudice occurs in a workplace all it does is damage and no good whatsoever. In-group bias effects the way some people in the workplace treat others. They participate in ethnocentrism and think it is ok to treat different ethnic groups or cultures differently or without respect because they rely on stereotypes to tell us what that person is like. They fail to actually get to know that person before they are already making judgments in their mind. The article stated that, "...black people were subjected to a larger quantity of slurs than whites were, and the most common situation was white-to-black slurs." Reading this was very disappointing. I come from a family who taught me to think of everyone equally and treat others the way you want to be treated, so reading this just shows me that there is still prejudice among people. I understand sometimes people have implicit attitudes and say things without realizing how harsh the are or they did not have an upbringing similar to mine and were not taught to respect others the same way they wanted to be respected. Nonetheless, this data did not surprise me, which is terribly sad. In order to end people being prejudice towards others we need to promote cooperation in the workplace and not conform to patterns of hatred in the world.

    ReplyDelete
  15. This article shows that racism is still a real problem in society. It isn’t always an intentional type of racism that is displayed by the subject because often times people are not aware of their prejudice thoughts. Other times it is a type of conformity because people want to fit in and if their friends are co-workers are making sectarian comments, it is more difficult for the subject to speak out against it, even though they know that it is the wrong thing to be thinking. In all the studies mentioned it seems clear there is certainly a bystander effect. Those who did not speak out against the intolerant comments in their feed back to the CEOs were likely affected by a combination of conformity and the bystander affect.

    ReplyDelete
  16. In this article, it is clear that some parts of the Bystander Effect come into play, along with the issue of in-groups, and diffusion of responsibility.
    When looking at this particular situation of prejudice n the work place, it is clear that racial slurs are commonly found to be directed at black men from white men. Those in the workplace say nothing because they think that someone else will report them, or stand up for the person that is being verbally abused (diffusion of responsibility). This type of psychological response is due to the Bystander Effect. People are far less likely to intervene in a situation where there is a presence of people, and when the personal costs outweigh the benefits of the situation (i.e., loss of friendships, business alliances, etc). Specific to the workplace, in-groups are often found to be those who are most successful and well-liked. In this business, that happened to be white men. If another white man was to witness a case of racism against a black man that was instigated by a white man, he would be less likely to help or report the incident because of his "in-group" status at the company.

    ReplyDelete