A moderately non-scientific explanation of the infamous "racism study"

You probably vaguely remember this study from around New Year's:

While people would clearly condemn racism in advance, the majority of non-black people would sit mute and indifferent as blatant acts of anti-black racism occurred before them, according to the Toronto research, published today in the journal Science.

"People expect in a very deliberate fashion that they'll be offended by racism, that they'll censor or avoid racists," said York psychologist Kerry Kawakami, the lead author of the study.

"But our (research) showed that that's not the case when they're actually placed in that situation."

Indeed, while paying strident lip service to their anti-racist attitudes, most of the study's non-black subjects did not try to rebuke or even avoid a mock bigot who had been planted in their midst.
Well that sounds serious. But as with all things, the methodology is important. First off, lets take a break and look at a different study: showing that men consider women to be mere "objects". The Daily Telegraph explains the study:
Researchers scanned the brains of certain men as they looked at a photograph of a woman in a bikini and discovered that sections of the brain that usually reacted to objects lit up.

With men, who were known to have sexist tendencies, they also discovered that a part of the brain that usually turned on during social interaction actually de-activated when they saw the photograph.

Professor Susan Fiske, of Princeton University, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting that she believes that the results show that some men did not see sexualised women as a "human".

"I am not saying that they literally see them as an object, of course they know she is human," she said.

"But what the brain scans show is that they are reacting to this photograph as people react to objects. It is as if they are not fully human.

"They are not treating them as fully three dimensional humans."
Which prompted the now semi-famous quip from blogger Kathy Shaidle: photographs are objects.

So now lets go back to the methodology of our racism study:
For the study, researchers placed three students in a classroom, one white, one black, and one white or Asian. And while two of the students – the black and one white – were in on the scheme, the third believed they were all there waiting for a study to begin.

"Then the black person stands up and says `I forgot my cellphone,' and he walks out of the room. And as he walks out, he gently hits the other white person on the knee," Kawakami said. When the black person left the room, the white person turned to the other person and said something racist – "in some cases extremely racist," she said.

Despite using terms as offensive as "clumsy n----r," the planted bigot faced little or no reprisal from the majority of white subjects.

Indeed, said Kawakami, when asked subsequently to pick a partner for the purported study, some 63 per cent of the white students picked the bigot over the black.

The racist comments had such little impact, said Kawakami, that the same number of subjects chose the white person in corresponding experiments where the slurs were absent.

A control group of "forecaster" students, who faced no racist comments but were told of the experiment, predicted overwhelmingly that they would be offended and would lash out at the speaker.
The MSM have a lot of trouble summarizing scientific experiments, as that last paragraph demonstrates. Some piece of information is missing there, as these "forecasters" as depicted aren't a control group at all: a control group is how they react with a general non-racist complaint against the black guy. Something there isn't adding up, but for now lets just accept the first bit as given to us.

So you're in a room, and right in front of you a minority commits an offense against the other participant (ie. the actor). Said participant complains about the offense (in this case, bumping into somebody) using a racist term. So was this racism? Or perhaps was it something else... something less sinister and more conventional?

Let me relate this with a story from my workplace. We are a pretty non-diverse group. Sure we have black, hispanic, and Newfie employees (we used to have an asian, but he got a better job -- and yes we are dragging the bottom of the barrel to include Newfies as a race), but they're mostly old fat bald men with a bum knee. So we have the fat black guy with a bad knee, the fat Newfie with a bad knee, and a few fat white guys with a bad knee. There's a chunky hispanic guy too, but I think his knees are fine. Not a perfect thesis, I admit. But here's the deal: we actually have two hispanic guys at work: one of them is an extremely hard worker who does a very very very undesirable job with extreme speed/skill/devotion. The other doesn't do his job well (if at all), he pretends to have language barriers whenever its convenient for him, he runs crying to the boss if anybody so much as rolls their eyes at him, he is always too busy to do the less agreeable aspects of his job (forcing other employees to take time away from our jobs to pick up his slack) and all the while acting as if his shit doesn't stink and that he's some critical cog in the great wheel of my place of employment. In other words, he's a lazy Mexican. (technically he's from Ecuador, but we don't let that get in the way of our racist taunts of him).

Therein lies the rub, as they say. Quite often at work, people will describe him as a "lazy Mexican". The black guy calls him a lazy Mexican... even the other hispanic guy did it once! (Don't get me started on the Newfie). The reason for it is, I think, the same reason as the pariticpants in the study didn't react poorly to the "racism" exhibited in the study. Racism, as one traditionally understood it, isn't at play here. What is at play is that when we perceive and/or witness somebody doing something antisocial or otherwise objectionable, we assault and belittle them with every weapon at our disposal. (It is vital to note that neither the black guy nor the other hispanic guy are ever the recipient of racially charged assaults. They both act properly, in the sense that they show up for work, do their jobs, take the blame when they mess up and only take the credit when its deserved. We have no reason to be upset with them.)

So the black guy who bumps into the knee of a guy at the study (bad) to get his annoying cell phone (bad) and possibly disrupts a serious academic study (bad) is a "clumsy nigger". The hispanic guy who doesn't do his job properly (bad) and causes everybody else to take on more unpaid work (bad) is a "lazy Mexican". The asian woman who last summer sat right here on the St. Albert Trail/Yellowhead off ramp (bad. very bad. why the hell would you not pull forward so that people driving straight in the through lane could get by?) with her left hand signal on waiting for an unrealistically large gap in traffic is a "shitty Chinese driver". The superficially-pious Catholic who takes the last cookie at that family reunion (bad) is the "self-righteous Jesus freak". The sodomite who is, well, a sodomite (bad) is a "fucking faggot".

Racism doesn't factor into it at all. What factors into it is that when you're mad at somebody you don't like them for everything that they are. Chris Farley is a funny guy. That guy at work who feels the need to butt into your conversations with a witless remark is "an unfunny fat fuck". (Yes, bad language is a common thread in the circles I run).

If they really want to do something, they should have ran the study with another group where the black guy didn't do anything except get up and leave the room (ideally when asked by a researcher to come with them), and then have the other actor make a racist comment for no apparent reason (ie. "I can't believe I have to take a study with a nigger"). Then you might see your sought-after rebukes: after all, what did the black dude do to deserve the treatment? That's right nothing...clearly you are in the presence of a bigot.

The "racism study" merely told you what you probably already knew: when you are upset with somebody, nothing about them is sacred when it comes time to be very very very pissed off at the annoying nigger who hit you in the leg just to get his goddamned cellphone.