Racism and Contact Hypothesis

8 August 2016

Assessing Three Proposals in Light of Psychological Evidence Daniel Kelly, Luc Faucher, and Edouard Machery At the end of a chapter in his book Race, Racism and Reparations, Angelo Corlett notes that “[t]here remain other queries about racism [than those he addressed in his chapter], which need philosophical exploration . . . Perhaps most important, how might racism be unlearned? ” (Corlett 2003, 93). We agree with Corlett’s assessment of its importance, but ? nd that philosophers have devoted relatively little attention to the issue of how to best deal with, and ultimately do away with, racism.

Discussion is often con? ned to cursory remarks at the end of articles mainly devoted to de? ning “racism” or attempting to capture the essence of racism itself. In this article, we put the issue of how to best deal with racism front and center. We need not start from scratch, however. Despite not being central to many philosophical discussions about race, a number of different strategies for dealing with racism have been suggested.

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We have identi? ed three of the most concrete proposals made by philosophers and social theorists, each of which seeks to mitigate racism by inducing psychological changes in individuals.

For each, we formulate the line of thought behind the strategy as clearly as we can, supply the psychological justi? cation suggested by its respective advocates, and spell out how the strategy might be concretely applied in practice. Finally, we assess each proposal in light of current empirical work on racial cognition. We conclude that some proposals are likely to fare better than others. Furthermore, the empirical literature shows that even the most promising proposals can be re? ned in light of empirical ?ndings, to help maximize their effectiveness or prevent them from back? ring. 2 Something needs to be said about how we are conceiving of racism, and so what getting rid of it amounts to. Because our discussion will be rather wideranging, we assume an inclusive characterization: A mental state (an emotion, a belief, a motivation, and so on) or an action is racist if it is race-related and if it is morally problematic. We do not take any stance here about what makes racist mental states and actions morally problematic, but instead rely on an intuitive grasp of the notion.

Given this picture of the psychology of racism, we will assess different proposals based on how effective they are in addressing and undermining each of these aspects, according to the available evidence. In what follows, we ? rst consider the idea that disseminating scienti? c information about the biology of race will undermine racism (the dissemination hypothesis). Next, we examine the idea that increasing interracial interactions will weaken various components of racism (the contact hypothesis).

Finally, we consider the proposal that, instead of attempting to eliminate racist beliefs and prejudices, people should learn to control them (the self-regulation hypothesis). We end with some concluding remarks on the potential compatibility of the three proposals. 1. The Dissemination Hypothesis According to Naomi Zack, “[r]acism and widespread ignorance concerning the scienti? c facts about race and racial difference overlap” (Zack 2003a, 263). Her favored approach for dealing with racism ? ows from this conviction, and amounts to a recommendation of explicit education: We should aim to teach people the most important scienti?

Built into the meaning and usage of terms like “water,” “gold,” or “race” is a (perhaps tacit) belief that scientists know or will come to know what falls in the extension of these terms. For instance, scientists tell us that anything with the chemical structure H2O properly falls in the extension of “water. ” Sometimes, however, scientists discover Getting Rid of Racism 295 that a putative natural kind term fails to refer to anything at all. Standard examples are terms like “witch” or “phlogiston. ” When it is discovered that nothing in fact falls within their extension, the terms and corresponding entities are said to have been eliminated.

Zack holds that such elimination is the fate destined for race. First, she maintains that racial terms (e. g. , “Blacks”) function as natural kind terms. Second, she maintains that science has discovered that those racial terms fail to refer to anything because the science of race has revealed that racial groupings are not natural kinds: There is no underlying structure—genetic, psychological, moral, or otherwise—shared by all and only those people grouped together by particular racial terms (Zack 1998, 1999, 2002, 2003a,b).

Pairing this reading of the biology of race with her favored theory of the reference of racial terminology, Zack concludes that races will eventually go the way of witches or phlogiston. In her own words: So as the development of modern science contributed to the construction of a secular social ethos that supplanted a religious one, so will the dissemination of conclusions already accepted in the biological sciences eventually contribute to the construction of a raceless society. (Zack 2003b, 144)

This does not appear to be happening quickly, however. By all appearances, the folk still believe in the reality of races, and they still tend to structure their social interactions around ideas associated with race. Why? One explanation invoked by Zack appeals to widespread ignorance, “a failure to recognize that there is no basis for racial categories” (Zack 2002, 13). Given this diagnosis, a solution to the situation is straightforward: Eliminate ignorance by better publicizing and teaching the relevant science.

As she puts it, one of the phases of the project of relinquishing false biological notions of race—what she calls the “cognitive phase” of the project—will be “the acquisition and distribution of the required information about human biology. This scienti? c literacy will proceed at a slow pace through the academy until it is disseminated at the secondary and primary school levels” (2002, 113). 1. 2 Psychological Justi? cation Zack’s proposal rests on two psychological ideas, each of which we discuss in turn. The ?

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