Overcoming racial bias
April 14, 2010
A professor of law presented studies showing unconscious bias against blacks by both whites and blacks Wednesday, but she also said it can be overcome.
Speaking to a mixed race audience Wednesday at Eastern New Mexico University, University of New Mexico Dickason Professor of Law Sherri Burr also said economic factors and behavior among races affect the way they’re treated.
For example, Burr cited a study showing car dealers made more than twice as much profit selling to blacks compared to the profits they made from white customers, even when the buyers were dressed alike and presented similar backgrounds. She said blacks received the worst deals from other blacks.
White males tend to get the best deals on cars because they come to dealerships with more knowledge, Burr said. When she bought a car, she researched the vehicle and prices at different dealerships and paid the “white male price.”
“It is possible to get that great price, but you have to start with knowledge,” Burr said.
In another study, a researcher had taxi drivers track the race, fare and tip amount for passengers to learn the economics behind complaints that black people couldn’t get cabs in New York City. The study indicated that, while white cab drivers get larger tips than black drivers, white passengers tip more than black passengers whether the driver is white or black, Burr said.
Therefore, she said, both black and white taxi drivers were more motivated to pick up white passengers. A possible reason for the disparity might be the attitude in the black community that people tip only those socially beneath them, she said.
In a final study, two researchers sent companies resumes containing the same information but different names. They found that people with names that sounded like they belonged to a white person were 50 percent more likely to receive invitations for interviews than someone with a name that would be expected to belong to a black person.
The worst part, she said, was when a profile of a black person with a college degree was paired with a white person with a criminal record, the white person was still favored.
Burr said the conclusion was that people prefer to be around people who are like them, even if those people have bad aspects in their past.
“Very difficult to swallow,” she said.
Burr said she thought the disparities can be resolved over time. She said being educated on such things as the need to tip would help, as would people being exposed to the problem.
“The more people know, the more likely they are to overcome it,” she said.
For example, she said if people are aware of a bias against names traditionally belonging to black people, they would be more inclined to make a conscious effort to give someone with such a name a chance.
Burr also said companies are making an effort to hire diverse people because the variety of perspectives in marketing helps their bottom line.
ENMU African-American Affairs Director Jordan Anderson said Burr’s speech opened eyes to racism, not only of white against black, but black against black. The only way to conquer prejudice of white people against black people is to conquer the bias of black people against other black people, he said.
“I hope people within my own race start supporting their own people and respect their own people,” he said.