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Many Turn Blind Eye to Racism

They're not quick to condemn hurtful comments, study suggests

THURSDAY, Jan. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Many people overestimate how strongly they would react to racist acts, a new Canadian study says.

Sixty-three percent of study participants at York University, in Toronto, still chose to partner for an experiment with a white person rather than a black one, even after their white peer made racist comments about the black person when he left the room.

"And the racist comments ranged from moderate to one of the most powerful anti-black slurs in the English language," study lead author Kerry Kawakami, a psychology professor with York's Faculty of Health, said in a news release issued by the university.

The findings, published in the Jan. 9 issue of Science, may explain why racism persists, even though being called a racist carries a great social stigma.

According to article co-author Elizabeth Dunn, a University of British Columbia professor, "People often make inaccurate forecasts about how they would respond emotionally to negative events. They vastly overestimate how upset they would feel in bad situations such as hearing a racial slur. One of the ways that people may stem the tide of negative emotions related to witnessing a racial slur is to re-construe the comment as a joke or as a harmless remark."

The researchers are now studying how characteristics linked to racists and their targets affect bystanders' reactions to racial slurs. Understanding perceptions from each standpoint, they hope, will offer clues as to when people do and do not stand up against racism.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about racism and psychology.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: York University, news release, Jan. 8, 2009

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