by Natasha Chart, Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 03:08:39 AM EST
Don't you hate feeling like someone's "looking down" on you? Well, you know who looks down on almost everybody? Tall people. Think about it.
I'm serious. Why is a term that refers to looking down from a physical difference in height equated with condescension or perhaps even sneering? Why does it infer the superiority (height reference) of the person doing the looking over the lowly (height reference) person who's the object of their gaze?
That might seem like meaningless word play. But then consider this:
"... In the U.S. population, about 14.5 percent of all men are six feet or taller. Among CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, that number is 58 percent. Even more striking, in the general American population, 3.9 percent of adult men are six foot two or taller. Among my CEO sample, almost a third were six foot two or taller. ..." - Malcolm Gladwell, Blink
Gladwell goes on to suggest from his data that being short might make it almost as hard to ascend (height reference) to upper (height reference) management as being female or a minority. Historical data about height differences between European aristocracy and the peasantry, caused mostly by nutritional differences, suggests that this implicit association of greater height with fitness to lead has been part of the template of western civilization for a long time and operating among adults of the same ethnicity.
Next consider that you've grown up in a society where from childhood you've heard religious, fictional and historical stories that referred to things like the "black arts," or the "forces of darkness." Or how about these, LoTR fans, the "Black Rider" or the "the Lord of the Black Lands." One is meant to understand, without needing to be told, that the word dark or black in these usages is a synonym for evil and cruelty, that it refers to something that should be feared and likely hated.
So we've been taught, all our lives.
Then along comes the Implicit Association Test, or the IAT.
If you take the race IAT, it measures your reaction time in performing a simple task of clicking on a screen to associate positive words with European Americans and negative words with African Americans. Then it asks you to do the opposite; even Black people can be slower at that part.
"... The disturbing thing about this test is that it shows that our unconscious attitudes may be utterly incompatible with our stated values. As it turns out, for example, of the fifty thousand African Americans who have taken the Race IAT so far, about half of them, like me, have stronger associations with whites than with blacks. How could we not? We live in North America, where we are surrounded every day by cultural messages linking white with good.
... But, believe it or not, if, before you take the IAT, I were to ask you to look over a series of pictures or articles about people like Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela or Colin Powell, your reaction time would change. Suddenly it won't seem so hard to associate positive things with black people. "I had a student who used to take the IAT every day," [IAT co-creator Mahzarin] Banaji says. "It was the first thing he did, and his idea was just to let the data gather as he went. Then this one day, he got a positive association with blacks. And he said, 'That's odd. I've never gotten that before,' because we've all tried to change our IAT score and we couldn't. But he's a track-and-field guy, and what he realized is that he'd spent the morning watching the Olympics. ..." - Malcolm Gladwell, Blink
Electing Barack Obama to the presidency isn't going to bring racism to an end. It just won't. Further, whatever Obama's personal feelings, neither he, nor his election to office, carries the power to absolve the the past or forgive all injury. Only a lot of equality of opportunity over time is going to come close. I presume that you more or less know this, unless you are the average pundit.
Still, the fact is that for the next 4 to (crosses fingers) 8 years, people in the US who aren't Black and pay any attention to the news are going to see an African American First Family acting much as they did on the campaign trail, and they will come to understand, no matter what some demagogue or acquaintance says, that it is perfectly normal.* They're going to see the man who beat out the previously most popular Democrat, followed by the most popular Republican, for the presidency. He'll probably be considered the leader of the Free World, which I didn't think would be possible for an American president again after Bush II.
I expect that it will make a difference, human psychology being what it is. The idea will go from being novel to familiar. It could be that people of different races can be primed to start first interactions off with more positive implicit assumptions about the outcomes. Maybe there will be less fear, less hesitation.
That would be huge, and hopeful, all by itself.
* You have to admit, if you're honest, that a Black Sarah Palin & family would have lost an election for dogcatcher, and their collective gun fetish would have been regarded as a disturbing menace to the peace. Also, that if It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia had Black leading characters, it would be interpreted as a commentary on the sad state of the Black community as a whole, instead of a deeply disturbing 'comedy' about a pack of sociopaths offered for entertainment. And lastly, that being White means you can be unapolagetic in your praise for an artist who sang, "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die," without anyone thinking that it means anything about either you, or the artist, or White people as a group.