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Most scholarly studies on psychology are mainly dedicated towards the understanding of racism as an individual engagement with regard to prejudice and discrimination. Traditionally racism has been viewed within the context of individualism; how it affects life of a person. The result has been the notion that racism is indeed a social issue with serious drawbacks. The procedural analysis of race and its effects the society will never yield meaningful results if race is conceptualized within that category. This according to Durrheim, Hook and Riggs, limits understanding because it is individualistic assumption emanating from personal conviction of our cultural beliefs or cognitive psychology.
Race refers to different biological orientations of human subspecies that distinguishes a population with a given anatomical state from the others. The creation of cultural patterns makes human beings use skin color to classify individuals. However, Bobo, Kluegel, and Smith, (1997) dismiss the use of biology in psychological research on racism. Racism involves interpersonal interaction from not only one particular group but also intergroup interaction. This dynamism limits the definition of racism as an individualistic perception and reaction to intolerance and discrimination. There is a strong presumption that racial groupings is a perfect reflection of how individualistic thinking would translate to group thinking depending on different opinions that people hold. This essay therefore, shows that racism should be best viewed from group thinking or intergroup notions rather than on individualistic racial ideals.
Psychological research on the rapid growth of human interaction holds that racism should be viewed as a perception of specific events in history that define how people related as groups and why some groups emerged to impose dominance against other groups. It is an unjust and oppressive way of discrimination.. This categorization is relevant, for instance, in the traditional and postmodern American society where race is viewed in the context of ethnic groupings. These categories normally share a common privilege or problem that a given population identifies with.
Power relations plays important role in the categorization of groups where the ‘politically correct’ majority or in-groups dominate the oppressed minority or out-groups. Research by Matsueda and Drakulich, people perceive racism as a product of three main issues: modern-day racism, administrative injustice encouraged by the police, and heightened by racial discrimination by the political elite. Power is one’s ability to control and manipulate a surrounding concerning behavior of other people. The term power is synonymous to authority, though authority is considered legal in the social life. The major source of power is wealth as power can make one gain wealth and wealth can make one powerful. Power relates to culture in that in-groups will attempt to creates a political environment that suits their interest, they become determinants, and are emulated by less powerful out-groups either willingly or unwillingly. Powerful people make decisions without consulting the less powerful and so they determine cultural patterns within a society. Such an analogy should disqualify the thinking of racism as an individual perception. Otherwise, racism would be a reflection of personal references with regard to behavior and attributes on the environment presents.
Critical psychologists apply the aforementioned approach rather than the traditional understanding of racism by analyzing the historical background and emergence of races. This approach is opposed to the conventional psychologists’ way of understating the origin of racism. The traditional psychologists base their understanding of racism on societal tenets and cognitions instead of focusing on the critical role of social relations, which exhaustively cover historical background and emergence of such relationships. Critical psychologists also seek to find out why racial boundaries are created in the society as people interact and how creating of racial boundaries propels the cultural tenets and the belief that racism is natural and real.
This approach is relevant as it also tries to examine what causes racial abuses, why they exit, and their effects in the society. In order to account for the relevance of critical psychology in analyzing racism, it is worth to begin by reviewing the ideals of traditional psychological research and the critical psychology. From such an analysis, it would then be realistic to criticize one approach in favor of the other.
Traditional Approaches of Psychology in Understanding Racism
This approach is significant in psychology studies as it attempts to give an understanding of what informs racist remarks and why it is a global concern. The traditional approaches of unveiling the undercurrents of racism lie in the ideals of two theories: personality and cognition. To begin with, personality view became popular in the post World War II (WWII) when the theory was used to explain the aftermath of WWII events. According to Durrheim, Hook and Riggs, the existence of Holocaust was an exemplification of what transpired from hatred that was held by conflicting groups’ interests in the war. This raises upheaval on the likely causes of prejudice as even the most developed societies were caught in the war. This approach has its weaknesses as it relies on emergence of anti-Semitism and fascist perceptions in developing its framework. It does not explain the height of social and political hatred and use of merciless killings that were seen in the WWII. The ideals of anti-Semitism and fascist were further developed to become the authoritarianism theory.
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Authoritarianism theory holds that racism emerged from minority characteristic intolerance of the minority groups based on personality syndrome. The personality syndrome is founded on the ground that human traits are a reflection of an organized conscious and subconscious mind that inform thoughts and acts of an authoritarian person. Adorno et al. as quoted by Durrheim, Hook and Riggs, hold that, the focus of psychoanalystic reasoning on unfounded and emotional grounds is a backward way of tackling the dynamics of personality and cannot explain why there is primitive fear that are liable to manipulation by the political elite through lies and propaganda. Traditional psychological approaches considered a number of issues to be the main determinants and causes of racial discrimination. These were inflexible discipline at the community level, distinctive roles and responsibilities by a particular group, and acceptance of dominance by other groups among other factors. This is also observed by Ahmed, who notes that, “it is difficult to commit fully to anti-racist practice in teaching,”.
The US consists of a number of races from the Hispanic to the African Americans, Latinos, Indian Americans, New Hawaiian, Asian Americans, and among others. These groups are considered minority and have been discriminated against by the dominant white group. In the U.S. as noted by Frazier and Tettey-Fio there is racial distinction, ‘us and them’ in the provision of a number of benefits in economic, political, and social amenities. In Canada, racial abuses are also common. Benefits are given to some groups in favor of others who must struggle to earn a leaving,.
The theory of authoritarianism in spite of these arguments, recognizes that there is need to relate racism at personal level with the broader power channels. Fascism is forced to the people and as such, its meaning will be comprehensive if the various structural connotations in human interaction are understood. For instance, structural connotations may include fear of parting with traditional beliefs and the fear that globalization may bring unforeseen disasters.
The theory of authoritarianism is significant as it explains why personally-based ideals explain origin of extreme hatred in an attempt to bring emotional connections to racism. The emotional connection explains why racist abuses come from an individual who finds pleasure in oppressing others. Consequently, the cognitive tradition sees racism as a product of mindset that manipulates what human beings perceive of the world. According to Durrheim, Hook and Riggs, perceptions arise from categorizations of cultural patterns in terms of what people see, feel, touch, and believe in like color (white or black), religion (Christian or Muslim), and political identity (Republican or Democrat) among others. Categorization results from social construction in terms of what people see from the society, which in essence, means human perception as discussed above.
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Just like the authoritarianism theory, cognitive account of racism arose from analysis of the social history that gave rise to racial discrimination and economic inequality. For instance, the American racism of the South before the1950s was based on segregation where children of the Blacks were not allowed to go to school with the Whites children even if they came from same neighborhood. Cognitive theory holds that it is possible to change mindset by changing social practices.
According to Durrheim, Hook and Riggs, the way people interact depend on categorization as a product of mental creations and perfections of what constituted cultural tenets of individuals. The realignment of such perceptions could be possible if individuals changed how they associated with one another. Therefore, cognitive theory would achieve desegregation and bring Blacks and Whites together. This theory is impractical as it naturalizes racism as a cognitive process that emerges from social categories and stereotypes. In fact, as noted by Carmines, Sniderman, and Easter, modern day scholars of racism observe that there was a decline of racist remarks in the post WWII era in the United States. However, the emergence of Black Power Movement in mid 1960s brought back race-based conflicts in cities. Inappropriateness of cognitive psychology is echoed other psychological researchers on racism who note that there is lack of fluid connection between cognitive abilities and historical events. This in turn may interrupt effective understanding and incorporation terms used in a more complex political speech in the modern view of racist remarks as a being symbolic. Sears and Valentino, support this notion.
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Critical approaches of Psychology in Understanding Racism
Critical approaches to psychology in understanding racism are most relevant because they analyze racial categories from historical events and continue to interpret the understandings in the postmodern world. For instance, discourse studies show how anti-racist remarks can encourage racism in a given society. Discursive theory is based on textual analysis of written and spoken exchange of words. Such an approach lays ground for discursive psychology researchers to analyze how expressive language of racial remarks build up, how they are justified, disapproved, or preserved. It builds on the existence of social construction where people describe the world differently based on different social groupings and observation of other individuals. Arising social constructions are resultant effects of stereotyping and community generalizations on what a person perceives of the other. The constructions categorized people because of privileges enjoyed by a selected group. This is also true from linguistic abstraction theory, which denotes that, stereotypical behavior of the majority groups shows the degree by which the society has myriad levels of individual prejudice. (Schnake and Ruscher, 1998).
Study of social life is possible if there is a potential to identify interpretative repertoires that are used in coining certain figures of speech in order to characterize and evaluate events of the day. Durrheim, Hook and Riggs, explain cultural tenets and the patterns they take in the society are not personal convictions but social representation that arose from historical events that seek to explain the existence of racism at various levels. Other than providing figurative speech to define events and actions, interpretative repertoires give definition of what racism constitutes and provide ample strategies to formalize discussions on racial issues, Blackledge, and supported by Schidt,. On the other hand, Schnake and Ruscher, observe that, highly developed linguistic abstraction is noted in a communication that involves effective communicators whose main concern is to avoid prejudice but end up being stereotypical to the audience.
It is a common understanding that prejudice is illogical and due to these perceptions, speakers avoid it in form of disclaimers, statement justifications, and all sorts of excuses in order to appear smart. According to Durrheim, Hook and Riggs, speakers gave implicating racial remarks and justified their expressions by blaming audience’ perceptions. The consequence of discursive approach is that both audience and speakers are normally engaged in redirecting acts of racism. This whole approach shows the interconnection of racial remarks, not as a product of an individual, but intergroup interaction in critical psychology. However, it is limited in critical psychology, as it does not focus on other forms of collective engagements other than language use. This is supported by Carmines, Sniderman, and Easter, noting that, racial prejudices cannot be measured through expressions bitterness. Critical psychology also views racism as a distributed mind. Human interaction requires coordination of a number of daily activities, some of which are multifaceted. The ability to communicate with another person demonstrates human ability to share implicit information especially for people from same cultural background. This is because they know the rules of engaging in such conversations. Sharing in an implicit interaction is therefore something that comes through practice. It argument supports that social life is a product of action-oriented and practical knowledge sharing as the background whereas, foreground refers to human behavior and action in the society. The relationship between implicit and explicit information, foreground and background, define the existence of a distributed mind,”. Critical psychology has a range of epistemological aspects with regard to how knowledge on racism develops in the society. The approach also supports the application of collective development of racism and it is relevant in formulating strategic and most relevant measures of curbing anti-racist remarks,.
It is evidenced from the discussion that adoption of critical psychology in the most relevant for researches on racism. This is because racism can better be understood by looking at intergroup relations as the main contributors to definition of racism and in development of future strategies in curbing the social issues. The modern American society is bonded in the politics of symbolic racism as manifested in different campaign mechanisms used by politicians in the 2008 period, and supported by Blair and Barth,. Arguments for traditional psychological approaches to racism are weak given that the arguments are based on individualistic responsibilities among other reasons. Backed by a number of theories from the discussion, critical psychology is most relevant in understanding the modern concepts of racism. In addition, the approaches in critical psychology are based on intergroup phenomenon, which are more applicable as they connect historical events to modern trends, with possibility of finding strategic solutions to the issue of racism.