A survey was conducted in 1995 asking the following question. Would you close your eyes for a second, envision a drug user, and describe that person to me? The startling results were published in the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education. Ninety-five percent of respondents pictured a black drug user, while only 5 percent imagined other racial groups. These results contrast sharply with the reality of drug crime in America. Blacks constituted only 15 percent of current drug users in 1995 and they constitute roughly the same percentage today. Whites constituted the vast majority of drug users then and now, but almost no one pictured a white person when asked to imagine what a drug user looks like. The same group of respondents also perceived the typical drug trafficker as black.
More than four decades later, news stories regarding virtually all street crime have disproportionately featured African American offenders. One study suggests that the standard crime news script is so prevalent and so thoroughly racialized that viewers imagine a black perpetartor even when none exists. In that study, 60 percent of viewers who saw a story with no images falsely recalled seeing one, and 70 percent of these viewers believed the perpetrator to be black.
Decades of cognitive bias research demonstrate that both unconscious and conscious biases lead to discriminatory actions, even when an individual does not want to discriminate. One study involved a video game that placed photographs of white and black individuals holding a gun or other object (such as a wallet, soda can, or cell phone) into various photographic backgrounds. Participants were told to decide as quickly as possible whether to shoot the target. Consistent with earlier studies, participants were more likely to mistake a black target as armed, when he was not, and mistake a white target as unarmed, when in fact he was armed. Only in America!
A fairly consistent finding is that punitiveness and hostility almost always increase when people are primed even subliminally with images or verbal cues associated with black people. In fact studies indicate that people become increasingly harsh when an alleged criminal is darker and more stereotypically black. They are more lenient when the accused is lighter and appears more stereotypically white. This is true of jurors, judges, prosecutors and law enforcement. We must remember, government is instituted for the people for equal benefit, security, and protection, and not for the corporations.
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