Opposite Day

Opposite Day

Adrienne BoettingerThursday,20 February 2014

The Snap:

Michael Dunn assumes the carful of teenagers he gunned down were criminals. It’s not just that he thought this when he opened fire on November 23, 2012, taking the life of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. While in prison awaiting trial, Dunn still believed the only reason the teens had no criminal record was that they hadn’t been caught in the act. Why do armed, white, male Floridians assume that black teenagers are thugs? Why do many white people feel the need to check their car locks when they see a black person walking their way? Why do people of other races assume that Latinos can’t speak English or are unauthorized immigrants? In other words, why does everyone seem to have some sort of ignorant bias against one or many racial or ethnic groups and how do we fix it? Or at least, how do we get people to stop shooting other people because of it?

The Download:

Watching a discussion of the jury’s decision not to convict Michael Dunn of first degree murder, it was horrifying to hear that Dunn still believed his victims were to blame. When confronted with the absence of a weapon of any kind or of any history of violence on the part of his victims, Dunn was incredulous. This got me thinking about all the many and subtle ways the majority of human beings have the tendency to act like jackasses when it comes to specific racial/ethnic groups.

Everyone has biases and prejudices. It’s impossible not to have them. We build assumptions and expectations based on our own perceptions and the perceptions passed down to us from our families, friends and communities. The trick is to realize you have these tendencies and for God’s sake not to act on them.

Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.

One way researchers have found is to intentionally confront oneself with “counterstereotypical” messages like pictures of a female construction worker breastfeeding a baby. Maybe we need to deprogram the Michael Dunns and George Zimmermans of the world with images of hooded, black teenagers helping senior citizens cross the street or volunteering at an animal shelter.

Will that be enough to take off the “fear goggles” terrified white people use when they look at black kids? Probably not but it’s a start. We also need to examine why we treat some people — typically those we feel some type of personal connection with — better than others. Everyone has been in this position; we’re far more likely to go out of our way to help someone we feel connected to, like fellow alumnae of the same school or even someone who shares our birthdates. We don’t need to stop helping those people in order to be less prejudiced; we just need to go a little out of our way to help those we would not normally help.

Sadly, it will probably take a while for the “counterstereotypical” images and drives to help people with whom we feel no connection to have a serious effect on the human tendency to be a prejudicial asshat. In the meantime, we should take a look at the insanely worded laws of the land that allow people to stand their ground against candy-carrying, music-listening teenagers — especially if standing one’s ground means taking the life of another human being.


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Hat Tips:

WJLAScience DailyCNNWBURThe Daily ShowNPR, Image Credit: Flickr

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