It’s no surprise that America’s criminal justice system disproportionately condemns people of color, specifically blacks and Hispanics, but new data suggests that highlighting racism isn’t the best way to spur social change.
The study’s findings show that people aren’t exactly head over heels for change if they aren’t the ones affected by the current system. In fact, informing white people about the disproportionate stats actually hurts the chances of prompting social change. As Vox.com put it, “Even when whites believe the current laws are too harsh, they’re less likely to support changing the law if they are reminded that the current prison population is disproportionately black.”
Let me say that again.
“Even when whites believe the current laws are too harsh, they’re less likely to support changing the law if they are reminded that the current prison population is disproportionately black.”
Researchers conducted a social experiment to see how race affected a person’s view of the criminal justice system. Study coordinators separated participants into two groups and showed them a video depicting a proposed bill called the “Three-Strikes” law. The video was identical save for the depiction of the prisoners. One video showed a prison population that was 25 percent black, while the other video depicted a prison population that was 45 percent black.
After the viewing, both groups decided that the three-strikes law was too harsh, but get this. Those who watched the video that depicted a 45 percent black prison population were less likely to sign a petition to change the law! More than half of the 25 percent group signed the petition, but only a quarter of those in the 45 percent group signed it.
As researchers put it, “the blacker the prison population, the less willing registered voters were to take steps to reduce the severity of a law they acknowledged to be overly harsh.”
That wasn’t the only study to produce such findings. A similar study asked white New Yorkers about the stop and frisk program. Some were informed that the prison population was 40 percent black, while others were told it was 60 percent black. Both groups thought the procedure was unfair, but guess which group was more hesitant to sign a petition calling for change? You guessed it, the 60 percenters were more leery about spurring change.
So what is the best way to call for change? Do you have any ideas? It’s certainly mindblowing that highlighting inequality is actually a bad way to achieve equality.
Related source: Vox.com