Can Multiculturalism Reduce Prejudice? Essay, Research Paper
In the past several years there has been a growing trend towards multiculturalism in many areas of our society, most significantly on college and university campuses. This is likely due to a belief that the traditional Christian American values and perspective are unable to deal with the growing numbers of various ethnic minorities in our society. Although this trend would seem to have a potential to change society for the better, I believe that it has been and will be largely ineffectual. It does, however, have some possible advantage over society’s traditional view.
The contact hypothesis states that increasing contact between groups can in some circumstances decrease prejudice between them. It is possible that mere education about various cultural groups could reduce prejudice similarly to actual contact; by increasing recognition of similarities, providing information that is inconsistent with stereotypes, and breaking down the illusion of outgroup homogeneity. It would likely do so less than contact. Multiculturalism might be able to reduce prejudice without building the resentment which sometimes occur in contact. It is also possible that it could help encourage recategorization.
For the most part, however, it seems that multiculturalism will do little or nothing to alleviate prejudice and discrimination. Even assuming that multicultural education is nearly as effective as contact, it would not have much effect on society. Contact itself is only successful under certain circumstances. The basic weakness of multiculturalism is that, for the most part, it only deals with a few of the many aspects of prejudice. Prejudice seems exceedingly difficult if not impossible to overcome in our society.
The stereotypes that are created by and reinforce prejudice are neither rational ideas or emotional responses. Multiculturalism treats them as if they were. They are the result of cognitive processes that are by their very nature difficult to change. Information that is inconsistent with stereotypes is usually forgotten, ignored, disregarded or devalued. One could be aware that less than 20% of Americans arrested on drug charges are black and could feel some sort of kinship with humankind and still be afraid of being mugged by a crack addict in a black neighborhood.
For example, I do not consider myself to be a racist. In fact the majority of my friends are members of groups commonly discriminated against; by ethnicity or sexual preference. My girlfriend is Chinese and of my two closest male friends one is black and the other is bisexual. I hold no attitudes about these people which are influenced by stereotypes.
However, when walking down the street towards a young black or latino man I will become slightly tense; just a little more ready to throw or recieve a punch. Entering a classroom or bus I will sit near a white person more readily than a minority member. If I need to ask the time or bum a cigarette I will ask a white over a minority. I am aware of these things even as they happen. I am aware of their irrationality. I am familiar (hopefully) with the cognitive processes that cause these small discriminations but it seems that I am helpless to stop them.
I can not pinpoint the root of my prejudice, I attended a nearly all white elementary school for four years and then attended elementary, middle, and high schools which were about twenty five percent black. Neither of my parents are overtly racist. Outside of the media, I have observed more whites committing acts of violence than blacks. On television, however, I have seen blacks behave in predominantly negative ways. Or at least I remember it that way.
The prejudices which I have are based on many observable traits other than ethnicity, as I suspect are most other peoples. I will have a less favorable impression of a black man in a “typical” urban, hip-hop style clothing than of the same man dressed differently. Give him dreadlocks, braids, or a tall floppy head of hair and I will view him even more favorably. This seems to be the result of something other than direct experience. My interaction with blacks have not been more positive or negative based on the person’s mode of dress. It would seem that my stereotypes are based mainly on media images.
I also hold many stereotypes about members of various subcultural or demographic groups; wealthy students, underemployed college age white trash (of which I am a member), business majors, cocaine users, etc. Some are as strong as the racial stereotypes I hold and some are stronger. For example, given a black pot smoker and white business major who are otherwise identical, I would react more favorably to the former.
When a person belonging to an “outgroup” becomes more than a stranger or casual acquaintance the stereotypes that I hold about that group are quickly disassociated from that individual. But I don’t think that I change the stereotypes that I have about his or her group.
I have personally experienced very little overt racial discrimination towards myself. As a heterosexual anglo male I am rarely required to justify who or what I am. Most racial discrimination that I have faced was from Asian men while in the company of my girlfriend. Although never confronted directly, I am occasionally aware of dirty looks and on one occasion was told by a friend that she heard me being referred to as a “dirty fucking guai lo (foreign devil)” by several Chinese men at a party. But this is far from common and has not had a significant impact on me. More often I am discriminated against because of my appearance. I have been subjected to a few unwarranted searches of my person and was once arrested and charged with interfering with a police officer while talking on a pay phone. I was violating a town ordinance against loitering and in doing so was encouraging others to loiter. Although these instances have affected me more they seem to have not been strong enough stimuli for me
As for reducing prejudice there seems to be no easy solutions. It seems that there is a limit on how far rational and emotional arguments can go in eliminating it. I would like to think that I am close to that limit because short of getting to know everyone personally I can’t imagine how to reduce my own prejudices. Perhaps multiculturalism could help some people to begin to reduce their prejudices. Perhaps teaching children to respect other cultures from a young age will help stop prejudices from forming. Although thereOs no research to suggest that it would it couldn’t hurt to try.