Saturday, February 18, 2006

More on PC Racial and Ethnic Prejudice

When I wrote my blog on The Last Bastion of PC Prejudice, I was unaware of the work of John Baugh who has done a 2 year study of the phenomenon of linguistic prejudice. In a press release put out on February 2, 2006 by the University of Washington at St. Louis, it notes that his research demonstrates both that people can make correct racial and ethnic identifications by hearing a voice on the telephone and that there is systematic prejudice against Hispanics and African Americans. In a press release called Linguistic profiling: The sound of your voice may determine if you get that apartment or not he is said to have claimed that
some companies screen calls on answering machines and don't return calls of those whose voices seem to identify them as black or Latino
and goes on to say
Some companies instruct their phone clerks to brush aside any chance of a face-to-face appointment to view a sales property or interview for a job based on the sound of a caller's voice. Other employees routinely write their guess about a caller's race on company phone message slips.
He proved his point by having people call concerning advertised rental properties and discovered (Duh!) that very commonly people with identifiable Spanish accented English or Black accented English were told that the advertised properties or jobs were no longer available while the same properties or jobs were said to still be available to those speaking standard American English.

This sort of prejudice has long been known to exist by linguists. Bill Labov demonstrated some 35 or more years ago that three department stores in New York City exhibited dialect stratification as a function of how many dropped the r's in "fourth floor." The more "r's" the more likely you could get at job at Sax Fifth Avenue and at Macy's the specific job you were assigned reflected the percentage of r's one drops. In this case, the study was not about race per se but the fact is that Blacks tend to drop r's more than Whites in New York City and some other places, all other things being equal.

Dr. Bough's study helps to confirm what Hispanic Americans and Black Americans already know, namely that America is still a country in which racial and ethnic prejudice is alive and well and being practiced.

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Blogger Mimi said...

Does j.g. ever use one word when forty will do?

6:57 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

No, nor should she. She has quite a lot of intelligent things to say.

7:58 AM

Blogger Eric Dutton said...

(Another of my "your right, but..." comments)

I'd like to haggle over your conclusion that "America is still a country in which racial and ethnic prejudice is alive and well and being practiced."
First, let me say, your right.
the way that it's alive and well is different from the way it has been in the past. I suspect that fewer Americans today would admit to racism or any other kind of bigotry. I don't have figures; let me know if I'm wrong. That, of course, doesn't mean that we trust other races as much as we trust our own. I read of a study once that found the heart and breathing rates of both black and white persons go up more when a black person enters the room than when a white person enters the room.
I believe that, for the most part, racism is less conscious now. It's a social faux pas to be overtly racist in public now even when we still find ourselves being suspicious of minorites.
If someone doesn't rent an apartment or hire someone because they hear a black persons voice on the phone, it's probably because of recieved stereotypes that make them a little less trusting of that person. When we're choosing someone in these situations, we often go with our gut feeling, which is often, unfortunatly, less enlightened than our intellect.

The fact that America is becoming less and less accepting of bigotry (with the unfortunate exception of homosexualtity), the social norm forbiding racism may, over time, help society internalize those values...IF we can refrain from overcompensating by accusing persons of racism who are NOT true bigots. This only creates a political rift and suspicion of those who are most devoted to defeating racism.

2:15 PM

Blogger Eric Dutton said...

Let me add that I don't advocate inaction. Of course we can't just allow discrimination (overt or not) to prevent minorities from getting jobs due to their race. I only wanted to warn against accusing TOO widely.

2:19 PM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

A big problem with this over-the-phone linguistic racism is that it's very hard to prove in a court. I wouldn't want to prosecute that case, as it's pretty much a lost cause right off the bat.

I think a big problem people are failing to identify is this:
"I suspect that fewer Americans today would admit to racism or any other kind of bigotry."
This is absolutely true--people won't admit to it. But everyone is racist to some extent.

The first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem.

If we could admit to this kind of racism and have an open dialogue about it then we may have some hope of improvement. But bigotry has become such an incredible taboo that I can't even come up with anything to which it can be compared.

Racism is an unfortunate side effect of a very adaptive human psychological phenomenon, the tendency to notice patterns and to categorize things. Without this skill our ancestors would have eaten poison or been killed by predators. And today it helps us in working with computers and innumerous other ways. It's this particular spillover that's the problem.

So, let me be the first in this forum. Yes, I am racist against blacks. I am racist against Hispanics. And I'm certainly also racist against Arabs, as I suppose a growing number of Americans of all colors are. And I'm probably racist in other ways. But I'm trying. I'm trying not to be, and to let myself judge people "based on the content of their character" rather than on any kind of specious, likely baseless patterns that I have either thought I observed or have been instilled in me by society and media.

Of course, it helps when my sister-in-law's Syrian cardiologist boyfriend takes us out to a nice restaurant. But it's certainly unfair to expect every member of another race to do nice things for us to make us change our minds, especially after all the nasty things we have done and continue to do to them.

11:18 PM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

Ooops, I said "innumerous" when I meant "innumerable." I don't even know what the former means, if anything.
Anyway, thanks Copernicus.

12:15 AM

Blogger Eric Dutton said...

You said,
"So, let me be the first in this forum. Yes, I am racist against blacks. I am racist against Hispanics. And I'm certainly also racist against Arabs, as I suppose a growing number of Americans of all colors are. And I'm probably racist in other ways."

I resist using the word "racist" in this way because it weakens the word's more useful connotation. I understand the need for a person to show that they are aware of their own received prejudices and that they are trying to overcome them, but let us use the extra words to describe it. Real racism is one taboo we don't want to soften by applying it too widely.
So, let us admit we have a problem, but please don't call it racism, even if it sounds more enlightened to do so.

1:56 AM

Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

kelly, I felt you were on a good track with the development of the meaning of discrimination from "distinguishing or discerning a difference" to "treating differently based on perceived differences". (I myself once used the same approach to defuse a drunken "salary man" at my favorite hole in the wall who wanted to take me to task for American racism.) But I would argue that it is a capacity shared by virtually all living things (at least the animal kingdom). The truly human application of this capacity is our vilification and persecution of the "different".

I think instead of "racist against" you might want to use "prejudiced against". Racist is either a noun referring to a person who believes in the superiority (usually) of his or her race, or an adjective meaning "based on racial intolerance" (racist remarks) or "discriminatory on the basis of race" (racist policies). Do you honestly believe whites are superior to blacks or hispanics? You've stated in another thread you don't support (active) discrimination against homosexuals; do you take a difference stance when it comes to race? If the answer to both of these is no, then you're no racist, whatever your prejudices. A real racist is an ignorant and repulsive excuse for a human being. (Whoops, one of my prejudices showing!) Maybe this is the distinction eric was thinking of?

I have a lot of prejudices against Japanese people (or, more accurately, a number of specific ones regarding different segments of the population: they can't drive in general and the women in particular, Japanese academics have no concept of how to conduct meetings, etc.) based on my experience as an American living among them for nearly two decades. I can't help noticing the differences in and making comparisons between the ways our two peoples do things. And while I think the American way is better in many cases, I have never extended this to imaging that whites are superior to Asians.

6:00 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Kelly, you are wrong about this not being a winnable case. We have proved over and over in our linguistics courses that our students identify what jobs people are suitable for just by listening to them. Interestingly, our Department Chairman, who spoke Jersey English and Standard English was said to be suitable for a taxi driver when speaking Jersey English. Another speaker was African American and, predictably, her job suitability was much lower when she spoke Black English than when speaking Standard English. In short it can be proved that Americans make these judgments.

That fact, added to a fact pattern according to which a certain company rarely gave job interviews to Blacks and Hispanices, only offering interviews to Whites proves the case since the statistics would be too lopsided to be expectable if the company was obeying the law.

Of course, there would also be discovery of the little notes that employees made as to their guesses ast to the racial and ethnic identity of the persons who called.

As to my long lasting prejudice against Fundamentalist Christians, it derives from the terror I felt at night that my loved ones might not make it to heaven and would burn in hell. Scaring the hell out of a kid with that sort of mystical crap should be meade into a crime.

I am so sick of what Fundamentalist Christians are doing in re education and enforment of their morality in re abortion and other causes that I barely have time to be upset with the Fundamentalist Muslims. They are equally dangerous in their own ways.

Once after hearing "lectures" on the evils of drinking, smoking, and dancing in successive meetins of the Sunday night Baptist Training School/Union (BTU rings a bell), I walked out at the third saying that what we were being taught was total nonsense with which I would not be associated any longer. I did come back in high school when I fell in love with this beautiful blonde girl and wanted to get a shot a dating her. I got my shot. A thorougly despicable act on my part but all is fair in love and war.

7:47 AM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

Hmmm. Interesting attempt to draw a distinction between racism and prejudice. I was under the impression that racism is just a particular breed of prejudice--that prejudice which is based on race. I think a better distinction would be between overt racism and covert racism (these aren't the best terms, but it's what comes to mind). It's all racism, but the difference is between the different levels of subtlety. An overt racist, in this paradigm, is one who believes his racial prejudices in an academic sense rather than some sense which he can't control.

I think the distinction between your ideas of racism and prejudice are fallacious. I'll try to lay out why:
Premise 1: I have negative views of another race
Premise 2: I do not apply these negative views to my own race
Conclusion: Because another race has some negative qualities that my own race does not, then my race is superior

Am I wrong in putting it this way? If X has Bad Quality and Y does not, then Y is superior to X.

I don't think I want to address the issue of fundamentalist Christians here, as that is an entirely different conversation that would require a very long discussion.

12:27 PM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

My love of freedom of speech cringed just a little bit in fear, j_g, but your point is well-taken. I think it's especially valuable to allow them to have their rallies and cross-burnings because when someone kills a non-white by hanging or torture or there is some other evidence of a racist motive, then you have a good place to start for suspects.

I forgot to respond to something LG said. I think a jury will be very reluctant to find against a defendant on racism grounds when he or she never actually saw the person.

6:12 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

L. guy, I wonder if listening to how someone speaks & making judgments on whether or not to give them a job or sell or rent them a house might have more do do with perceiving them to be poor & uneducated. I mean as opposed to racism about skin color?

A friend of mine went to a inner-city High School in a black/Hispanic neighborhood & told me she graduated with the equivalent of a 5th grade education.(this was in the early 60's)We all know that this kind of poor education was happening all over the U.S. to Black, Hispanic, & American Indian children.

If we believe these people w/ethnic accents(?) are bad choices in certain situations because they are poor & uneducated? & not bad choices because of skin color, are we still racist?
Or prejudice against the poor & uneducated?

8:32 PM

Blogger Marissa Engel said...

It's so interesting that language is our only real hope of combatting prejudice, but by refusing to even acknowledge we are speaking the same language we lose even that small hope of building understanding.

11:01 PM

Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

I was discussing the use of the combination "racist against", which I feel is incorrect for both the noun and the adjective.

Obviously racism is a specific kind of prejudice, and it seems to me that you are using it simp(listical?)ly in that sense...which I would probably term "race/racial prejudice" and which I do distinguish from racism because the latter has stronger negative (difference of degree) and other (difference in kind) connotations for me...and some others, it would seem. If I have lost touch with the linguistic practice of the general herd, such is Life; I find this a useful distinction. (You, Kelly, evidently have some race prejudices; the idiots that J_G is talking about are racists. Are you really comfortable viewing the difference between yourself and them as being only one of degree?)

I think a jury will be very reluctant to find against a defendant on racism grounds when he or she never actually saw the person.

Isn't the only "seeing" which is important here the evidence that the jury sees? I watched a CNN report on the press release LG refers to in the main post during which they conducted their own (informal) study (having people of different races call a realtor concerning an apartment ad) and got the same results. Proving racial discrimination after the fact in a court of law in these cases might be difficult without evidence such as the notes LG mentions or insider revelations, but maybe investigation prior to the initiation of litigation (undercover infiltration or wiretaps, possibly? You should know more than I about what qualifies as entrapment) could provide more convincing evidence?

11:43 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

l>t's point just above is correct. There are many occasions when it is difficult to say that blocking someone from a job interview was based on prejudice against Blacks or Hispanics or a perception that the person is too uneducated for the job. However, this would be irrelevant when it comes to showing apartments.

Kelly, I think you are wrong about saying that a case cannot be made against someone for violating civil rights lawas because the person did not come into direct contact with him. There are cases against telemarketers who never have in person contact with the people they have scammed. Also, the cases would likely be against the company doing the hiring. Or in the case of a realtor, when he or she says that a property has been rented out when hearing a Black speak and seconds later says that it has not been rented out when hearing a White speak, one has proof positive, if it is on tape, of discrimination. Such taping would be legal in Ohio but not, I think, in all states.

7:48 AM

Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

LG, is it legal in Ohio? The reason I ask is that back in the early '90s an uncle was harassing my mother over an inheritance lawsuit and she taped him and went to see her lawyer. He told her the tapes wouldn't be admissible in court because she hadn't explicitly stated she was taping the calls.

(Of course, the law could have been changed since then. Or the lawyer could have simply been wrong; in my own dealings with him a year or so later I soon became convinced he had exceeded his era of usefulness...he was either getting senile or wasn't bothering to review his notes before my appointments...and went elsewhere. It was around this time that I came to find the "What do you call ten thousand lawyers at the bottom of a lake?" joke extremely amusing.)

12:55 PM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

I'm not sure that would qualify as "proof positive" of racial discrimination, absent internal memoranda. I guess it would depend a lot on your jury. It would be a much more difficult case if you had many applicants, called only the "white-sounding" ones and hired one, or rented the apartment or sold the house to a "white-sounding" one before responding to any of the ethnic-sounding ones. But you may have something with the fact of lying to the callers.

I think l>t is right that it's actually discrimination against the poor and uneducated, but the legal issue is twofold: discriminatory intent and discriminatory effect. The effect of discrimination against the poor and uneducated is discrimination against minorities. I'm not sure if that applies in every situation, though.

1:35 PM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

Also, Ibidairon, evidence law differs in different jurisdictions. I'm not sure if consent to be taped ever has legal significance, but usually you can introduce anything an opposing party has said. There may be something to that, but nothing I remember from evidence class.

And I don't think that recording an exchange has anything to do with entrapment. That's a completely different deal.

1:39 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

Language Guy told me once, that he thot, my 'uneducated state' could be overcome by 'working' on the internet.

Well, so far in the 8 mths. that I've been on the computer (blogging, etc..) I've had:

A black woman tell me only whites can be racist.

A feminist white woman tell me only men can be sexist.

& now I find out I could be racist, prejudice & discirminatory, w/out even knowing it!

& to further turn my world upside down I just learned about Petrodollars. Know I don't know if I can even trust my own Goverment. Thanks LG :)

10:23 AM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

P.S. I've provided a link to the site 'Petrodollars: Is it the real reason for the Irag war?'
On my site 'The world of L.Tart.'

Being ignorant of politics in general, I'd like to know what you all think of this line of reasoning.

11:58 AM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

It's kind of off-topic, but I think it's an over-simplification to say that any particular war is about one particular thing. I know you read this post on the topic because you commented there, but here's the link anyway for anyone interested.

3:16 PM


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