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The perception of racism in ambiguous scenarios

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Recent theorising on the nature of racism suggests that over the last few decades it has come to be expressed in more subtle and ambiguous ways because while many Whites proclaim egalitarian values, their cognitions and behaviour are influenced by prejudices that are buried deep in their psyche. This leads to the possibility that those who perpetrate and those who experience racism may have different interpretations of events that involve racism. Essed (1991) has suggested that because they are exposed to racism systematically, those who experience racism are in a good position to detect it if they have both knowledge of normal behaviour for particular situations, and a general knowledge of racism. Using Essed's model of the assessment of racist events, the descriptions of six videotaped ambiguously racist scenarios given by 40 Caucasian students and 40 Asian students were analysed to determine whether situational or general knowledge of racism was evident. Contrary to expectations, the Asian students, who belong to a group targeted with racism in Australia, were less likely to see racism in the scenarios. Finding the scenarios to be acceptable indicated a lack of situational knowledge and, hence, an inability to use general knowledge of racism if it exists. The role of cultural values in the application of situational knowledge is discussed, and further empirical investigations of Essed's model are proposed.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 July 2001

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