Civil-rights lecturer at TU says it's easy to succumb to stereotypes because they're ingrained in culture
BY MICHAEL OVERALL World Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
4/24/12 at 8:20 AM
The lecture began with a video of people playing basketball when, suddenly, for no apparent reason, a man in a gorilla costume walks across the screen.
The audience Monday evening was supposed to be counting how many times the players threw the ball.
From a show of hands, roughly half the room didn't notice anything unusual.
"That's typical. People are so focused on counting the throws that they don't see the gorilla," explained Jennifer Eberhardt, an associate professor of psychology at Stanford University.
"Objects become visible and invisible to us based on our goals, on our expectations and what we already believe to be true about the world," she said.
Speaking at the University of Tulsa, Eberhardt presented the 12th annual Buck Colbert Franklin Memorial Civil Rights Lecture. The event honors one of Oklahoma's first black attorneys, who helped victims after the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot.
Stereotypes are so ingrained in American culture, Eberhardt said, that people succumb to them even without any conscious animosity toward black people.
In fact, in many of the clinical studies that Eberhardt mentioned, black participants demonstrated the same stereotyping as white participants.
In one study, for example, participants - regardless of race - were more likely to notice the presence of a weapon when shown pictures of black people.
"We're prepared to see certain things," Eberhardt said, "and not others."
In another study, people were more likely to support a harsh punishment when a criminal suspect was described as black, even when all other details remained the same.
Even if it's subliminal and subconscious, people tend to think of blacks as criminals, less than human and as "static beings" who are incapable of change, she said.
And the stereotyping starts young.
Traveling home to California from the East Coast several years ago, her 5-year-old son noticed a black man aboard the flight.
"He looks like Daddy," the child said, even though the passenger had long dreadlocks and Eberhardt's husband is bald.
"I hope he doesn't rob the plane."
Eberhardt was shocked.
"We live in such racial stratification," she said, "that even a 5-year-old can tell you what's supposed to happen next."
The lecture drew particular attention this year after the Good Friday shootings, in which the shooters apparently sought out random black victims in north Tulsa.
But Eberhardt mentioned another recent case that attracted national attention - the shooting of an unarmed teenager in Florida.
The suspect, a neighborhood watch volunteer, recently said publicly that he thought 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was much older.
"It goes along with what I've been saying," Eberhardt said. "People don't see African-American children as children."
Original Print Headline: Stereotypes put in the spotlight
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Stanford University's Jennifer Eberhardt speaks Monday at the University of Tulsa about the prevalence of racial stereotyping in the U.S. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World