In her treatment of the subject of prejudice, which encompasses (in part) the intersection of race and power struggles, Laura Jennings discusses the current debate about “new” or post-Civil Rights era versus “old” prejudice. While some argue that a decline in outward signs of prejudice show that society is in fact less prejudiced, others (including Jennings) would hold that racism has simply been driven underground by pressure to be politically correct.
Several theories exist describing the new prejudice, including
aversive prejudice (fear and discomfort towards and avoidance of out-groups);
colorblind racism (assertion that success is purely merit-based, that racism no longer exists and that to acknowledge it at all is to be racist);
and laissez-faire racism (protection of group interest and condemnation of those who fail to achieve the American Dream).
Do these sound like anyone you know? I can think of some right now.
What these have in common, according to Jennings, are “beliefs and rhetoric about the cultural inferiority of non-white groups,” and especially that the less fortunate remain that way because they both chose and continue to choose it, and, therefore, the group in power has no responsibility to help.
Helpfully, the author also summarizes current study on modifying prejudice attitudes and behaviors. She notes that some have advocated education as a cure, but focuses instead on those who suggest that the remedy “lies in increased contact between members of various groups” to alleviate ignorance. Experiments with increased contact have showed mixed results for improving prejudiced relations. The most successful instances have been those in which different groups are able to interact in positive, cooperative, non-competitive ways, and when they are of equal status in situation (one is not given authority over the other, for instance).
Since people do not change prejudices easily, proactive measures must be taken to create a favorable climate for change, including “leadership support for change and the willingness of authority figures to impose rewards and sanctions” ( which agrees with Glen Kinoshita's analysis). This hypothesis, if proven successful, would deal a fatal blow to the future success of “colorblind” approach in improving race relations.
Finally, Jennings points out the “naturalness” of prejudices, not all of which are negative, in the human experience. Sociologists have shown that even young children show preference for those of their own group, and defining one’s “in-group” as opposed to “out-groups” is a natural part of one’s formation of self-identity. This speaks to the insidiousness of negative prejudices, while reminding us that some prejudices are necessary and even helpful, and it is essential not to become overzealous and to separate the two.