Monday, April 18, 2011

Apologies and Commentary.

Apologies to my readers in not getting back to you earlier. Let's just say its been an incredibly hectic few weeks and jet lag has not helped.

The first thing that I want to say is that after putting up the post I realised that I had made an error. As some of the commentators correctly pointed out, Sammy Davis Jr was sitting down when compared to the others, this therefore biased the experiment, as he is both black and sitting down, therefore he was more likely to be picked, biasing the result.

There was no correct answer for this experiment. The purpose of the experiment was to see who people identified as different when asked to make a choice. From the comments section, it appears that some individuals differentiated people by their prior knowledge of them. As some commentators mentioned, Peter Lawford was born in England and the rest of group were born in the U.S., and yet, there is no way you could tell that just by looking at the picture. In other words, people were differentiating on the basis of their pre-concieved knowledge of the subject material. They weren't differentiating on what they saw they were differentiating on what they knew.

What's interesting to see is who wasn't picked as different:  Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Peter Lawford.  Dean Martin appears the tallest standing member and yet he was least likely picked. Why?
Frank Sinatra is the shortest guy standing so one would suppose that at least a few votes would have gone his way.

Joey Bishop and Sammy Davis Jr were the most likely to be picked. Clearly Sammy Davis Jr. is black and the only guy sitting down. While Joey Bishop doesn't have a tie.

As I said, this experiment was biased and therefore it's difficult to draw many conclusions from it but perhaps we could say that stature is less of a discriminating factor than clothing and skin colour.


The reason I put this post up was because of reflection upon the events in the New Orleans Superdome during Hurricane Katrina.  It was set up as a refugee center and it soon became apparent that people who were complete strangers associated on the basis of skin color. Colin Powell, who has probably been America's best and most dignified Secretary of State recalled that that during his time as a national security advisor:
KING: Were you ever racially profiled?

POWELL: Yes, many times.

KING: And didn't you ever bring anger to it?

POWELL: Of course. But, you know, anger is best controlled. And sure I got mad.
I got mad when I, as a national security adviser to the president of the United States, I went down to meet somebody at Reagan National Airport and nobody recognized -- nobody thought I could possibly be the national security adviser to the president. I was just a black guy at Reagan National Airport.
And it was only when I went up to the counter and said, "Is my guest here who's waiting for me?" did somebody say, "Oh, you're General Powell." It was inconceivable to him that a black guy could be the national security adviser.

KING: How do you deal with things like that?

POWELL: You just suck it up. What are you going to do? It was a teaching point for him. Yes, I'm the national security adviser, I'm black. And watch, I can do the job. So, you have this kind of -- there is no African-American in this country who has not been exposed to this kind of situation.
Do you get angry? Yes. Do you manifest that anger? You protest, you try to get things fixed, but it's kind of a better course of action to take it easy and don't let your anger make the current situation worse.

 My point here is not to get into the rights or wrongs of racism but to try and understand the phenomenon. It would appear that tallness and shortness is less of a discriminating factor than clothing or skin colour. And why, in the Superdome, where people were complete strangers, did people divide  themselves spontaneously according to skin colour? I have difficulty believing that all the Blacks in the Superdome were bad and that all the Whites good.

What I'm getting at is that our brains may be wired to weight certain differences more than others  and that there may be default associative behaviours based solely upon appearances. Racism may be more about appearances than genetics. In much the same way females are wired to respond sexually to alpha traits, perhaps people are wired to respond positively to people who appear similar to themselves and negatively to people who look different. That is not say that this attraction/repulsion cannot be overcome, rather it's a force that may be ever present in the human psyche that needs to be taken account of by any student of human nature.

These maps of U.S. cities are stark illustration of how racially divided the country is, and yet I image many people have friends from different races. Here is an interesting map of London. These maps may not necessarily be reflections of a deliberate policy of racial segregation, rather they may be the natural effect of human beings wanting to associate with similar individuals because it is psychically beneficial.  Prolonged personal contact with individuals of different races may be able to overcome our wired genetic bias, but it is a bias that remains each time we are confronted with an unknown individual/s. What this means is that while we may like and feel comfortable around a  particular example of a people who look different,  we may still be uncomfortable with the rest.


NYCer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NYCer said...

David Berreby has written an excellent book on this topic called "Us and Them: The Science of Identity", which surveys sociological research as well as findings from neurology and, of course, evo-psych. Some of the research surprises by showing how identity can be "nudged" by cultural practice (Robber's Cave Experiment), and also how powerful speaking a common language can be

Grim said...

Hmm, I rated them by confidence, white guy on the far right seemed to be the least confident of the group. Of course I knew who they were and I knew that Sammy Davis was a tame black man and as such was nothing worry about.

The Social Pathologist said...

@ NYCer

Looks like an interesting book, thanks.

K(yle) said...

I don't understand the commentary on racism being more about appearance than genetics. Your genes determine your appearance. "Genetic distance" is a made up metric based on an incomplete science.

Our method of interacting with and interpreting the world is our senses, so of course racism would be based on sensory input rather than some preternatural sense that tells us what someone's FST distance is compared to our own.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Your genes determine your appearance

They do. But look at the example of Albino Blacks. They don't look black enough for most blacks to accept them yet are nearly equivalent genetically.
They are assessed by other blacks on their skin colour alone. In other words, how they appear instead of who they are.

The genes for intelligence aren't necessarily linked to skin colour. Just because statistically the average black may have a lower IQ than a an average asian, there is no gaurantee that the speicific black will have a lower IQ that a specific asian, in fact the opposite can happen. Colour is not necessarily a specific predictor of genetic potential.

"Genetic distance" is a made up metric based on an incomplete science.

A lot of today's understandings of Genetics won't make the long haul, but stuff like this makes you wonder.

Black Death said...

Quick now - who is President Obama's current national security adviser?

(Jeopardy! theme plays....)

Time's up! Did you get it right? Answer here:

If you saw him in the airport, would you recognize him?


How absurd is it that Colin Powell regards the fact that some functionary at Reagan National Airport didn't recognize him as an example of racial profiling? If he had been white, would the result have been any different?

Because of all the media exposure during the First Gulf War, Powell had a higher profile than the current NSA. But still, I mean, come on - this is racial profiling?

The Social Pathologist said...

How absurd is it that Colin Powell regards the fact that some functionary at Reagan National Airport didn't recognize him as an example of racial profiling?

Powell has shown by his behaviour that he is not the type to play the "racism" card. I'd take his allegations of racist behaviour quite seriously. I don't think that its stretching the bounds of credibility in assuming that Colin Powell (despite all of his achievements) was treated differently because he is black.

Anonymous said...

Segregation maps are not necessarily indicative of racism. If I slightly prefer to be with persons of my own race, but will tolerate being with another race, extremely segregated maps will occur. This is an old result from computer science. Here is a layman's explanation.

The Social Pathologist said...


What a fascinating link!

I found this comment interesting.

In the first place, the patterns looked suspiciously familiar. I had seen them before in models that depict the onset of magnetization in ferromagnets and the separation of oil and water. What these latter processes have in common is that they tend to minimize surface area (or the area of interface between phases). It's not implausible that racial segregation also shares this tendency, and the discovery of a connection between a social process and certain physical systems would be illuminating.

I imagine that liking someoneone who is different is harder than liking someoene who is similar. There is a certain "psychic barrier" that needs to be overcome. To use a crude physical analogy relationships amongst similars is at a lower pschycic entropy than the relationships amongst dissimilars. Given a free choice stable groups tend to graivitae toward the lowest entropic state possible, hence the the above patterns.

Dan in Philly said...

As an armchair historian and philosopher, I am interested in how "others" have been viewed historically. Based on my readings and thoughts, I have concluded that in the past what we now call racism was so prevalent it could hardly be called that. It was assumed that those who looked, acted, and talked different from yourself would be, in fact, different, and these differences were generalized in basic and often generally accurate ways.

The real difference, as far as I can tell, is the pre-modern era was far less mobile and encounters with others not part of the day to day life. Once society started to move around and mingle, these ideas of racism started to come under serious rational study, with various conclusions being drawn. Some of the conclusions are fundamental to the tenants of racism and perfectly rational, i.e. that certain races are genetically superior/inferior to others.

This seems to have produced something of a crisis to the modern, rational mind (one of many). How to reconcile the idea that a perfectly rational person can conclude that one set of people is superior to another? Carried to the logical conclusion, this would help to justify genocide, which indeed it has. Rationality was supposed to do away with all of this senseless violence, and indeed any good person recoils away from the rational actions of these people.

And thus we have modernists develop concepts such as PC and moral equivalency, where everone is above average, everyone is special in their own special way. This is to try to discourage the conclusions that "us" deserves precious resources more than "they." Since these concepts (that is PC and equivalency) cannot possibly survive any rational examination, they must be embraced with a (dare I say it?) religious zeal, which is why they tend to be defended so absolutely.

In conclusion, the genocides and racism which have been the product of rationalism has produced a reaction against rationalism. I see PC and relativism as being rational attempts to reject some of the tenants of rationalism. I further predict these attempts have and will continue to fail miserably.

Black Death said...

"Powell has shown by his behaviour that he is not the type to play the "racism" card."


I know we live in an era of increasing Oprahfication, when "feelings" control everything. Powell, like most other African-American leaders, is a professional racial grievance-monger, although admittedly not the worst example. However, his background as a soldier and pseudo-Republican give him a credibility that many others lack.

After all the AA goodies that Powell received from the Bushies, Reagan and other Republicans, Powell felt that he had to support Obama in the 2008 election. but he reassured us that it was a "generational" thing - race had nothing to do with it. Yeah, sure. Now I despise the McCain-Bush RINO-TARP-neocon brand of Republicans, but Powell should have been ashamed of himself.

In the incident you cite, Powell seems to get his undies in a bundle because some airport clerk doesn't recognize him. Well, boo-hoo-hoo. Obviously this take us right back to the days of Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan. The guy just didn't recognize him, as the current NSA, who is white, would almost certainly not be recognized. The true offense was the affront to Powell's massive ego and chip-on-the-shoulder sense of racial grievance. From his description, I can find no evidence that any racism was involved. Perhaps he felt that way, but if he did, he'd been watching too much Oprah.

Anonymous said...

It's not "playing the race card"; it's having a ready made explanation for anyone not treating you the way you feel you should be treated. I remember a sensitivity exercise at work, where the black man said storeclerks ignored him because he was black, the white woman said they ignored her because she was a woman. ( But why do they ignore me then? I'm a white male.)

The Social Pathologist said...


it's having a ready made explanation for anyone not treating you the way you feel you should be treated.

I think people can be expected to be treated decently, and yes, there are some individuals who are delicate wallflowers with hypersensitive feelings, but I don't think Powell is one of them. He was asked if he was treated badly and he said he was and moved on. He didn't bitch and moan about it.

Back in my medical school days, the dean of the school used to be a highly intelligent, physically small fiesty woman. I on the other hand, am tall, male and apparently give off a certain gravitas. Now this woman was no feminist bitch, but it would shit her off no end when patients would direct their medical questions towards me and not her. She was 20 years my superior yet people would immediately assume that I was the smarter one (I wasn't). I imagine Powell has suffered similar indignities.

Davout said...

Check out this study on monkeys supporting an evolutionary basis for prejudice. I came across it at Mangan's.

Anonymous said...

Black Death said...

"I think people can be expected to be treated decently, and yes, there are some individuals who are delicate wallflowers with hypersensitive feelings, but I don't think Powell is one of them. He was asked if he was treated badly and he said he was and moved on. He didn't bitch and moan about it."


SP, you probably don't get to hear this crap as much as we do in the US, but Powell is most certainly hypersensitive on the issue and qualifies as a professional racial grievance-monger. This is just standard procedure for virtually all black leaders here. Any bad outcome, no matter how serious or trivial, is due to racism. All whites are regarded as closet racists until proven otherwise. If overt racism cannot be discovered, well, there's always "institutional" racism to invoke. Black politicians who get nailed for corruption invariably cry "Racism!" to excuse their dreadful behavior. Black social dysfunction (crime, illegitimacy, drug abuse, etc.) is always due to racial discrimination. Liberal white politicians love to buy into this nonsense - in the 2004 presidential campaign, Senator Kerry was asked about the high rate of incarceration of young males. His reply? "That's unacceptable, but it's not their fault." Well, exactly whose fault is it?

I'm sorry, but when I hear people like Powell attribute every slightly negative outcome in life to racism, it makes me sick. If the current (white) NSA had exactly the same experience with a black clerk, would that "prove" that the clerk was a black racist? How absurd.

*** ******** said...

there has to be a socio-economic bent to it as well, ie: new group comes to area, typically, many have less economically when they come, also typically congregate closer to the point of arrival, ala the east coast and the immigrant waves in the united states in/around the industrial revolution.