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.