For my fourth and final post this semester, I’ll focus on a more controversial topic than I’ve covered thus far. I recently saw this video on The Daily Show, and it serves as an illustration of my ongoing perplexity surrounding critical race theory: namely, why some people are so staunchly opposed to teaching it in schools. Given that schools are meant to teach students US history and social studies, schools seem (at least to me) an appropriate place to teach critical race theory, which is a discussion on the role of race in US institutions and vice versa. And yes, race has played a role in this country’s development, and this country’s institutions have and do recognize race.
So why all the controversy? Well, the video shows one answer – lack of knowledge. But how can people get so upset over something they don’t know about? And a memory came up while watching this video that made me realize that the name alone including “race” is enough to get people riled up.
I remembered a few years ago I said something to a (older) family member that referred to us being white, and she got offended. I was surprised and taken aback. We are white. That is a factual, neutral statement. But this older family member viewed even the acknowledgement of our race, despite its neutral context, to be a non-neutral, charged thing. I think she developed that perspective due to her upbringing in the “colorblind” days, when race was actively unacknowledged. Because of its taboo nature, I speculate that race became a charged, emotional topic no matter the context. And so you end up with people who oppose discussions of critical race theory simply based on their very nature – discussions involving race.
But race should not be taboo. We live with it, ever-present. It is on our skin – just as it is in our institutions, our history, our development as a nation and as people. So if teaching critical race theory in schools (albeit, teaching it well) opens up conversations and can thereby help people to acknowledge reality, then I think it is beneficial.
I was raised in a Jewish household and attended a Jewish day school during my elementary school years. I learned to appreciate Jewish teachings and culture. In fact, the constant advocacy for further education that I experienced throughout my childhood likely influenced my decision to attend graduate school.
However, those lessons are not the focus of this post. This week I had the provocative experience of speaking with a Jewish person who continually perpetuated stereotypes and views of Jews that are recognized as antisemitic. He made sweeping assumptions and generalizations that were often condescending as well as factually incorrect. He also continually tokenized himself as others might tokenize their “Black friend” to push an agenda, perpetuating a practice known to be harmful – albeit ironically so.
Having this experience reminded me of Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s influential study that tested Black children’s self-perceptions. The researchers presented Black children with both dolls that were Black and dolls that were White. They allowed the children to choose which doll to play with and asked them to identify which dolls were “nice,” for example. The children overwhelmingly chose the White dolls over the Black and labeled them with the better descriptors, while also selecting the Black dolls as being more like them. This study illustrated the detrimental impact of the media and society’s negatively biased portrayal of Black members of the population on children’s self-perceptions, as well as how early their views were influenced.
Growing up in a supportive Jewish community, I had never connected the lessons from the Clarks’ study to a minority group with which I myself identity. This experience served as a reminder that other people grew up in environments extremely different than mine and how much those differences can shape a person’s view of the world. As a psychologist, I constantly incorporate individual differences into my studies, but at some point doing so becomes habitual rather than intentional. While I was saddened by the impact that this person’s environment had on him, I needed the jarring reminder that the work done by psychologists has practical, concrete applications and deals with real people, real consequences, and unseen, deep-seated differences.
Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings introduced the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first Asian superhero, tearing away from the traditional clichéd depictions of Asians in the media. This breakthrough comes just a few years after the first all-Asian rom com to make it in the mainstream media, Crazy Rich Asians. Asian Americans have celebrated these new movies. I even have an Asian American friend who bought out a theater in her predominantly white hometown to share the movie with her community. Meanwhile, much of white America has reacted to this passion with head scratches, not understanding why these movies are so meaningful to the Asian community. One answer lies in a phrase that may sound overused but holds a lot of meaning: Representation matters.
Society tends to uphold a myopic view of its minority members, interpreting people through a lens of stereotypes rather than as nuanced individuals. The media traditionally perpetuates these stereotypes, for example casting East Asians most often as scientists, doctors, or kung-fu underdogs to be rescued by a white savior. Over time, these stereotypes insidiously (or, more scientifically, implicitly) shape our expectations for and perceptions of members of those groups. In class, Dr. Lee gave us this riddle to illustrate the extent to which we have internalized certain prejudices. Its very label as a riddle shows that Americans (myself included) have internalized an image or schema of surgeons as heterosexual males.
Shang Chi, however, rejected traditional stereotypes of Asians (and in fact took care to do so). Instead, this movie depicted its Asian leads as running their own story, with universally relatable characteristics and struggles, and no white savior saving the day. It was a bad-a$$ movie, with bad-a$$ characters, who kicked a$$ — and happened to be Asian. Now, children of all races have an Asian superhero to look up to along with a broader, non-clichéd view of what being Asian can look like.
As the use of standardized tests for school admissions comes increasingly under fire for discrimination (even appearing in popular press articles like this 2019 Washington Post article), research about bias in hiring decisions may suggest a utility in standardized testing for hiring. A series of studies has shown that implicit bias can play a significant role in hiring decisions. For example, we discussed the Moss-Racusin et al. (2012) paper that showed that, holding all else equal, an applicant’s gender can affect whether they’re hired for a laboratory manager position and what salary they’re offered. Gender also influenced assessments of competence, which in turn impacted those hiring decisions. A number in the form of a standardized test score, however, carries the same meaning regardless of gender, race, social status, etc. While the hirer ‘s internal biases can still color their perception of that number, the test score still serves as a means of level comparison of applicants. Furthermore, unlike admissions tests which have a whole infrastructure surrounding them offering wealthier applicants easy means of preparing for and re-taking the tests moreso than other applicants, standardized tests for hiring are typically not so ubiquitous as to offer wealthier applicants such a large advantage. So, incorporation of standardized tests into the hiring process might be a way for organizations to combat hiring discrimination.
Hi everyone! I’m Tanya Mitropoulos (she/her), and I’m a graduate student in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. I hope to make a career for myself in research that focuses on employee recovery. I’m in Dr. Charles Calderwood’s Work Stress and Recovery lab, where I examine the workday’s impact on employee well-being in the context of commuting, teleworking, and the home after work. I also have strong interests in how an employee’s pets influence their recovery, along with a tendency to ruminate after work.
Outside of school and work, I have a wonderful husband who is also a grad student at Virginia Tech, in Mechanical Engineering. We have a precious goldendoodle named Francie, who we spoil as much as we can. We love hiking together and are very happy with our choice to spend grad school in beautiful Blacksburg!