Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Crying Victim

One of the favored conservative attacks on liberal anti-discrimination proposals is that it's just people "playing the victim." "Culture of victimization" is a commonly heard phrase in these circles. But is it true? Are members of minority groups ready to cry victim at the slightest provocation? Recent research suggest the answer is no.

I just read of a study by Karen M. Ruggiero and Donald M. Taylor regarding how minorities react to ambigious cases of discrimination. Students were given a series of written aptitude tests, then told they did poorly. They were also told that a certain (varying) percentage of the judges were biased against their social groups. Even when they were told that up to 75% of the judges were biased, respondents were still more likely to blame themselves for their results than discrimination--as likely, in fact, as when they were told only 25% of the judges were so biased. Ironically, the exceptions to this rule were Whites and males, both of whom showed little hesistation in calling out perceived discrimination [Ruggiero & Taylor, Why Minority Group Members Perceive or Do Not Perceive the Discrimination That Confronts Them: The Role of Self-Esteem and Perceived Control, 72 J. Personality & Soc. Psychol. 373 (1997)]. It may well be that the gap between the amount of actual and perceived "crying the victim" is a function of Whites and males projecting their own predispositions onto minority groups. What are the implications of this?

[UPDATE: From the comments, it seems like there is some reason to doubt the credibility of Professor Ruggiero. The aforementioned study is on probation until further notice]

It should not surprise us that minorities are generally unwilling to claim that they are victims of discrimination--even when it is actually occuring. As Deborah Brake argues in her recent argue, Retaliation:
A disturbing body of research demonstrates a high propensity for men and white persons to dislike women and people of color when they claim discrimination, even when the claim is meritorious. The social penalty for transgressing social roles and challenging perceived inequality sets the stage for retaliation.

Social psychologists have found that women and minorities are perceived as troublemakers and hypersensitive when they confront discrimination....African Americans who blamed discrimination for a poor performance rating on a test were viewed more negatively than African Americans who blamed themselves. The predominantly white evaluatiors consistently rated an African-American student more negatively--as a complainer, a troublemaker, hypersenstive, emotional, argumentative, and irritating--when he attributed his poor test performance to his discrimination rather than to his own ability, regardless of the objective likelihood that the student actaully experienced discrimination [Deborah L. Brake, Retaliation, 90 Minn. L. Rev. 18, 32-33 (2005) (emphasis added)]

So, if the data implies that discrimination tends to go under-reported, and that people who do report even just claims of discrimination tend to be stigmatized, that should be powerful evidence that something has gone awry with how we treat victims of real discrimination.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...


And in the future, even if you trust, first verify.