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How nice to see Gordon Allport's work discussed. Allport's work was ground-breaking, but it was intended at showing how one group (e.g. Germans) would commit acts of terrible violence that other peoples would not do. Allport's work did not, of course, produce the intended result. His research showed that American subjects were capable of acting in profounding hostile ways toward other people, so the findings were not widely publicised.

However, Allport's work doesn't explain the major way prejudice works in most work situations, I think.

More recent social psych research and theory on prejudice has focused on actions that are not aggressive in tone. These are often the processes of obtaining advantages for and among the group that a person belongs to, not particularly or initially at the expense of another group. This often doesn't come down to a "people like us" vs. "people not like us", as much as just gaining advantages for the group you belong to.  

The differences between the advantages that one group has and  what other groups have isn't even on the radar for some of the people belonging to "people like us".  So, small things, that together accrue to the advantage of people that we see as like us, end up disadvantaging people who are not like us. That disadvantage can be real, and yet absolutely unrecognized.

A familiar example:  You go to lunch at work. Who are you most likely to invite to join you, Person A who is about the same age as you, of the same ethnicity and same gender? Or do you invite someone who is different on these characteristics? After work, you stop for a drink along with several co-workers. Are the people who go along mostly like you, or are they quite varied? Does this matter?

Well, yes, I'd say. The people that you have these casual relationships with, are those that you will know best if you have some benefit to pass out, some insider information to pass along, some favour to ask.  A network of relationships build, that leave out the people that are different. There is not an intention to deliberately overlook people who are different, but it happens, through the process. And you may be entirely unaware that this subtle kind of prejudice, in the form of simple comfort in the familiar, has led to more serious prejudice.

Over time, the persons in the other groups, those left out of the network of close relationships, may form their own groups in partial reaction to being repeated overlooked. They may develop animosity at being overlooked. And as time passes, suspicion can develop. Suspicion becomes resentment, misunderstanding, hostility, and so on.

If you add to this, overt prejudicial attitudes learned at home or from prior friendships, the process is faster, with worse results.

by Kspeak (thorfinn at skip this ameritech dot net as usual) on Fri Feb 9th, 2007 at 11:18:39 PM EST

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