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Yale social psychologist says AZ immigration law can’t help but lead to racial profiling

LatinaLista — When it comes to the new Arizona immigration law, everybody has an opinion. The latest organization to weigh in on the new law is the American Psychological Association (APA).


The APA wanted to know if such could really be implemented without invoking assumptions, a.k.a. racial profiling about certain people.

Yale Social Psychologist Dr. John Dovidio

So, the editors interviewed social psychologist John Dovidio, PhD, of Yale University. Dr. Dovidio studies issues of social power and social relationships including the influence of explicit and implicit bias.

According to Dr. Dovidio, there’s no amount of training that will eradicate a person’s biasness in trying to “evenhandedly” enforce SB 1070.

The following is an excerpt of the APA interview:

APA. The new law gives broad powers to police officers yet we know from research that all people including police officers have automatic or implicit bias about some racial or ethnic groups. What is implicit bias?

Dovidio. Implicit biases are beliefs (stereotypes) and feelings (prejudice) that are activated without intent, control, and often conscious awareness. These are habits of mind that develop through cultural as well as personal associations. Whereas most people no longer consciously endorse stereotypes and prejudice, the majority of people still harbor implicit biases.

APA. Will this new law lead to racial profiling within the state?

Dovidio. Stereotyping, prejudice, and biases in how people perceive and react to members of other groups typically occur automatically and with limited conscious control. These automatic processes are even more influential when people feel threatened or are under time pressure – common experiences for police officers – and thus will lead to systematic and racially/ethnically biased profiling.

APA. The Arizona governor has said that police in the state will be trained to properly apply the law. Will police officers in the state be able to overcome their implicit or unconscious bias?

Dovidio. Training of the type that is being proposed cannot consistently mitigate the effects of these implicit, and often unconscious, biases.

Training may make people more aware of the potential for biased implementation of the law and help them understand better what they should be doing, but research has shown that training by itself cannot eliminate the systematic forces of implicit bias that operate unintentionally, often without awareness and the ability to control it. Training should help limit blatant abuses, but implicit biases will still play an important role in how the new police powers actually play out on the street.

APA. A second new law in Arizona is also creating controversy; this one has to do with courses that are designed primarily for students to teach them about their cultural heritage. What is the importance of knowing one’s group history and appreciating the cultural heritage of others?

Dovidio. Having a stronger sense of group connection and identity can buffer feelings of depression and distress typically produced by perceptions of discrimination. However, for more positive and productive intergroup relations today, it is important not only to recognize and value one’s heritage but also to know that one’s group is respected by other groups and that there is common connection, identity and interdependence among the different groups in our society. Educating young people about their own heritage as well as the heritage of their classmates is one way to foster that respect and connection.

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