Saturday, March 7, 2009

Racial Discrimination Video from ABC News Show

Today, the blog of journal Sociology Compass had a post about an episode of the ABC News show What Would You Do?. The premise of What Would You Do? is kind of social-psychology 101 meets "Candid Camera" by secretly recording people's reactions to either social breaches or unexpected situations. In this episode, a real estate agent made obviously racist remarks to first a black couple then an Arab couple during an open house. The agent and the two couples were actors and the goal was to see what the other homeseekers at the open house would do when hearing these comments. Although they show many stepping in, many also did not. And, those who did, did so in different ways: some confronted the agent directly, some talked to the agent and apologized to the couple (they felt that the agent had maligned their community with her behavior) but it seemed like most just went to the couple and told them that they should ignore the real estate agent.

Unfortunately, the agent's actions are all too common in the United States. Despite talk of a "post-racial" America with the election of Obama, it is a fact that this kind of discrimination continues. The problem with only exposing racism in this light is that it often hides the more hidden aspects of "institutional" racism that can't be called out in person, but must be confronted institutionally. The producers of What Would You Do? actually ended up accidentally capturing this kind of racism on a previous episode. A group of white teenagers (actors) were trashing a car in a public park to see what people passing by the scene would do. During this segment, the host, John Quiñones, explains that three calls were placed to 911: the first was about the vandalism, the second two were to report two suspicious black men in another car who "looked like they were getting ready to rob something." It turns out, the black men were the family members of another set of black teenage actors (used in a later segment to see if the race of the vandals mattered for the way that passers-by reacted; it did) who were sleeping in the car waiting for their kids to be done. In the last part of that segment, talking to the black teenagers, he highlights the fact that is the most prominent experience from the day that sticks out in their minds.

The show is a little pedantic for me, I can't imagine watching more than the few clips relating to things I'm interested in (there is another episode looking at the experience of Latino day laborers). But, I think that it would be really great as a teaching tool to show students and could lead to an interesting discussion. Also, Sociology Compass has a teaching guide on housing discrimination and racial residential segregation by Robert Adelman and James Clark Gocker. Also, another great resource — also produced by ABC News — is Diane Sawyers' 1991 Prime Time Live episode, "True Colors", described here (I couldn't find the video online) used an "audit study" method to show on camera some discrimination both blacks and women face getting loans, purchasing cars, and renting apartments.


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Anonymous said...

True Colors is now available from
Trainer's Toolchest -

There are also other great programs in the series using hidden cameras and testers. What people really do when they don't know their actions are being filmed is amazing!

Anonymous said...

We've used the programs mentioned in our school - True Colors and the What Would You Do? Series. My other favorite program for teacher training is Eye of the Storm with Jane Elliott. It looks at the link between perceptions and performance. It's great for teachers. I also went to a class in which they utilized a program called "linguistic profiling" by ABC News. The best part? It talked about the type of decision we make based on what we hear, not see.

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