Know Yourself, Act Right

You are waiting for an interview ( e.g for a job/management seat/university seat) along with two more candidates. You talk among yourselves, you find out each others’ background, and that you all are equally qualified. One person steps into the interview room, and someone sitting next to you says, ‘he is gonna get it, he has reservation’. How do u react to it, if you are a non-dalit, non-obc candidate? If in the interview, you are asked which one of the two you ‘d be interested to work with, who would u pick? What if the person used a more severe form of ‘casteist’ remark(!) instead?

Science paper suggests that, although in an imagined situation (like the one above) you may feel more agitated and emotionally distressed; in a real situation you are more likely to show indifference. You rely on your conscious egalitarian attitudes when predicting your future emotions, but the actual emotions (in a real situation) may have been shaped more by nonconscious negative attitudes.

When our actual emotions surprise us like this, it is called “failure of forecasting”.  In many situations, its a good thing cause they show us a side of ours we haven’t consciously noted. It tells us who we are, how we identify ourselves. A very important function of emotion.

(I have just transformed a situation of  “an act of racism” to “an act of casteism”. It is permissible since they are very similar, but also because talking about how ‘target of prejudice react” the paper cited studies from ‘sexism’ not ‘racism’. )

Remember the last time you witnessed such incident. If you can’t remember it is probably because of your indifference. OK, may be I am pushing too much. The following questions might help you.

  1. How did you feel when in movies an infuriated person said “Teri Jatka”? (can be seen in numerous movies)
  2. What did you think of the songs “Kahan raja bhoj, kahan gangoo teli”(Dulhe Raja), “mauhalle me kaisi maar-a-maar hai
    bole mochi bhi khud ko sonaar hai
    ”(Aja Nachle)?
  3. What do you feel when you read Mahendra Singh Tikait made a casteist remark? What did u feel when it turned into a fiasco?
  4. How did you react when you witnessed a real discrimination and/or a casteist abuse?

These incidents probably met your indifference. If so, it could be because the social and emotional cost of a protest or (in more direct case, penalty) is high or because you have egalitarian belief that aids your deliberate responses, but you continue to harbour nonconscious negative feelings for the other castes. Whatever that is, we are discussing about people who carry the ‘social identity’ of liberal and egalitarian. In Indian society, there is just handful of you.  The sheer number of hits (in google search) in defense of Tikait or Aja Nachle, in the name of freedom of speech or anyother arguments bear that fact.

Concluding remark of the paper

Besides providing a conceptual contribution, the present studies also have immediate practical relevance. In particular, despite current egalitarian cultural norms and apparent good intentions, one reason why racism and discrimination remain so prevalent in society may be that people do not respond to overt acts of racism in the way that they anticipate: They fail to censure others who transgress these egalitarian norms. These findings provide important information on actual responses to racism that can help create personal awareness and inform interventions, thereby helping people to be as egalitarian as they think they will be.

P.S. I have no formal training in social psychology. But I am enthusiastic about evolutionary and social psychology.

P.P.S. If the science link does not work, you probably need subsciption. In that case drop me a mail(or the authors) for the paper.


6 thoughts on “Know Yourself, Act Right

  1. Nice adaptation! we can do endless other thought experiments this way:

    Why do women not react when a girl is subjected to eve teasing in buses?
    How do Indians tune out inequalities even when it is in their face, why do we not react to unwashed, unclothed children? Why are we not agitated that these children are not in school and in playgrounds? Do we even see them as children let alone see them as belonging to us and their well being our concern? How do we manage to go about our business when there is so much that is not egalitarian?

    We would confound each and everyone of these thought or real experiments, I think there is something fundamentally flawed in us as a people. Maybe a stretch of DNA that governs these aspects went missing 🙂 Whatever, have you read this slightly older paper? It throws some light on why the majority of people have racial bias. When I read this initially, I did what you did, substituted race for caste.
    The link should work.

    • Yes, we can go on applying the same analysis to all forms of discrimination. The authors themselves do. And I understand the point you make. But I am afraid it would be too far fetched to question someone’s egalitarian belief cause she ignores the needy children on her way to work. You see, the difference being ‘economic inequality’ is very acceptable (at least in societies like India/USA), where as ‘racism’/racial slur’ is unacceptable and even punishable. That is a crucial difference and it sets the premise of their hypothesis. Can you imagine the futility of this experiment if the ‘experimental subjects’ were readily identified as racists (or casteist like the priests of Indian temples)?

      btw, I am not saying its OK to be apathetic to poverty and inequalities. (here we can ask, Equality Of What?)

      may be a stretch of DNA (or lack of it as you suggest), or whole of them as Richard Dawkin’s ‘Selfish Gene’ :). “Lets try to teach generosity and altruism, since we are born shelfish”. But by the last chapter you are effectively told, cooperation (at least reciprocal cooperation) and altruism serves you better, using ‘evolutionary game theory’. But again, altruism and egalitarianism are not the same thing, right?

      Why do women not react when a girl is subjected to eve teasing in buses?

      that’s very important question. In this case, the ‘victim’ and the ‘observer’ are from same ‘target group’. Their likelihood to protest/penalise/or be perturbed is more. But we dont see that often because of a number of reasons. One, for example, is our flexible social identities. Let me quote the example from the perspective section of the same issue of science.(Here the response is to something positive (opposite of eve teasing), but still we can make some inference

      “One thing emotions can inform us about, sometimes to our surprise, is who we are in a given situation. This happens because emotions can arise from our identification with social groups and not only from our individual self (5,6). For example, imagine you are a woman in an organization, learning that a female colleague has won promotion to upper management. You may feel disappointment and envy if you are taking an individual perspective. But if you are thinking of yourself instead primarily as a woman, you may feel pride and happiness at this blow to the “glass ceiling” (7). Thus, feeling happy rather than envious may tell you, perhaps to your surprise, what group membership defines you in the specific situation.”

      How do women react to racial to ‘sexist remark’ directed against themselves is discussed in reference 27, 28 of Kawakami et al science paper(from my post). No 27 by Swim et al, is an interesting read. They show women consider a person making sexist remark prejudiced but dont confront them as much as they should, probably because of the social constraints. One thing I noticed was, women who confront in general hold ‘gender-role central to self-concept’ and have a commitment to fight sexism, yet in the conclusion it is suggested they are less likely to confront sexism in presence of other women than when they are a lone women in public. They call it a result of ‘diffusion of responsibility’, they except the bystander women to react too.

      I hadn’t read the paper you suggested, thanks. But I was aware of those kind of experiments. Havard ran a website asking volunteers to take their test for their study on racial prejudice. Something similar, I saw from there.

  2. As a dalit i am happy that there is casteism in soceity. After all we are previleged to get those seats. Lets be happy.

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