Monday, September 28, 2009

Snap judgment

A news story came over the wire about a 16-year old black teenager who was beaten to death in Chicago last Thursday by three other teens.

While no motive was mentioned, the story identifies the victim as an honors student. Given this limited information, I unthinkingly decided on a motive for the violent crime and scanned the rest of the story for confirmation.

What motive did I leap to?

Resentment for being an honors student from underachieving black youth.

There's a lot of ways to categorize this type of automatic response. Bias, snap-judgment, thin-slicing, stereotyping and I'm sure someone else will attribute it to some form of racism.

I never thought about a fight that got way out of hand, gang violence, revenge, a dispute over a girl, random violence or drug violence. The perpetrators were not described and that left a blank slate to fill in. Most importantly, I was already of the opinion that there's a problem in black inner city schools where students who try hard are socially stigmatized and accused of "acting white."

I don't know how big this problem is, I don't know how much that factors in to racial differences in test scores. I do know that I don't like the notion that getting good grades is some form of a "betrayal" and the explanation makes sense to me.

So with this mindset, my flawed human brain saw a potential to "prove it" with this tragic event by projecting what I really think is a problem onto this case. After all, assuming the "acting white" explanation for differences in test results is true, that doesn't mean that it was the cause of this violent act. If this turns out to be an example of gang violence, that certainly doesn't disprove the "acting white" story.

My point here is bigger than this story, or this explanation. It's that as much as we try to be rational, we must all struggle with our own biases and recognize them when we can.

1 comment:

  1. This happens in inner city schools more often than one might think. The kids that are trying to do well in school are labeled as quote unquote race traitors. Being an over-achiever in an underachieving school or neighborhood immediately casts a person as an outsider. All humans naturally fear what is different. White suburbanites who live in calm sheltered communities will get a tingle down their spines when they get a glimpse at the new black neighbors. The same holds true for inner city gangs when they see one of their own being (for lack of an updated term) an uncle tom. The biggest difference between these two identical human reactions is that it doesn't make the news when John Stockbroker scowls at his new neighbor. When Lakeysha Jenkins gets beaten to death because she's perceived as a good student, the media declares it worthy of their time to do a piece on it. This goes back to the whole product of an environment/nature VS nurture debate.