The experience of discrimination

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Imagine you are in heaven, and the angel in front of you says: “You are going to be born to the world. In America. But guess what? We give you choices. There are some groups in America that are in disadvantaged positions… for example, Blacks. So you can choose to be born White, or you can choose to be born Black with cash compensation. The cash will be deposited to your bank account when you are born.”

Question: If you choose to be born Black in America, how much compensation do you think is reasonable? The more specific the better.

Chapter 11
The Experience of
Oh, is there still racism?
QUOTED IN TATUM (1997, P. 3)
I don’t think White people, generally, undmtand the
full meaning of racist discriminatory behaviors directed
toward Americans of African descent. They seen1 to see
each act of discrimination or any act of violence as an
“isolated” event. As a result, most White Americans cannot
understand the strong reaction n1anifested by Blacks when such
events occur. They feel that Blacks tend to “overreact.” They
forget that in most cases, we live lives of quiet desperation
generated by a litany of daily large and small events that,
whether or not by design, remind us of our “place”
in American society.
Chapter Outline
Social Stigma
What Defines a Stigmatized
Stigma by Association
Responses to Prejudice and
Attributional Ambiguity
personaJ/Group Discrimination
Consequences of Prejudice to the
Stereotype Threat
Vulnerability to Stress
Threats to Self-Esteem
Coping with Discrimination
Psychological Disengagement and
Behavioral Compensation
Suggested Readings
Key Terms
Questions for Review and Discussion
As we saw in Chapter 6, many White Americans think prejudice is more or
less a thing of the past. It is certainly true that more blatant fonlLS of prejudice
have declined in the United States, because of both legislative and social changes.
It is also true, however, that the existence of prejudice and discrimination can simply
be iuvisible to many members of the majority group. It is sometiules difficult
for the majority group to accept that, for many people, prejudice and discrimination
are a “lived experience” (Feagin & Sikes, 1994, p. 15) and are not inconsequential
beliefs and actions that can siulply be overlooked while “getting on with
one’s life.” Instead, for members of stereotyped groups, these experiences are
woven iuto the fabric of their lives. Much of this book has focused on theories about
and research on prejudiced people. In this chapter, we tell the story of prejudice and
discrimination from the poiut of view of those lived experiences, focusiug on the social
psychological research that describes and explains them.
As we have seen in earlier chapters, prejudice and discrimination can take
many fonns, depending on the actor, the situation, and the historical time period
in which a person lives. These factors similarly affect those who experience prejudice,
creating a dynamic interchange between those who treat others unfairly and
those who are the recipients of this injustice (Dovidio, Major, & Crocker, 2000).
This chapter focuses on the consequences of this exchange as they affect every
aspect of the stigmatized person’s life, including their academic and economic
achievement and their physical and mental well-beiug.
To fully understand what it is like to experience discrimination, it is important to
know what factors set others apart from the dominant group, increasing the likelihood
that they will be discriminated against. Recall from Chapter 1 our discussion
of group privilege. This privilege is defined as membership in the dominant
group, a status that is seen as nonnal and natural and is usually taken for granted
(A. Johnson, 2006). Dominant group membership is sometimes referred to as
majority group membership, but this is somewhat of a misnomer. Privileged status
often comes from being in the majority; however, it is not defined simply by
420 CHAPTER 11
a group’s numerical advantage. For example, the British rule of India lasted more
than 300 years; during that time, Indians faced severe racial discrimination from the
British even though the Indians greatly outnumbered the British (Dirks, 2001),
Similarly, although Blacks in South Africa outnumber Whites four to one, until
1994 Blacks were subjected to apartheid laws that enforced their segregation
from Whites, governed their social life, and limited their employment options
(Beck, 2000), The vestiges of apartheid continue to affect Blacks in South Africa.
Privileged status, then, is defined less by a group’s numbers and more by its power
and influence. We begin our discussion by outlining the factors that delineate a
group’s privileged or disadvantaged status.
What Defines a Stigmatized Group?
~Whether they are consciously aware of it or not, individuals with privileged status
define which groups do or do not share this status. In social psychological tenns,
those groups that do not share this status are stigmatized or deviant. Stigmatized
-groups differ from the privileged or dominant groups in terms of appearance or
behavior. Members of stigmatized groups violate the nOn11.S established by the
dominant group on these dimensions and, as such, are lllarked by the resulting
social stigma (Jones et al., 1984). Because of this, members of stigmatized groups
are sometimes referred to as the marked and those who are the actors, or the ones
who stigmatize, are sometimes referred to as the markers. Marked individuals are
“devalued, spoiled, or flawed in the eyes of others” (Crocker, Major, & Steele,
1998, p. 504). The consequences of this devaluation are fur reaching and can include
dehumanization, threat, aversion, and other negative treatment, including
subtle forms of discrimination (Dovidio et al., 2000).
Which groups are stigmatized by the privileged or dominant group? The
answer depends on the culture and on the historical events that led to the current
cultural context. As we saw in Chapter 1, for example, the Irish and Italians were
once considered non~White and were targets of discrimination in the United
States; today, they are accepted as part of the White majority (Rubin, 1998).
Returning to our earlier examples, India is now governed by its own people and
is not subject to British dominance and Blacks in South Africa have made significant
strides toward undoing the effects of apartheid. Hence, historical events and
changes in laws and social nonns affect cultural beliefS about who can or should be
stigmatized, even if it sometimes takes many years to see their effects. More generally,
dominant group members detennine which individuals are stigmatized, based
on any number of characteristics, including membership in an underrepresented
basic social category, such as ethnicity or old age, or in a socially deviant category
defined by physical or mental disability, weight, socioeconomic status, or sexual
orientation. People also can be stigmatized because of their acne, their mother’s alcoholism,
a speech impediment, or illness, among many other things (Jones et al.,
1984). To be stigmatized, then, individuals must have a characteristic that is devalued
by the dominant group and that sets them apart from that group. Regardless of the
source of the stigma, in all cases, there is shame associated with being nurked
(Goffinan, 1963).
As you read this list of stigmatized groups, you might have concluded that
almost everyone has had the experience of being different from the majority and
has suffered because of it. It is true that being different from the group is often part
of normal human life. If you have had such experiences, it may give you some
insight into what it is like to be a member of a stigmatized group. But for majority
group members, nlany times these experiences are short-lived or othenvise benign.
Benign stigmas, such as acne, a correctable speech impediment, or a short-tenn illness,
differ in important ways from the more harmful stigmas social scientists most
often study, such as those based on ethnicity, severe mental illness, or sexual orientation.
Because these latter stigmas typically have more negative consequences,
ranging from depression to extreme violence against the stigmatized group, they
are the focus of this chapter. Edward Jones and his colleagues (1984) have identi–J
fied five dimensions that are particularly helpful in differentiating between harmful
and benign stigmas: course, concealability, aesthetic qualities, origin, and peril.
Course. Benign stigmas are often temporary; that is, the course of the stigma’l
is short. For example, acne is usually outgrown or can be cured by a J
dennatologist. In contrast, the course of many negative stigmas cannot be -J
changed. An individua1’s ethnicity is typically part of his or her lifelong
identity, for example. Another tenn that is sometimes used is stability; some
stigmas are perceived to be stable, or pennanent, whereas others are
perceived to be unstable and so can change over time. In general, people
believe that physica11y based stigmas, such as blindness or cancer, are stable
and that mental-behavioral stigmas, such as drug abuse or obesity, are
unstable (Weiner, Perry, & Magnusson, 1988). In general, stable stigmas
have more negative consequences for the stigmatized person.
Concealability. Some stigmas are concealable, which means they can be I
hidden or controlled by the stigmatized person. Such stigmas can be avoided J
simply by keeping the stigma private, such as by not ta1king about one’s
alcoholic mother, or can be hidden, such as by wearing makeup to cover a
scar or birthmark. Moreover, some individuals can and do choose to “pass”
for a member of a different ethnic group, thus concealing their group
membership. However, as John Pachankis (2007) explains, concea1ing a
stigma does not reduce the guilt and shame associated with that stigma.
Moreover, the need to continuously monitor behavior so that the stigma
remains undisclosed can be anxiety provoking. fu he notes” [i]n every new
situation that is encountered, such individuals must decide who among the
present company knows of their stigma, who may suspect this stigma, and
who has no suspicion of the stigma” (p. 328). Many gay men and lesbians,
for example, are not open about their relationships out of fear of social
rejection, loss of employment, or the threat of physical violence; as a result
they often find themselves lying about or hiding an important part of their
life and they feel guilt and shame because they must do so (Meyer, 2003).
Similarly, people often fail to seek treatment for menta1 illness because of the
stigma associated with revealing their problem (Corrigan, 2004). People who
have stigmas that cannot be concealed have a different set of problems; they
422 CHAPTER 11

realize their membership in a stigmatized group is apparent and this, in tum,
affects their thoughts, feelings, and behavior. They must always directly
cope with the prejudice and discrimination associated with their group
membership (Crocker et al., 1998).
Aesthetic qualities. Aesthetics refers to what is beautiful or appealing.
As we discussed in Chapter 3, many stereotypes are triggered by physical
appearance cues (Fiske & Taylor, 1991) and many stigmas are based on
this dimension as well. In general, less physically attractive people are more
likely to be stigmatized (Eagly, Ashmore, Makhijani, & Longo, 1991). One
reliable indicator of physical attractiveness is facial symnletty, or the degree
to which the left and right sides of the face are mirror images of each
other (Langlois & Roggman, 1990). Inclividuals with facial disfigurement
typically do not meet this standard and are likely to be stigmatized. In North
American culture, slimness is emphasized and overweight people become
the targets of cliscrimination (Crandall et al., 2001). Similarly, a central
component of the old-age stereotype is a decline in physical attractiveness
and mobility (Slotterback & Saarnio, 1996).
Origin. This tenn refers to how the stigma came to be and whether its
onset was under the control of the stigmatized individual. Stigmas perceived
to be controllable include drug addiction, acquisition of HIV, and obesity;
those perceived to be uncontrollable include cancer and heart disease
(Weiner et al., 1988). Physical characteristics that one is born with, such as
race or many disabilities, also are perceived to be uncontrollable Gones et al.,
1984). People’s beliefs about the controllability of a stigma have important
implications for acceptance of the stigmatized other. When people believe
that a stigma is uncontrollable, they feel nlore pity and less anger toward
the stigmatized individual compared with when the stigma is perceived
as controllable (Dijker & Koomen, 2003; Weiner et al., 1988). This
viewpoint is evident in this excerpt from a letter to the editor that appeared
in the Chronicle Review: “Race is something that a person has no control
over; hence racism is wrong. Homosexuality is a choice a person makes,
and therefore it is not wrong to disagree with it” (Colvin, 2003, p. B4).
Research suggests that others share Colvin’s viewpoint. For example,
Bernard Whitley (1990) found that people who believed that sexual
orientation was controllable had more negative attitudes toward lesbians
and gay men than did people who believed sexual orientation was not
Peril. Members of some stigmatized groups are perceived, correctly or
incorrectly, to be dangerous. Persons with a mental illness, for example, are
stereo typically perceived to be dangerous, even though statistically they are
no more likely to commit violent crime than people not so diagnosed
(Corrigan & Penn, 1999). As we saw in Chapter 3, people stereotypically
assume that Blacks are more dangerous than Whites (Duncan, 1976).
Especially in the early years of the AIDS epidemic, the stigma associated
with HIV infection was found to be related to the belief that persons with
AIDS were highly contagious and therefore dangerous (Triplet & Sugannan,
1987). In general, groups assumed to be more dangerous are more stigmatized
than groups perceived as less dangerous (Jones et al., 1984).
Stigma by Association
So far, we have discussed what sets individuals apart from the dominant group.
One underlying assumption is that the dominant group generally rejects members
of stigmatized groups. But what happens when a member of the majority
group associates with a stigmatized person? Erving Goflinan (1963) proposed
that such an association would result in a “courtesy stignla” whereby the nlajority
group member would also then be stigmatized. In the past, mainly anecdotal
data supported this possibility. However, recent research suggests that Goffinan’s
hypothesis was correct. For example, Steven Neuberg and his colleagues (Neuberg,
Smith, Hoffman, & Russell, 1994) asked male research participants to watch a
social interaction that they believed was between either two friends or two
strangers. In the course of the conversation, one of the men (Person A) discussed
his relationship as being with either a woman or a man, which also revealed that
he was either heterosexual or gay. Person B, the other man, was presented as
heterosexual. Results supported Goffman’s hypothesis: there was a “courtesy
stigma” or a stigma by association with the gay man. That is, male research participants
were less comfortable with Person B when they believed he was a friend
of, rather than a stranger to, the gay Person A. When Person A was described as
heterosexual, Person B’s evaluations did not depend on how well he knew
Person A. Janet Swim and her colleagues (Swim, Ferguson, & Hyers, 1999)
also found that people fear stigma by association with gay people. In their study,
heterosexual women behaved in ways that socially distanced themselves from a
lesbian, even when doing so required agreeing with socially unpopular positions
or making sexist responses.
Additional research suggests that simply interacting with an obese person can
produce a courtesy stigma. Research participants were less likely to recommend
hiring a job applicant who was shown interacting with an overweight person at a
social gathering, regardless of how well tbe applicant knew the overweight person
(Hebl & Mannix, 2003). Similarly, children as young as 5 years old dislike
girls more when they are pictured next to an overweight rather than an average
weight child. However, this courtesy stigma did not emerge for boys who were
pictured with an overweight boy (Penny & Haddock, 2007). Finally, individuals
who are dating a person with a disability are subject to stigma by association,
including the perception that they are less intelligent and sociable than those
dating a nondisabled person (Goldstein & Johnson, 1997). Yet some aspects of
this stigma by association were positive, including the perception that those dating
the disabled were more nurturant and trustworthy than those not doing so.
Even so, these positive perceptions are consistent with the idea that those associated
with stigmatized others are different. As the authors note, even respondents’
positive comments focused on this difference, pointing out, for example, how
424 CHAPTER 11
much a person had to give up to date someone with a disability. In DUllY cases,
the comnlents indicated sympathy for the nondisabled person. Taken together,
these studies suggest that Goffinan’s idea has merit; there are social consequences
for associating with a deviant.
We noted above that being a numerical minority is not, in and of itself, sufficient
to produce stigmatized status. That is, power and status are important cOlnponents
of defining privilege and nonprivilege. This does not mean, however,
that being in the minority produces no negative effects, particularly in certain
situations or settings. That is, one can be in the majority or near majority in a
larger population, but still have stigmatizing experiences from being a minority
within a particular context. Women, for example, are now represented in the
labor force at numbers nearly equal to men. Many, however, still have negative
experiences that result from being in the minority in some environments, such as
being the only woman in a particular work group (Yoder, 2002). When individuals
are a statistical minority within a particular setting, they can be treated as
tokens and can be stigmatized because of it. In general, token status occurs when
there is a preponderance of one group over another, such as when one gender or
ethnicity is in the majority and only a few individuals fronl another gender
or ethnicity are represented (Kanter, 1977).
Rosabeth Moss Kanter (1977) pioneered the research on tokenism in her case

-‘stUdY of a multinational Fortune 500 corporation. Kanter highlighted three perceptual
tendencies that affected the daily lives of tokens: visibility, contrast, and
assimilation. Visibility refers to the ,tendency for tokens to get attention or, as she
put it, “capture a larger awareness share” (p. 210). Consider, for example, this vi-
sual field containing a series of 9 XS and ouly 1 0:
Notice that your eyes tend to be drawn toward the 0 and not to any individual
X. As we saw in Chapter 3, the perceptual process is similar in social situations;
people’s attention also tends to be drawn to the novel or unique person
rather than to members of the majority group (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). Members
of the minority, or token group, are slll1ply noticed more than are other group
members. Contrast refers to the polarization or exaggeration of differences between
the token and the dominant group. A White person in a group conlprised
‘. only of Whites, for example, might not think much about her or his racial identity.
The presence of a Black person, however, brings race to the forefront, raising awareness
of race for members of the dominant group. Similarly, adding a woman to an
all-male work group can raise awareness of gender issues. Often, both dominant and
Oken group members are uncomfortable when this happens. Assimilation occurs
when the token is stereotyped; in particular, the token’s characteristics are distorted
so that she or he fits the expected stereotype. A group of men, then, notice when a
-token woman behaves in a way that confinns their stereotypes about women and
often generalize from that confinnation. However, the same men tend not to notice
when the woman’s behavior does not confonn to their gender stereotypes.
These perceptual tendencies have important consequences for the token,
which Kanter (1977) illustrated with examples from her case study. She found,
for example, that whenever token women did something unusual, it stood out.
As she describes it “[t]hey were the subject of conversation, questioning, gossip,
and careful scrutiny … Their names came up at meetings, and they would easily
be used as examples … [S]01ne women were even told by their managers that
they were watched more closely than the men” (p. 212). This was a doubleedged
sword; their achievements were noticed, but so were their mistakes.
And, their actions were seen as representative of a11 women, not just of
themselves as individuals. Consequently, evel1 small decisions, such as what to
wear to a business meeting, became important. Most people find such situations
difficult to navigate, as the additional examples provided in Box 11.1 illustrate.
Tokens often feel isolated but, at the same time, must go on as if the differences
do not exist and do not affect their work. Solos, or people who are the only
minority member in a majority group, often feel alone and without support
(Benokraitis & Feagin, 1995). As one Black woman wrote, “the responsibility
associated with being the ouly Black female in my college and only one of a
handful in the university, was overwhelming. I have suffered several instances of
burn-out and exhaustion. & a consequence I have learned to maintain a less
visible profile as a coping and survival strategy” (Moses, 1989, p. 15). All told,
the negative effects of being in the minority can create what has been ca11ed the
“chilly climate” (Sandler & Hail, 1986). Tokens do not feel welcome or supported
in their environment and often their work and personal lives suffer
because of it.
Although Kanter (1977) defined token status as simply being in the numerical
minority, more recent work suggests numbers alone do not define token
status. For example, women who pursue nontraditional occupations are more likely
to experience the effects of tokenism than are women in traditional occupations
(Yoder, 2002). A survey of undergraduates, for exanlple, found that women in
male-dominated academic areas, such as math, science, and engineering, reported
higher levels of current sex discrimination than did women in female-dominated
academic areas, such as the arts, education, and social science (see Figure 11.1;
J. Steele, James, & Barnett, 2002). However, men’s perceptions of current sex discrimination
were not affected by their area of study. This pattern also emerged in a
measure of whether sex discrimination was expected in the future; women in maledominated
professions were most likely to hold this expectation and were most
likely to consider changing their major. As we discussed in Chapter 10, men in
female-dominated occupations, such as nursing and social work, rarely have the
same negative experiences as women in male-dominated professions and may even
be on the fast track to promotion (Maume, 1999; WillianlS, 1992), although there
may be exceptions in some settings. For example, Susan Murray (1997) found that
male child-care workers were pushed away from performing tasks that requITe
nurturing and received the clear message that child care was women’s work. These
426 CHAPTER 11
What does happen to the deviate? The deviate
can convert, but short of a sex change operation,
a time machine to age me, and a personality
overhaul, conversion seems out of the question
for me. Be isolated? That originally was all right
with me, but that surely does not make me a team
member. What can I do? Yet, the failure is placed
squarely on my shoulders. “What is wrong with
you?” “Why can’t you get along?” These
questions haunt me, undermining my self-image.
-JAN YODER (1985, p. 67)
It is difficult to document exactly what form a token’s
negative experiences might take. That is, the actual
events that comprise those experiences are very
personalized. Moreover, many of the individual instances
that lead to the isolation and loneliness experienced by
tokens seem harmless on the surface, especially to those
who are not directly living with them. As you read the
personal accounts described in this chapter, they too may
seem harmless. Keep in mind, however, that the research
evidence suggests that, over time, such experiences
affect those in token roles by isolating them from the
dominant group, lowering their self-esteem, and creating
loneliness (Sue et aI., 2007). As a respondent in Paula
Caplan’s (1994) survey of women in academe described,
their cumulative impact is similar to “lifting a ton of
feathers” (p. 9). Over time, their weight ‘IS unbearable.
This weight is illustrated by the opening quote in
this box, which came from Jan Yoder’s (1985) first
person account of being the first female civilian faculty
member at a United States military academy. Her
writings captured her dilemma about howto respond to
her interactions with the military officers who comprised
97 percent of the faculty. As she notes in her account,
no one event seemed overly traumatic. Yet, because of
their cumulative impact, she stayed only six months.
Here are a few of her experiences:
Because she openly questioned the sexism of
some exam questions, she was given a suggestion book
so she could quietly record her objections without
disrupting faculty meetings.
Her department chose to use “Macho Man” as its
theme song, a song few women would choose to
represent themselves.
Gossip about her ranged from “she’s a lesbian” to
“she is heterosexual, but promiscuous.”
Despite her efforts to clarify her position in the
academy, at social gatherings it was widely assumed
that she was the wife of one of the officers.
” ..
…. …. …’ .” :
.’ .•.• … ……….. …. · Jan Yoder is now a highly successful faculty
member at the University of Akron. Her study of Black
women firefighters (Yoder, 1997) shows how the
experience of being a token can threaten the safety of
both the firefighters and those they are protecting.
One Black woman in her study reported that, in
response to a request for help, she received no
constructive information, but instead was written up
for presumed negligence. A coworker directly told
another Black woman that when there was a fire, she
was not to touch anything, but rather to stay out of
the way. Many of the women reported receiving the
“silent treatment,” with the men literally walking out
of the room when they entered. One reported that,
during her formal testing, she was required to hoist a
hose onto a shelf that suddenly had been raised five
inches above where it was during training.
One of the ways tokens can be made to feel
alienated is through the conversations majority group
members initiate with them. Black managers, for
example, express frustrations with queries that seem to
hold them accountable for other Blacks’ behaviors,
such as “Why do all the Blacks sit together?” and the
relative lack of discussion about business-related topics,
such as how to make the company succeed (Caver &
Livers, 2002). Blacks often feel invisible as well.
Anderson Franklin (2004) describes the experience of a
successful Black manager who took a White business
client out for dinner in New York City. The maitre d’
ignored the Black manager, instead asking the White
client if he had reservations. And, after dinner, the
waiter returned the Black manager’s credit card to the
White client. After dinner, the White client easily
found a cab, but the Black manager was ignored
by cabdrivers for over 15 minutes, even as other
Whites successfully hailed a cab. Echoing the
sent’lments expressed by others ‘In this chapter, at the
individual level, such actions may seem harmless to
dominant group members, but to tokens “[ilt’s the
cumulative effect that wears us down” (Caver & Livers,
2002, p. 78).
Many others have written about these individualized
experiences. Researchers look across such events and,
based on patterns, draw conclusions about the short- and
long-term effects of being a token. On a positive note,
research suggests that when the group composition
changes so that, for example, several women become part
of an otherwise male-dominated group, these negative
experiences dissipate and job satisfaction improves
(Niemann & Dovidio, 1998).
Male dominated
academic area
Female dominated
academic area
II1II Women
FIG U R E 11.1 Perceived Current Sex Discrimination by Gender of Respondent and
Academic Area
Female undergraduates in a male-dominated academic area reported higher levels of sex
discrimination than did female undergraduates in a female-dominated academic area or
male undergraduates in either academic area.
SOURCE: Adapted from Steele, James, and Barnett (2002).
men reported feeling under suspicion, especially

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