Apr. 2, 1999 Writer: Kristin Harmel
Source: Katherine Gratto -- (352) 392-2391, email@example.com
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- The face of racism is changing.
According to a University of Florida study, racism in the 1990s is less overt than ever, but it still lingers beneath the surface. Physical fear and blatant stereotypes no longer play such a major role in racism, but white and black college students continue to be wary in daily interactions, such as having to live with a student of a different race, said Katherine Gratto, who did the study for her dissertation in December 1997.
"That really supported some of the previous research," Gratto said. "When a social situation involves close proximity, where you'll have to deal with someone of a different race more closely or more often, that's when prejudices tend to surface."
Gratto's study was based on her surveys of more than 200 white, black, Asian and Hispanic undergraduate college students at UF. She asked each to rate their comfort levels in various hypothetical situations that dealt with race.
Both white and black students had significantly negative reactions to situations that involved close daily interactions with those of different races. Living with a roommate of a different race or learning that a friend had become engaged to a person of a different race bothered them far more than situations that may have previously indicated physical danger, such as passing a group of young men of a different race on the street corner.
Asian and Hispanic students, on the other hand, were the least prejudiced of the four groups when it came to dealing with close, personal interactions, exhibiting little or no significant differences in comfort level when they had to interact with people of another race. In addition, black students seemed to have more prejudice toward whites than toward Hispanics, Gratto said.
"This is the real racism that America doesn't want to deal with," said Jamal Bryant, the national youth and college director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "As we face a new millennium, this generation must do intensive sensitivity training. We can't afford to perpetuate the cycle of insecurity and ignorance as willed to us by our foreparents."
Some of the tension between different racial groups may arise from institutions and practices that draw too much attention to differences and not enough to what people have in common, such as clubs and organizations based solely on race or ethnicity, Gratto said.
"Instead of doing so many multicultural things that emphasize how many differences there are between us, we need to do intercultural things," she said. "It is that cooperative sense of community, when you work on projects together, that plays down the differences."
However, the decrease in racism in many forms is an important stride in the right direction, Gratto said.
"When you first see somebody, it's often not their skin color that makes you judge them anymore," she said. "That's partially because of the circumstances of life and how we interact with each other on a daily basis. Now, people of different races are around each other all the time."
Gratto said the increasing number of minorities in all professional fields has also diminished racism because people are forced to see each other as equals in the work world.
"People will end up working side by side with a mixture of all races," she said. "That's the ultimate test, because that's where racism can be most strongly felt."
Programs that give people of all different races a chance to work together with a common goal, such as community service and volunteer programs, will help increase a feeling of equality and decrease racism in the future, Gratto said.
"This gives us something to work with," she said. "I don't think we can change the world right away, but I believe we could if we start working on one individual at a time. If you can change one person's mind, then that person will raise his or her children to be more open-minded and so on down the road until racism gradually goes away."
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