Since the Loving v. Virginia (1967) case, our attitudes towards interracial marriage have greatly improved. In 1958, only 4% of Americans accepted marriages between people of color and whites. Today, the percentage is higher. According to polls, 87% of Americans accept interracial marriage.
Question is: Are these polls a reflection of what Americans truly feel? And if so, why are there numerous incidents of hate crimes against interracial couples? Barely a month ago, a man stabbed an interracial couple for kissing in public. Landlords evict their tenants when they realize they are interracial. So are we lying when polling? Or is the subconscious still struggling with the acceptance of interracial couples?
To test this, Allison Skinner, Psychology Researcher at the University of Washington and her colleague Caitlin Hudac came up with a number of studies to determine how people really feel about interracial relationships and whether people have an underlying bias against interracial couples.
Investigating the insula
Much as our attitudes have supposedly changed, people’s stomachs still churn at the sight of interracial couples, both in real life and even on adverts. Skinner and Hudac asked a sample of white college students to gauge their disgust or acceptance for interracial couples. And as the polls, they claimed to be largely accepting.
When it comes to sensitive matters like race, gender, sexual orientation, self-reporting normally yields false results because people are either unaware of their biases or they just lie about how they truly feel. So the psychologists conducted a second study using an electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure electrical activity in the brain. They then showed the sample 100 pictures of black-white couples and 100 of same-race couples and observed activity in the part the brain called insula – the part activated when someone felt disgust.
Results of the studies.
For most participants, the insula lit up when they viewed pictures of interracial couples as opposed to the same race pictures. Which means the self-reported polls gave false impression of how people feel.
Ramifications of feeling disgusted by interracial couples.
The feeling of disgust normally leads to dehumanization. Since the polls don’t tell the whole story, much as we may not want to admit it, most people still harbor deep set biases against interracial marriage. So when someone is disgusted by interracial couples naturally they would dehumanize them. And this dehumanization could be the reason that even after reporting acceptance, we still find incidents of crimes against interracial couples.
Being disgusted by interracial couples isn’t natural. We are not born biased. As Skinner puts it, “the existence of these biases is evidence of deeply ingrained societal attitudes about race in our culture – and there is a new and growing field of research on methods to reduce these biases… And at its most extreme, dehumanization can lead to acts of violence and cruelty – like the stabbing from earlier this summer.”