So who’s out of touch? Dennis Prager on liberals and bias

Suppose you are driving around to charge up your iphone, and to combat the utter boredom, you decide to listen to some talk radio.**  Now if the only way you can charge up your cell phone is by driving, then you might just be in a Gulf State where IKE blew out the power for hundreds of square miles.  And then one of the better people you might listen to is:  Dennis Prager!  At least one doesn’t get much ranting from him.  Quoting imprecisely from memory, I think here’s the sort of thing you might hear:

Ladies  and gentlemen, do you honestly know anyone who thinks  that Obama and McCain are equally good candidates, but they’re going to vote for McCain because Obama is black?  Of course not.  But liberals think that’s the way people vote.  Ladies and gentlemen, that is how out of touch liberals are.  They don’t have any contact with ordinary people and so they honest to God are completely ignorant of how you and I think.

Well, no. Some liberals may not know how prejudice works, but anyone who has looked into it – and at least some liberals have – knows that it is more subtle.  Much prejudice tends to be indirect; bias leads one to perceive equally qualified people as qualified differently.  As a very interesting WaPo article on implicit bias says:

In perhaps the most dramatic real-world correlate of the bias tests, economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago recently sent out 5,000 résumés to 1,250 employers who had help-wanted ads in Chicago and Boston. The résumés were culled from Internet Web sites and mailed out with one crucial change: Some applicants were given stereotypically white-sounding names such as Greg; others were given black-sounding names such as Tyrone.

Interviews beforehand with human resources managers at many companies in Boston and Chicago had led the economists to believe that black applicants would be more likely to get interview calls: Employers said they were hungry for qualified minorities and were aggressively seeking diversity. Every employer got four résumés: an average white applicant, an average black applicant, a highly skilled white applicant and a highly skilled black applicant.

The economists measured only one outcome: Which résumés triggered callbacks?

To the economists’ surprise, the résumés with white-sounding names triggered 50 percent more callbacks than résumés with black-sounding names. Furthermore, the researchers found that the high-quality black résumés drew no more calls than the average black résumés. Highly skilled candidates with white names got more calls than average white candidates, but lower-skilled candidates with white names got many more callbacks than even highly skilled black applicants.

For employers who think they want to hire minority workers, an average white applicant can seem better than a highly qualified minority candidate.  As Maureen Dowd reports on a women in Palin’s home town:

I talked to a Wal-Mart mom, Betty Necas, 39, wearing sweatpants and tattoos on her wrists.

She said she’s never voted, and was a teenage mom “like Bristol.” She likes Sarah because she’s “down home” but said Obama “gives me the creeps. Nothing to do with the fact that he’s black. He just seems snotty, and he looks weaselly.”

So who’s out of touch, Mr. Prager?  Maybe it is you, if you have no idea of how prejudice works, and it is very likely to be a heavy influence in our upcoming election.


** Everyone knows that, speaking generally, a woman reading a book while sitting in a running car in a parking lot is endangering herself?


4 thoughts on “So who’s out of touch? Dennis Prager on liberals and bias

  1. One of those unanticipated side-effects of the hurricane, huh? Many thanks for the really useful study– useful to see that the same people who think the minority applicants will have an *advantage*, and who may well genuinely want to hire minorities in fact are less likely to give minorities call-backs. It would be lovely to do a similar study of philosophy departments! But perhaps we should settle for widely publicising this study in an effort to raise awareness of the problem. Go forth and publicise!

  2. It’s interesting. We all know that good intentions are not enough, and the fact that it’s surprising here is pretty revealing.

  3. […] Philosophers often insist, like the HR managers in this study, that women and minorities have an advantage. Until someone comes up with a good evidence that we’re special in some way that frees us from implicit bias, I think the presumption should be the opposite. And that we need to be very aware of this. (For some more of our recent blogging on this topic, see here and here.) […]

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