A Social Experiment on Crime and Color

This week, I was browsing Buzzfeed instead of doing homework (as per usual), and I stumbled across an article/video about a “social experiment” done by two men: one black, one white. They parked their car on a public street and proceeded to fake break into the car and watch what happened. The white prankster tried for 30 minutes to break into the car, horn blaring, and nothing happened. A cop car even drove by and didn’t do anything. However, when the black prankster tried, cops showed up after two minutes, and it took over a half hour to prove to the cops that he actually did own the car and that the whole thing was a prank. He was held against a wall and cursed at while onlookers glared suspiciously, when the white participant had none of this occur.

This situation is a really interesting example of aversive racism, where people’s underlying prejudices come out in ambiguous situations. In this situation, there was no way of knowing who the car belonged to, and the white prankster was given the benefit of the doubt whereas the black prankster was assumed to be a criminal. The part that is particularly interesting to me is that there were non-ambiguous signs, such as the metal instrument that they were using to break into the car. I don’t know that it would be a normal sign on the street to see somebody try to open a car that way, but the white prankster was given the benefit of the doubt even if there were some signs that made the situation less ambiguous.

So, what do you think? Do you think the situation was ambiguous? How does this situation fit into the concept of aversive racism? What do you think you would have done if you were a witness?

2 thoughts on “A Social Experiment on Crime and Color

  1. It’s hard to think what I would have done if I was there since now that I think about it, the thought isn’t implicit. I have to imagine that I would have been more suspicious of the black prankster rather than the white prankster because of implicit associations that we make with black people and crime. I think that this is a great example of aversive racism as well. The officer most likely knew full well that he was suspicious because the person was black and in his mind that meant that he was more likely to be a criminal. Also, their was a similar experiment done with a white teenager, a black teenager, and a white female where each person took a turn acting like they were trying to cut off a lock to a bike in a park. People just walked by the white person, but several people questioned the black person and even called the police. When the female went I think just about everyone stopped asked if she needed help.

  2. I definitely don’t think the situation was ambiguous. I think that the officer and all of the onlookers were able to find justifications for the white prankster (he locked himself out his car, he lost his keys), but the black prankster evoked deviant, criminal associations, so the assumption of his criminality was made almost immediately based off of that unconscious evaluation. I think it’s a great idea for a social experiment, though, if you are (as a black person) willing to deal with a lot of crap in order to make a really pertinent point.

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