Diversity Science Job Talk - "The Water We Swim In: An Examination of Systemic Influences on Attitudes"

Allison Skinner-Dorkenoo, Ph.D. University of Georgia Assistant Professor

Abstract- In this talk, I will discuss how individual-level attitudes are shaped by systemic influences, and how this process can be challenged. I will hone in on two specific influences—nonverbal signals and microaggressions—that can subtly transmit societal biases to individuals. Specifically, I will present evidence that both children and adults can acquire group prejudices from the nonverbal signals in their social environments and that if the majority of people in a context (e.g., community, society) display the same nonverbal biases—such as favoring white people—this will lead those who are socialized in that context to acquire biases favoring white people. I will also demonstrate the role that racial microaggressions play in spreading and reinforcing racial attitudes in the U.S. By othering people of color and communicating that they are inferior, I argue that racial microaggressions transmit racial biases in favor of white people. Furthermore, I will present evidence of how microaggressions protect the current system, by obscuring systemic oppression. Thus, from the perspective I present here, microaggressions and biased nonverbal signals are not just isolated phenomena that individuals may happen to be exposed to—they represent systemic phenomena that most individuals who are socialized in a culture will be exposed to. I will close with a discussion of new avenues for anti-bias interventions that could buffer against systemic influences.

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