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08 May 2013

Understanding in a Car Crash

Chris and Nate at the SocilogySource Podcast shared an interesting allegory they use to teach race. They liken it to car accidents. (This is the episode, I think.) Car accidents are not intentional, and, yet, they still happen. Like car accidents, racist outcomes still happen even though the overwhelming (and increasing) majority of us are not intentionally racist. [Insert Brad Paisley "Accidental Racist" joke here.] I really like this analogy, and I think we can extend it further. One reason car accidents happen is that we have shared value, beliefs, and behaviors (i.e. culture) that make accidents more likely to happen. Think driving fast, aggressively, and distracted. Much in our culture predisposes us to racist outcomes. Think dialectical (i.e. language) prejudices, judgments about unique first names, and an insistence on "personal responsibility." Another reason car accidents happen is that we have designed an infrastructure (i.e. structure) that makes accidents more likely to happen. Think non-divided highways, crumbling roads/bridges, and elevated speed limits. Much of our social structure predisposes us to racist outcomes. Think concern over drug crime with apathy for white-collar crime, unequal schools, and disproportionate unemployment rates. Moreover, not all accidents have the same outcomes; some are more likely to be fatal than others. Think small car or motorcycle vs. SUV. Compare that to differences in social, economic, and human capitals. The dominant narrative that most students in the United States bring with them to the classroom is of intentionality: "I cannot be held personally responsible for things that I did not intentionally do." This narrative flies in the face of everything that we know sociologically, and I think the allegory above is one way to combat "common sense" assumptions.

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