Ironic Effects of Anti-Prejudice Messages







“The authors conducted two experiments which looked at the effect of two different types of motivational intervention – a controlled form (telling people what they should do) and a more personal form (explaining why being non-prejudiced is enjoyable and personally valuable).

In experiment one; participants were randomly assigned one of two brochures to read: an autonomy brochure or a controlling brochure. These brochures discussed a new campus initiative to reduce prejudice. A third group was offered no motivational instructions to reduce prejudice. The authors found that, ironically, those who read the controlling brochure later demonstrated more prejudice than those who had not been urged to reduce prejudice. Those who read the brochure designed to support personal motivation showed less prejudice than those in the other two groups.

In experiment two, participants were randomly assigned a questionnaire, designed to stimulate personal or controlling motivation to reduce prejudice. The authors found that those who were exposed to controlling messages regarding prejudice reduction showed significantly more prejudice than those who did not receive any controlling cues.

The authors suggest that when interventions eliminate people’s freedom to value diversity on their own terms, they may actually be creating hostility toward the targets of prejudice.”

Pretty concise explanation of why I think a lot of SJ tactics work exactly opposite to how they’re intended.

Ooh, neat research!

YES. someone finally did the science.

look, if you want to make the world a better place, don’t spread negativity. even if you are extra angry at crimes, your righteous anger just creates anger in others and you can’t direct their anger. only yours.

so use your anger as fuel instead of a weapon, and spread love instead of pain. instead of being like “bigots should die they are human garbage are you garbage???” be like “look at these wonderful diverse people and how great they are, join me in appreciating their greatness” and you will have much more success!

Nice works.

This is why I say that call-outs which are trying to actually change an individual’s behaviour (as opposed to venting anger at structural inequality – a completely different thing) should be constructive and aimed at the work or action, not the person.

People can’t hear criticism properly when it’s in the form of absolutes and ultimatums and backs them into a corner. It just seems like an attack, and self-protection takes up all their attention, with nothing left over to engage with the actual problem.

The article puts it this way:

‘According to Dr. Legault, “Controlling prejudice reduction practices are
tempting because they are quick and easy to implement. They tell people
how they should think and behave and stress the negative consequences
of failing to think and behave in desirable ways.” Legault continues,
“But people need to feel that they are freely choosing to be
nonprejudiced, rather than having it forced upon them.”’

In fandom, the “controlling practices” are bullying, dogpiling, and name-calling, and other forms of abuse. And it doesn’t work. It might make the people doing it feel better, but it actually makes the problem itself worse for that individual under attack. (Again, when the conversation is not directed at an individual, but rather pointing out a structural problem, a wider-ranging conversation which includes venting can be helpful. That’s not what I’m talking about here.)

Jay Smooth talks about this too, and gives some really useful advice about calling out racism in a way people are more likely to hear. The same technique can be used for sexism and homophobia and other forms of prejudice too.

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I have said this before, but I’ll say it again: fannish social justice spaces fall apart and become toxic because they don’t separate therapeutic space from social activist space. 

In real world activist circles most movements have two strands – providing therapeutic space, and providing activist space. Of course the two are related, but you can’t have both happening in the same place at the same time. 

A therapeutic space is either straight up support groups, or more round about things like community-specific art groups, writers groups, celebrations, performances, readings etc, where a group dealing with the impact of prejudice on their lives can come together to vent their anger and sadness and discuss their experiences. These are safe, affirming environments and, most importantly, people from the privileged class responsible for our trauma (be it straight people or white people or cis people or men or abled people) are generally given little if any access to these spaces. They are not FOR the privileged class, it would be destructive for everyone involved for them to be present. These are the spaces where anger can and should be expressed and heard and validated. 

These therapeutic spaces are INCREDIBLY important for building community and helping each of us deal with the constant hum of trauma that occurs when we live in a society that is violently opposed to our very existence. 

An activist space, on the other hand, is about looking out into the world and looking at what we can do to effect external change, achieve practical results like law changes – it’s protests and rallies, removing bad people from positions of power, letter writing campaigns, distributing facts and figures to those in power to back up our arguments and yes, going out and educating individuals were it seems like it would be constructive to do so. And sometimes, it’s about being pragmatic about our emotions, putting them aside and addressing someone on their own terms in order to achieve a goal. 

Sometimes that means not directing rage and frustration and pain at someone with privilege, even when they deserve it, even when your rage and frustration is completely justified – because that simply won’t help. Instead you have to address them calmly with an argument you know will actually sway them, rather than make them defensive and angry themselves.

Activist spaces sometimes require you to store up that rage and bring it back to a therapeutic space later, where it’s safe to vent, rather than unleashing it on someone when you know that doing so will ultimately harm your cause in the long run. 

Unfortunately on tumblr and in a lot of online communities, the two spaces get conflated a LOT. People feel the need – and have the right – to express their rage at a privileged group… but instead of finding a safe space to do it in, they dogpile and ‘call out’ and inevitably (given tumblr’s demographic breakdown) get into arguments between different groups that upset pretty much everyone involved, and continue to do all this cathartic stuff in the name of ‘activism’ because it feels good to finally express personal trauma. And when anyone suggests a slightly more practical approach they get jumped on for ‘silencing’ or ‘invalidating’ someone’s experiences.

Processing trauma by screaming at a fifteen year old who said something transphobic is not ‘activism’, it’s you trying to work out personal trauma in the wrong space. Similarly commenting on a piece of fanwork that someone created as an expression of their identity or to work through an experience they’ve had, and telling them that it’s ‘problemtic’ because it’s not wholly accurate to x,y, and z and trying to ‘correct’ their artwork is not activism, it’s interrupting someone’s therapy. 

The very nature of tumblr and most social media platforms right now make it difficult to disentangle these spaces online – there are no moderators or separate forums or LJ communities with specific guidelines for subject matter. But until we do, it’ll be almost impossible to have truly constructive social justice movements on these platforms. 

Ironic Effects of Anti-Prejudice Messages