Pride and Prejudice

Highlights the study on how people cope up with discrimination. Defense mechanism of Afro-American women who experience discrimination; How people in high society cope up when discriminated.

By Jeff Howe, published on May 1, 1999 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015


The consequences of discrimination are extensive and
well-chronicled: emotional abuse; loss of jobs and opportunities; dreams
deferred. A recent study sheds more light on the complexity of how people
cope with prejudice on a personal level.

Previous research conducted by Karen Ruggiero, Ph.D., of Harvard
University, revealed that the more a group of people faces
discrimination, the less likely they are to acknowledge it. So black
women, for example, . reported feeling less marginalized than white men,
despite the fact the women probably experienced more prejudice. This
reluctance to accept their treatment by society, the psychology professor
found, is a natural defense mechanism. Facing the daily burden of racial
and gender prejudice is simply too depressing a prospect for many black
women; it may be easier for them to internalize the way they are treated
than to reflect on it constantly and feel increasingly powerless in a
bigoted world.

Now, a new study by Ruggiero and Brenda Major, Ph.D., of the
University of California-Santa Barbara, reveals the other side of the
coin: that high-status group members are more likely to attribute
personal failure to discrimination, despite the fact they are the least
likely to experience it. For high-status group members, crying
discrimination provides a temporary scapegoat for the low blow to their
usual sense of entitlement and belonging.

"Basically, they still know that society values them for who they
are," says Ruggiero. Thus, a white male views discrimination as an
aberrant experience and doesn't worry about its ultimate impact on his
future. Black women, however, are forced to accept discrimination as a
destructive part of daily life. They may avoid dwelling on this
disheartening reality by refusing to blame their problems on

Ruggiero believes the backlash against affirmative action is
somehow related to the phenomenon revealed in her research. "If
low-status group members minimize discrimination, then that might lead us
to believe discrimination is no longer a problem," says Ruggiero. "On the
other hand, the fact that high-status groups are so willing to claim that
they've been victimized might lead us to believe they're worse off than
they really are."

She does see hope, however: "This study could dispel the popular
myth that women and minorities are eager to play the race or gender card,
when in fact, it's the opposite case."