Prejudice and Racism: Where Does It Come From?
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
COTHERN, J. A. (2004). Prejudice and Racism: Where Does It Come From?. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 7. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Prejudice and Racism: Where Does It Come From?
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (
Although prejudice and racism isnít openly discussed as it was decades ago, it is still a fairly large problem in the United States today. Several factors can come into play when discussing this issue. Some of these factors are discussed in this study. The purpose of this study was to try to determine where prejudice and racism comes from focusing on the following factors: the subjectsí ages, size of community in which the subjects were raised, size of community in which they currently resided in, their highest level of education and their ethnic backgrounds. A total of 60 subjects were given a 16 question survey which also included four demographics. These 60 surveys were distributed in small, mid-sized and large communities. The results of this study showed a significant difference with the age of the subjects and their highest level of education. It was found that the older the person is, the more they were open to other cultures. It was also found that those with only a high school degree were found to be more prejudiced than those who have a higher level of education. To the contrary, the size of the community in which they were raised, and currently live in had nothing to do with how prejudiced one is.

Prejudice and racism have been very important issues for several decades now. They can be defined as a set of negative and irrational feelings, beliefs, and actions that are directed towards those of a different race, culture and religion. (Zuriff, 2002) From the early 1940ís to the late 1950ís, feelings of prejudice began to come out into the open. It wasnít until the late 1950ís and into the 1960ís that people started acting out and verbally expressing their prejudice against other races, particularly towards the African-American race. It was because of this particular time that stereotypes were instantly formed of African-Americans as being very lazy and not very intelligent. Demonstrations were common in the 1960ís where African-Americans fought for basic human rights for equal opportunity. Some examples of what they tried to accomplish were drinking at public water fountains, using white restrooms, eating at restaurants, riding in the front seats of the bus instead of the back seats, and attending white schools and churches. Things that we take for granted now, at that time were major setbacks for the African-American race. They also were not given the job opportunities that the whites were given. Since then, prejudice has declined. Cultures have come together more so than before. Today, prejudice is still a part of society, however, it isnít as strongly discussed. More often than not, people are afraid of offending anybody of a minority race or embarrassed to show any signs of racism. Due to this fact, it is difficult for researchers to do studies on prejudice and racism because their participants are not being as open and expressive with their level of prejudice. (Zuriff, 2002) Another difference between the past and present would contend with peopleís views on interracial relationships. With each coming generation, interracial relationships are becoming more acceptable. Prejudice and racism does not necessarily have to occur between majority and minority groups. There can be prejudice among the majority, towards others among the majority. There can also be prejudice in the minority, toward others in the minority. This mostly occurs outside of the United States, who has been fairly conflict-free for quite some time. (Perlmutter, 2002) This is not to say that there is no prejudice in the United States. There is prejudice among minority groups in the United States. A Harris study poll which was done in the 1990ís showed some interesting figures. For example, compared to only 12 percent of whites, 22 percent of Asians and 33 percent of Hispanics believed that African-Americans are not able to get ahead to make something of themselves, even if they are given the chance to do so. Also, compared to only 50 percent of whites, 49 percent of African-Americans and 68 percent of Asians strongly believed that Hispanics tend to have bigger families than they are able to afford and to provide for. Finally, compared to only 12 percent of whites, 35 percent of Asians, 43 percent of Hispanics and 54 percent of African-Americans believe that if those of the Jewish religion had a choice between people and money, that the Jews would be greedy enough to take the money. (Perlmutter, 2002) Several factors can play a role in determining whether or not a person is considered to be prejudiced. The older generations have seen and experienced more than the younger generation. Therefore, they may not be as open to other races simply because they have been conditioned to behave and think that way. With each generation that is born, prejudice and racism decreases. Children today do not think very much about the color of another personís skin whereas 30 to 40 years ago, it made a big difference in a personís attitude towards those of a different race. To the contrary, a study performed by Pope-Davis and Ottavi (1994) showed otherwise. Pope-Davis and Ottavi asked 234 college students to participate in their study to determine the connection between white racial identity and racial attitudes by using the White Racial Identity Attitude Scale (WRIAS). Interestingly, their results showed that as each person continues to age with time, they become more open and comfortable with those in a minority race. Not only does the age of the person make a difference, but the locality of the person makes a huge difference. When the person is raised in a rural community, they are less likely to receive exposure to other cultures due to the lack of diversity. Urban communities, on the other hand, have a variety of cultures. If the person was raised in a rural community then moved to a more urban community, they may not forget how they were raised to believe, but will more than likely begin to form their own beliefs after becoming more exposed to the other cultures in the larger cities. The purpose of this study is to determine whether or not the locality, age, education level and the ethic background of the person makes any difference on the extent of which they are prejudice.


A total of 60 subjects participated in this study. Their ages ranged from 18 to 83 years of age. Thirty-nine of these subjects were raised in a small community, nine were raised in a mid-sized community and twelve were raised in a large community. Of the 60 total subjects, 35 currently resided in a small community, eight resided in a mid-sized community and 17 resided in a large community. The majority of the participantsí highest level of education was a high school diploma. Thirteen subjects had received an associate of arts degree while fifteen had their bachelorís degree. Five subjects had obtained their masters degree while only one person had their doctoral degree.

In order to determine the participantsí prejudice, a 21 question survey was created by combining two existing surveys. The created survey consisted of sixteen prejudice statements which were responded with a numerical code ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Other demographics included at the end of the survey were: the participantsí age, ethnic background, and education level. The size of the community the subjects were raised in were also looked at along with the size of the community they currently resided in. (see appendix A)

Data for this study was collected in Chillicothe, Missouri for a small community, St. Joseph, Missouri for a mid-sized community and Kansas City, Missouri for a large community. The goal of the data collection was to gather 25 surveys from each size of community. Each subject was asked if they would be willing to participate in a research study on prejudice and racism. Those who agreed to participate were asked to complete the created 21 question Assessing Your Prejudice survey.

A multiple linear regression was calculated to predict where a personís prejudice and racial attitudes come from. A significant regression equation was found (F(2,57) = 5.74, p = .005), with an R≤ of .168. Subjectsí predicted prejudice is equal to 42.049 - 1.537 (EDUCATION) + .089 (AGE), where education is coded as 1 = High School, 2 = Associates Degree, 3 = Bachelorís Degree, 4 = Masterís Degree, 5 = Doctoral Degree. Subjectsí prejudice decreased -1.537 the more education they had. Both the subjectsí education and age were significant predictors. A multiple linear regression was calculated predicting subjectsí prejudice by looking at the size of community in which they were raised in, and currently resided in. The regression equation was not significant. Neither the size of community in which the subjects were raised in nor the size of community in which they currently resided in can be used to predict their level of prejudice.

After viewing the results of this study, I was surprised to find that the locality of each subject had nothing to do with the degree in which they are prejudiced. In particular, the size of the community in which they were raised. It does not make any difference whether the person was raised in a small, mid-sized or large community, nor does it make any difference whether each subject currently lived in a small, mid-sized or large community. By looking at the more significant results, however, the age of the person and their level of education has much to do with their level of being prejudiced. The results of this study correlates with the findings of a study in which Pope-Davis and Ottavi performed in 1994. As a person ages, they become more knowledgeable about other cultures, therefore they become more open. Whereas the younger generations are found to be more judgmental. Also, the higher the education that a person has, the more knowledgeable they become of other cultures, therefore resulting in less prejudice and more openness. Collecting the data for this study was rather difficult to do. I intended to collect data from 25 subjects in a small community, mid-sized community and a large community. What I forgot to realize when I collected data from my mid-sized community and my large community, many people from small communities go to these larger communities to shop. This resulted in more small community collections and not enough mid-sized and large community collections. Perhaps if I had asked each individual whether they were raised and/or currently lived in a small, mid-sized or large community, the results might have been better. Another problem that was faced was that the more surveys that were distributed, the more I realized that the 16 statements were too general. This made it easy for the subjects to read into each statement a little too much, which made their decisions more difficult. Finally, the education level part of the survey turned out rather confusing to some subjects. Several of the subjects were working towards their bachelorís degree, but yet had a higher education than that of a high school graduate. I feel that the choices for the highest level of education should have been different so that it would be less confusing and more exact. Included in the demographics was the subjectsí ethnic background. When analyzing the results, they had to be taken out due to the fact that there was not enough variation in the ethnicity of the subjects. A majority of them were Caucasian, while only one was of the Hispanic race. One of the main limitations for doing any type of study on prejudice and racism deals with the fact that not all people are open to discuss their own level of prejudice. Prejudice and racism is definitely a big problem in todayís society, however, it is less talked about than it was 30 years ago. If I had the chance to extend this study on prejudice and racism, there would be many things that I would do differently. First and foremost I would make sure that I would get the 25 subjects in each size of community, even if I have to ask each of them beforehand. The majority of the subjects in this study were primarily Caucasian. Perhaps had there been more data collection from subjects of a variety of ethnic backgrounds, there would be more variability, which would help the results of the study. The statements in the survey would be revised in a way that they would be more specific and less general. For example, statement number four states, ďI do not understand why members of other groups are angry with my group.Ē The term group can mean several things, other than racial issues, such as gays and lesbian relationships. Each one of the statements need to be specified to racial or prejudiced attitudes. Something else that I would do differently with the survey is to make the statements directed towards all ethnic groups, and not necessarily just African-Americans. Rather than having each subject circle their highest level of education, I would ask them how many years of education that they have had. I feel that this would be more clear and concise than asking what degrees they may or may not have. Another possibility for an extension for this study would be to leave out the size of community and to add other demographics. Some other possible, and interesting demographics would be their income of their family when they were young children, and their income at present. Also, their religion may play a large role in their level of prejudice. In this study, education was included in the demographics, however the education of the subjectís parents could also make an interesting study. Overall, this study was headed in the right direction. There were a few things that went wrong, however, an extension is suitable and advisable.

Perlmutter, P. (2002). Minority group prejudice. Society, 39, 59-66.Pope-Davis, D.B. & Ottavi, T.M. (1994). The relationship between racism and racial identity among white Americans: A replication and extension. Journal of Counseling & Development, 72, 293-297.Schmidt, W. (1999). Assessing your prejudice., G.G. (2002). Inventing Racism. Public Interest, 146, 114-128.

Schmidtís Assessing Your Prejudice Scale, Revised

The following statements are to help assess your prejudice. Below is a numerical code for your responses. Read each statement carefully and decide how you would rate your response. Please respond to the statements honestly to the best of your ability.

1 - Strongly Disagree2 - Disagree3 - Undecided4 - Agree5 - Strongly Agree

1. I do not think that discrimination against other groups is a problem today. 1 2 3 4 5

2. I think that members of other groups are too demanding in their push for equal rights. 1 2 3 4 5

3. I think that members of other groups have received more attention in the media than they deserve. 1 2 3 4 5

4. I do not understand why members of other groups are angry with my group. 1 2 3 4 5

5. I think that members of other groups should not push themselves where they are not wanted. 1 2 3 4 5

6. In todayís society, it is important that one not be perceived as prejudiced in any manner. 1 2 3 4 5

7. Iím careful not to offend my friends, but I donít worry about offending people I donít know or I donít like. 1 2 3 4 5

8. I think that it is important to speak oneís mind rather than to worry about offending someone. 1 2 3 4 5

9. Itís never acceptable to express oneís prejudice. 1 2 3 4 5

10. I feel guilty when I have a negative thought or feeling about an African-American person. 1 2 3 4 5

11.When speaking to an African-American person, itís important to me that he/she not think Iím prejudiced. 1 2 3 4 5

12. It bothers me a great deal when I think Iíve offended someone, so Iím always careful to consider other peopleís feelings. 1 2 3 4 5

13. If I have a prejudiced thought or feeling, I keep it to myself. 1 2 3 4 5

14. I would never tell jokes that might offend others. 1 2 3 4 5

15. Iím not afraid to tell others what I think, even when I know they disagree with me. 1 2 3 4 5

16. If someone who made me uncomfortable sat next to me on a bus, I would not hesitate to move to another seat. 1 2 3 4 5

Age: _______

What size of community were you raised in? 1 - Small Community 2 - Mid-Sized Community 3 - Large Community

What size of community do you currently live in? 1 - Small Community 2 - Mid-Sized Community 3 - Large Community

Please circle your highest level of education: 1 - High School 4 - Masterís Degree 2 - Associateís Degree 5 - Doctoral Degree 3 - Bachelorís Degree Please circle your ethnic background: 1 - white/Caucasian 4 - Hispanic 2 - African-American 5 - Other 3 - Asian

Submitted 4/29/2004 10:14:51 PM
Last Edited 4/29/2004 10:23:35 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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