The Social Psychology of Good and Evil

By Arthur G. Miller | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 7
CONTEMPORARY RACIAL BIAS
When Good People Do Bad Things

JOHN F. DOVIDIO

SAMUEL L. GAERTNER

JASON A. NIER

KERRY KAWAKAMI

GORDON HODSON

That good and evil exist in the world is clear. Of that, there is little debate. We know that some people are capable of great selflessness, and that most people maintain high moral standards for themselves and others, give the welfare of others high priority, and place equality among their most central values (Kluegel & Smith, 1986). We also know that some people are capable of doing great harm, intentionally and unintentionally, to others. Racism reflects an essential kind of selfishness and evil that has pervaded human existence across cultures and across time (Jones, 1997). Racism provides both psychological benefits (e.g., enhanced self-esteem; Fein & Spencer, 1997) and material advantages (e.g., access to economic resources; Dovidio & Gaertner, 1998; see also Blank, 2001) to the perpetrator. The problem is that the same people—average people, “good” people—can be responsible for both good and bad deeds. Good people are often racist, and they are often racist without being aware of it.

Racism is easy to recognize in its most blatant forms. The traditional form of racism in the United States has involved open and direct expression ranging from derogatory comments to public lynching and murder. In contemporary times, racism has produced racial segregation in neighbor

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