Reducing Prejudice and Discrimination

By Stuart Oskamp | Go to book overview
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Breaking the Prejudice Habit: Progress and Obstacles

Patricia G. Devine E. Ashby Plant Brenda N. Buswell University of Wisconsin-Madison

The latter half of the 20th century has witnessed dramatic legislative changes (e.g., the 1954 Supreme Court ruling on school desegregation and the Civil Rights Laws of the early 1960s), which made overt discrimination based on race illegal. These laws altered the social and political landscape in fundamental ways and began to erode traditional racist norms. These changes have culminated in a rather pervasive norm that discourages overt expressions of prejudice in the United States ( Blanchard, Lily, & Vaughn, 1991; Monteith, Deneen, & Tooman, 1996; Plant & Devine, 1998). In response, social scientists quickly became interested in documenting such changes and developing conceptual analyses to understand their impact.

Our major goal in this chapter is to explore the implications of these changing social norms as influences on individual-level attitudes and on the prospects for reducing prejudice. In our own research, consideration of the consequences of normative changes has led us in two directions, both of which, we believe, are critically important to understanding contemporary obstacles in combating prejudice. On one hand, evidence shows that we as a society, and some individuals personally, have made great strides in conquering this formidable foe. Indeed, some people have renounced prejudice and have embraced and internalized egalitarian norms (see Devine & Monteith, 1993). Despite the challenges inherent in personal efforts to reduce prejudice, these individuals are making progress. On the other hand, however, there is clear evidence that prejudice still exists and stubbornly resists efforts to reduce it. As a result, the answer to the ageold question of how best to change prejudiced attitudes remains elusive.

Thus, against a backdrop of substantial progress made and real reason for optimism, we must acknowledge that there are still significant challenges and


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