New Expressions of Racism among Young People in Spain: An Adaptation of the Meertens and Pettigrew (1992) Prejudice Scale

By Rodriguez, Francisco J.; Herrero, Juan et al. | Adolescence, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

New Expressions of Racism among Young People in Spain: An Adaptation of the Meertens and Pettigrew (1992) Prejudice Scale


Rodriguez, Francisco J., Herrero, Juan, Ovejero, Anastasio, Torres, Andrea, Adolescence


Prejudice is a complex phenomenon and a relevant issue in today's society insofar as it is related to social exclusion and discrimination (Pettigrew, 2008). This social character of prejudice has been highlighted by many authors, who suggest that direct and continuing contact with different ethnic groups can give rise to a perception of being threatened, both real--in terms of the distribution of resources and welfare--and symbolic--in terms of values and traditions (Stephan & Stephan, 2000). Moreover, the influence of the different types of threats on prejudice varies as a function of the exogroup and the historical and social context. In this sense, many observers have reiterated how certain public expressions of discrimination and prejudice toward other ethnic groups have been the object of public sanctions (even at the legal level) in Western societies (Pettigrew, 1998). Certain types of behavior and opinions about the exogroup which indicate blatant forms of prejudice and discrimination in terms of race, sex, age or sexual condition are increasingly being considered as "politically incorrect." In these societies, the foreseeable disappearance from the public sphere of "traditional" prejudice has given rise to an important theoretical view. In this sense, McConahay (1983, 1986) has argued that a new form of prejudice exists: modern prejudice. According to this author, modern prejudice will be sustained by beliefs that have nothing to do with social matters, that is, the new racism arises from the ambivalence between the values of one ethnic group (equality and liberty) and the negative feelings aroused by members of another group. Meertens and Pettigrew (1992) and Pettigrew and Meertens (1995) provide a European perspective on this issue, where immigrants are faced with differences in their country of destination (language, religion, and culture) and have their status as citizens questioned, often as a function of the socioeconomic necessities of the receiving country.

Racist behavior appears when social norms are weak or ambiguous, so that prejudice is attributed to factors other than the ethnic group. For this reason, it is not surprising that prejudice is constantly evolving toward new forms which are more difficult to recognize and combat. A distinction is thus made between blatant and subtle prejudice. Blatant prejudice has two forms: a perception that the exogroup is threatening, with the result that this group is rejected; and opposition to close or intimate contact with members of the exogroup. Subtle prejudice, on the other hand, refers to and is identified with traditional values, the exaggeration of cultural differences, and the negation of positive emotions (Meertens & Pettigrew, 1997). Prejudice can therefore be thought of as a complex phenomenon which can be seen as a mode of resolving problems and tensions which have come about in different contexts of interracial contact: in the experience lived by members of the racist group who find in the group that is the object of their discrimination an escape valve for their social and psychological difficulties (Wievorka, 1992). Prejudice is also difficult to evaluate because in modern democratic societies there have been systematic campaigns against prejudice, racism, and xenophobia which have led people to seek to appear to be tolerant without abandoning their prejudiced attitudes (Gaertner & Dovidio, 1977; Meertens & Pettigrew, 1997; Saucier, Miller, & Doucet, 2005). Prejudice has traditionally been evaluated through questionnaires which attempt to measure the degree of agreement with certain statements related to racial issues (explicit measures of prejudice). In recent times it has been observed that this methodology does not capture social realities because people yearn for social desirability and hence offer politically correct responses.

Faced with this problem, in the final decades of the 20th century, less reactive questionnaires were designed. …

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