The Interplay between Prejudice against Latinos and Policy: A Social Psychological Perspective

By Trujillo, Matthew D. | Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy, Annual 2012 | Go to article overview

The Interplay between Prejudice against Latinos and Policy: A Social Psychological Perspective


Trujillo, Matthew D., Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy


During the past century, American society has made enormous strides in promoting equality and diminishing prejudice among different racial and ethnic groups (Dovidio et al. 2002). Indeed, many believe the election of our first Black president, Barack Obama, marked the beginning of a post-racial America. While our progress is undeniable, America is by no means a post-racial country; many groups continue to face significant prejudice and discrimination.

Latinos, in particular, experience a great deal of prejudice and discrimination. This discrimination operates in a number of spheres from limited employment opportunities (Carvajal 2004; Pager 2007) to increasing maltreatment in the criminal justice system (Bottoms et al. 2004; Lee 2007). Moreover, violent hate crimes against Latinos have risen at an alarming rate of nearly 40 percent from 2003 to 2007 (Potok 2008). The prejudice Latinos face in America has not gone unnoticed; in a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center (2010), Americans described Latinos as the racial group most likely to face "a lot" of discrimination.

Due to the significant amount of discrimination that Latinos face today, it is essential that policy makers and social scientists begin to communicate with one another about how to address this issue. This article aims to continue the discourse between the worlds of policy and social psychology as it pertains to prejudice toward Latinos. By using recent findings and theories from social psychology, the current article has three major aims: to provide a better understanding of the psychological underpinnings of prejudice toward Latinos, to discuss how current policies may perpetuate prejudice toward Latinos, and to suggest new policies designed to reduce this prejudice.

Generally speaking, prejudices that one group holds toward another are complex and derive from a variety of sources. Prejudice against Latinos is no different. Much of the current literature on prejudice toward Latinos discusses prejudice as a product of the perceived economic threat that Latinos, particularly Latino immigrants, pose to non-Latinos (Diaz et al. 2001; Esses et al. 2011). In contrast, this article will discuss prejudice that stems from the perceived cultural threat that Latinos present to non-Latinos. Individuals experience cultural threat when they believe their community to be endangered by another group's conflicting set of values, norms, and mores (Stephan et al.1998). In the case of Latinos, the cultural threat that they represent in part derives from perceptions of Latinos as un-American, criminals, and less than human. Although there are many other negative stereotypes of Latinos, such as Latinos being lazy and unintelligent, this article focuses on those perceptions of Latinos as un-American, criminals, and less than human because of the relevance those ideas have to policy.

Perception of Latinos as Un-American

One of the main sources of prejudice against Latinos is the perception that Latinos are un-American, meaning they do not espouse or behave in line with American values. In a recent study designed to capture how Americans perceive various ethnic groups in comparison to the American prototype, respondents were asked to report how alike they viewed various ethnic groups to be to one another. Researchers then analyzed the perceived similarities between the groups on two dimensions: ethnic nationalism and civic nationalism. Ethnic nationalism is a dimension of national inclusion that pertains to the biological essence of groups, which includes shared ancestry and physical appearance. Civic nationalism is a dimension of national inclusion that pertains to the ideology groups espouse, including their values and principles. Respondents perceived Latinos as dissimilar to both White Americans and their prototype of an American on ethnic nationalism as well as civic nationalism (Dovidio et al. 2010).

This view of Latinos as non-American is likely due to inaccurate perceptions of Latino acculturation attitudes. …

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