It Can’t Just Be Peace, Love, And Understanding

Okay folks, let’s strap in. This is why a single method of dealing with prejudice (whether by the KKK, Westboro, or the POTUS) – particularly in response to a demonstration by a group like the KKK (planned to happen in Dayton in May) doesn’t work.

First, let’s just dismiss the paradox of tolerance, otherwise known as “but you’re being intolerant of my intolerance!” It’s a stupid mental experiment in line with the “Could God create a mountain so big They couldn’t move it?” There’s plenty of evidence – both online and off – that being tolerant of intolerance utterly destroys tolerance in the long run.

Or in other words, if you don’t want to have interracial marriage, then don’t marry someone of a different race…but you don’t get to say anything about anyone else’s relationships.

The primary way that liberals (with our love of “education” as a cure-all) want to deal with prejudice is through changing the way people think. Strategies to change internal cognition can include tactics such as self-affirmations, cross-group categorization, and intergroup dialogue (Lehmiller et al, 2010; Wayne, 2008; Brewer, 2000).

The good news is that this works. The bad news is that this tactic usually works in one-on-one situations, and takes a LOT of time and effort.

That does NOT mean we should ignore or discount such efforts, but there’s a way that often gets ignored or discounted – and that’s altering perceptions of social norms.

Altering perceptions of social norms focuses on changing the perceptions of social acceptance of discrimination (Paluck, 2009). Those who are more biased tend to overestimate the extent of community support for their views (Wojcieszak, 2008). Further, individuals tend to extrapolate the attitudes of larger populations from their immediate circle of personal contacts – often individuals who are similar in attitudes and beliefs to themselves (Martinez, Wald & Craig, 2008). Altering that perception leads to changes in behavior, despite the persistence of discriminatory beliefs in an individual’s cognitive processes (Paluck, 2009; Pedersen, Griffiths, & Watt, 2008).

Or to put it in simpler terms: I don’t care what you THINK, as long as you don’t ACT like a bigoted asshat.

Previously, it was unacceptable to be a bigoted jerk.

That has changed in our country since 2016.

Prior to then – really, prior to Obama being elected – open bigotry was looked down upon. Since then, starting with the monkey-face masks used to mock Obama through the “pussy grabbing” and racist dogwhistles from Trump – bigoted jerks have been assuming that their views are held by a “silent majority” that agrees with them (Wojcieszak, 2008).

Now they seem bolder than ever, and seem to assume that their extremist stance is more socially acceptable. Their evidence? The person endorsing such views in the White House, along with the people in their social circle having the same views.

With the Klan (and other white supremacist groups) demonstrating across the country – including my adopted home of Dayton, Ohio – we cannot just rely on one aspect of combating such bigotry.

Yes, it is good to educate people on the utter stupidity of bigots – particularly the younger generations. I had a conversation with my son about this today. Exposing their hate and insecurity to the light of day is a wonderful thing to do. Such efforts have confirmed that a significant key interventional success is in accentuating the commonalities between the individuals discriminated against and the target audience (Nelson & Krieger, 1997). Repeated exposure of the kind that allows common elements between persons to surface has been shown to reduce radicalization of political and social opinion (Mutz, 2006).

Again, in small groups, or one-on-one, and when you have repeated contacts with the individual.

But this seems of little use to a setting where a one-time intervention is planned (Brewer, 2000; Taylor, 2000). If these interventions are not well-designed, they may be ineffective or even increase the pressures on marginalized individuals (Beemyn, 2003; Nelson & Krieger, 1997).

So the idea of changing their minds during a one-time event – like the one the Klan intends to hold in Dayton this May, is not likely to be a useful strategy. It won’t work and could actually make things worse. Remember, the bigots already assume that others think like them (Martinez, Wald & Craig, 2008) and that their behavior is socially acceptable.

The answer is simple: You don’t worry about changing their minds; you worry about changing their behavior and their impression of the social acceptability of their bigoted views.

Forcing bigots to realize that they are not representative of the population at large leads to changes in their behavior, even if they still hold discriminatory beliefs (Paluck, 2009; Pedersen, Griffiths, & Watt, 2008).

Let me repeat that, because it’s important: When bigots realize their actions aren’t socially acceptable, they change their behavior even if it doesn’t change their minds.

How strong of an impact does this have? We can refer to Paluck’s study where it reduced racist behavior in Rwanda after the genocide there, or the efforts on social media after Charlottesville. (Paluck, 2009).

Hence my disappointment after the meeting last Wednesday in Dayton. The people there seemed to largely focus on changing hearts and minds – a laudable goal, and one that *should* be pursued.


When we are talking about being anti-racist (or anti-bigot), we cannot just rely on a single methodology.

Yes, let us talk to everyone around us – particularly those who are younger and at risk of being swayed by the misinformation spread by bigots. Let us calmly and rationally discuss how and why they’re wrong.

And let us *simultaneously* show them how small, reviled, and foolish they are.

I’m thinking vuvuzelas and kazoos.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Large chunks of this were directly inspired or related to my graduate thesis, explaining why the academic references are a bit older).


  • Beemyn, B. (2003). Serving the Needs of Transgender College Students. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Issues in Education , 17 (1), 33-50.
  • Brewer, M. B. (2000). Reducing Prejudice through Cross-Categorization: Effects of Multiple Social Identities. In S. Oskamp (Ed.), Reducing Prejudice and Discrimination (pp. 165-183). Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
  • Lehmiller, J. J., Law, A. T., Tormala, T. T. (2010). The effect of self-affirmation on sexual prejudice. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 46, 276-285.
  • Paluck, E. L. (2009). Reducing Intergroup Prejudice and Conflict Using the Media: A Field Experiment in Rwanda. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 574-587.
  • Pedersen, A., Griffiths, B., Watt, S. E. (2008). Attitudes toward Out-groups and the Perception of Consensus:  All Feet do not Wear One Shoe. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 18, 543-557
  • Martinez, M.D., Wald, K.D., Craig, S.C. (2008). Homophobic Innumerancy? Estimating the Size of the Gay and Lesbian Population. Public Opinion Quarterly, 72(4), 753-767
  • Mutz, D. C. (2006). Hearing the Other Side: Deliberative versus Participatory Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Nelson, E. S., & Krieger, S. L. (1997). Changes in Attitudes Toward Homosexuality in College Students: Implementation of a Gay Men and Lesbian Peer Panel. Journal of Homosexuality , 33 (2), 63-81.
  • Taylor, M. C. (2000). Social Contextual Strategies for Reducing Racial Discrimination. In S. Oskamp (Ed.), Reducing Prejudice and Discrimination (pp. 77-89). Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Wayne, E. K. (2008). Is It Just Talk? Understanding and Evaluating Intergroup Dialogue. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 25, 451- 478.
  • Wojcieszak, M. (2008). False Consensus Goes Online:  Impact of Ideologically Homogenous Groups on False Consensus. Public Opinion Quarterly, 72(4), 781-791.

Featured Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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