what prior experiences, if any, may have contributed to the reaction of the students?
It would be interesting to note, for example, whether black people also detected weapons in the when presented with black faces. But there were no black subjects.
I wrote about a related subject in my k5 diary entry a few days ago . One of the things I mentioned was my reaction to black faces.
When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer living in the village of Fanaye Dieri along the Senegal River, virtually every face I saw every day was black. There were no other white people who lived within a 50-mile radius, and unless someody was passing through, I was the only toubab. I went months at a time without seeing a non-black face. In my dreams my mother, father, brothers, sisters became black. I didn't have a mirror in my village, and I used to go weeks without seeing my own face. When I did see it, I was always startled by its whiteness. It looked like it was missing something.
After I got out of the Peace Corps I went back to Senegal as a graduate student and spent 8 months there. I used to be (long ago) relatively competent in Wolof and relatively fluent in Pulaar. I love Senegal.
Moreover it wasn't simply a question of my "getting used to" black faces. I found the people there incredibly beautiful to look at. OK, I admit it. I find some people better looking than others. In general, I find women better looking than men. I find the average Senegalese person better looking than the average white American person. And I find the women in Senegal, in general, astoundingly beautiful. So shoot me.
In the United States, however, I often have a visceral feeling of terror upon unexpectly encountering a black face, unless I know that the person is African. This is called "post truamatic syndrome" and there is very little I can do about it. Once you've had somebody try to kill you (see my diary entry), your body reacts defensively when presented with data that evoke that original episode. In Africa I had almost exclusively positive reactions with black people. In this country I have had several instances where black people have done me harm, and one case where I had to fight for my life.
So now my body is primed. It's a blessing and a curse. On the one hand my wariness is a bother and intellectually troubling--am I a racist?--and on the other hand this is "the gift of fear" that evolution has provided to keep me alive.
My buddy Steve has a similar problem. He loves Vietnamese people, food, culture-- everything Vietnamese. Yet everytime he unexpectly encounters a Vietnamese person he experiences a momentary panic. Steve, you see, was drafted in late 67 and spent all of 68 and 1 month of 69 in 'Nam, "in the shit", as the combat guys say. He was basically in combat for 13 months and has two purple hearts, one for the near-fatal wound he got when ambushed on the day he was to leave his unit and start the trip home.
1969 was a long time ago.
It's a simple fact that in the USA young black men commit violent crime all out of proportion to their numbers. Many of the victims of this crime are other blacks, but many of the victims are white. Were there victims of violent crime among the subjects of this study? It doesn't say.
If you had put me among the subjects I'm sure I would have reacted as the other whites did. But one the other hand, no white person has ever knifed me. If that had happened, and if I *still* were more wary of black people, then that would be a telling datum. As it is, all we know is that I tend to react more warily when presented with faces that resemble the faces of people who have tried to kill me. Duh. So I think this study provides a whole lot more questions than conclusions.
Do I wish my reactions were different? How the hell should I answer this question? What I wish is that we could all just get along.
Am I afraid of black people? I don't think so. Am I afraid of young black American men in cities, especially in poorer neighborhoods at night? Damn fucking straight. You bet I am. Does this make me a racist? Who gives a fuck. I'm not walking home after 10PM, no way.
I know two women who to my knowledge have been raped. (That is, I probably know other women who have been raped, but I am not aware of it.) One of the cruelties of the crime of rape is the way it lingers, the way that people who have been raped cannot will themselves not to dread sexual interest from men. Are they "correct" to have the responses that they do? I don't even know how to think about the question. Traumatic stuff has a very long half-life, and that's just an evolutionary fact.
While I am not proposing that white kids in this study all have had experiences like mine that would make them tend to see weapons that weren't there, I am saying we simply cannot tell from this study.
Two things are certain: