Research Shows Prejudice, Not Principle, Often Underpins ‘free-speech defense’ of Racist Language
LAWRENCE — Two researchers at the University of Kansas have conducted a study suggesting that “explicit racial prejudice is a reliable predictor of the ‘free speech defense’ of racist expression.”
The paper authored by Mark H. White, a graduate student in psychology, and Christian Crandall, professor of psychology, appears online currently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
“When people make appeals to democratic principles — like ‘freedom of speech’ — they don’t always represent a genuine interest in that principle,” White said. “We think of principles as ideas we use to guide behavior in our everyday lives. Our data show something different — that we tend to make up our mind on something based on our attitudes — in this case, racial attitudes — and then decide that the principle is relevant or irrelevant. People do whatever best fits their pre-existing attitudes.”
“We look at people who defend another’s racist speech — for example, defending someone who got fired for going into a racist rant at work — with a ‘free speech’ argument,” Crandall said. “What do we know about people making this argument? The correlation between using the free speech defense and people’s own racial prejudice is pretty high. It’s racists defending racists.”