How to use stats to fight racial inequality, not support it

Source: Alex Shashkevich, Futurity, June 8, 2018

Using statistics to inform the public about racial disparities can backfire. Worse yet, it can cause some people to be more supportive of the policies that create those inequalities, according to new research. ….

If raw numbers don’t always work, what might?

In a new research paper published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, Hetey and psychology professor Jennifer Eberhardt propose strategies anyone could use to talk about racial disparities that exist across society, from education to health care and criminal justice systems.

Facts should come along with context that challenges stereotypes, the researchers say, noting that discussions should emphasize the importance of policies in shaping racial inequalities. ….

The Numbers Don’t Speak for Themselves: Racial Disparities and the Persistence of Inequality in the Criminal Justice System
Source: Rebecca C. Hetey, Jennifer L. Eberhardt, Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 27 no. 3, 2018
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From the abstract:
Many scholars and activists assume the public would be motivated to fight inequality if only they knew the full extent of existing disparities. Ironically, exposure to extreme disparities can cause people to become more, not less, supportive of the very policies that create those disparities (Hetey & Eberhardt, 2014). Here, we focus on the criminal justice system—policing and incarceration in particular. We argue that bringing to mind racial disparities in this domain can trigger fear and stereotypic associations linking Blacks with crime. Therefore, rather than extending an invitation to reexamine the criminal justice system, the statistics about disparities may instead provide an opportunity to justify and rationalize the disparities found within that system. With the goals of spurring future research and mitigating this paradoxical and unintended effect, we propose three potential strategies for more effectively presenting information about racial disparities: (a) offer context, (b) challenge associations, and (c) highlight institutions.