Swedish professor lectures on role of class, age, religion in racism

Posted by Tegan O'Neill

About 60 students gathered Nov. 8 in Davis Auditorium to listen to Michael Hjerm deliver his lecture titled "Prejudice: A Decade of Research -- Knows, Don't Knows and Should Knows."

Hjerm is a professor of sociology at Umea University in Sweden. He presented research that he has gathered within the last decade that analyzes who is and is not prejudiced.

Hjerm created seven classifications to address who is prejudiced.

The first category he identified was education. Hjerm said that people with a higher level of education tend to be less prejudiced than people with a lower level of education.

Age was the second category he mentioned. Older people, he said, especially people above the age of 65, tend to be more prejudiced than younger people.

Whether this phenomenon can be attributed to the fact that older people were raised in a more prejudiced era, or whether people become more prejudiced as they age, remains unclear.

Hjerm also said he was concerned with socioeconomic position. He said that people in a higher socioeconomic class tend to be less prejudiced than those at a lower socioeconomic class.

People with friends from a variety of ethnic groups tend to be less prejudiced than those who only have friends in their own ethnic group, he said.

Hjerm admitted that this raises the question of whether or not people have friends in more ethnic groups because they are less prejudiced, or if they are less prejudiced because they have friends in more ethnic groups.

Hjerm's fifth category was based on significant others. He says that people who are surrounded by others who are prejudiced tend to be more prejudiced than those who are surrounded by people who are unprejudiced.

Attitudes and ideologies composed the sixth category. For example, he said, religious fundamentalists tend to be more prejudiced than those who lean liberally concerning religion.

Lastly, the seventh category was based on psychological predispositions. People who are naturally predisposed to be agreeable and open to new experiences tend to be less prejudiced than their more closed counterparts.

Hjerm then explained that prejudice toward immigrants occurs as a result of people applying the group threat theory, which proposes that prejudice between groups occurs when a majority group perceives a threat from a minority group. In areas where the minority population is relatively large, the majority group becomes fearful of a threat to its dominant social position.

Conflict between the two groups is heightened by competition for a finite amount of social resources such as jobs. As a result, prejudice is sparked between the two groups.

Hjerm said that the group threat theory holds true for the relationship between blacks and whites in the U.S. In areas where the African American population is high, white people tend to be more prejudiced.

The theory can also be applied to immigrant populations.

Hjerm noted that there are differences in prejudice between nations. "When it comes to explaining the differences in prejudices from country to country, we are just starting to understand," Hjerm said.

The strength of the economy offers one viable explanation. People in poorer areas tend to be more prejudiced due to an intense competition over scarce resources. It has been observed that in times of economic downturn the level of prejudice increases.

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