Racism in America isn’t dead — it’s only taken on a different guise, two visiting speakers said at a recent talk at Elon University.

Two professors of phycology — Mikkie Hebl from Rice University and Leslie Ashburn-Nardo from Indiana University — challenged an audience of Elon students, faculty and staff in Whitley Auditorium to consider the difference between two different types of racism.

Hebl began by drawing a distinction between formal discrimination and what she calls interpersonal discrimination.

"Formal [discrimination] is an overt type of discrimination that is illegal,” Hebl said. “Interpersonal is like — just think of a person you don’t like, imagine they’re coming down the hall toward you…you change direction or avoid them or don’t look at them.”

Despite making this distinction, Hebl said interpersonal, or less formalized discrimination is not a step in the right direction. In fact, she claims, it’s just as bad as formal discrimination.

“Interpersonal discrimination compounds to make mountains that are just as big and just as bad as overt discrimination,” she said.”

When Leslie Ashburn-Nardo took the stage during the talk on Monday night, she suggested techniques that targets of discrimination and their allies could use to stop discriminatory practices and habits.

“If I’m an ally, it might not feel like my job to confront perpetrators,” Ashburn-Nardo said. “When targets confront … they are labeled as whiners and complainers. Allies are taken more seriously when they confront.”

As for ways to immediately decrease discriminatory practices, Ashburn-Nardo said it’s all about perspective. She added that some degree of prejudice lies within everyone.

“Try to take the targets’ perspective,” she said. “Allies are not necessarily non-prejudiced, but are anti-prejudice.”

As the talk drew to a close, Hebl and Ashburn-Nardo fielded questions from students and faculty.

When asked about the duration of their research and how long just one study could take to complete, Hebl couldn’t help but smile.

"A very long time," she said.


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