Does Viewing the Confederate Flag Increase Racism?

There is some evidence it does.

An article in the February, 2011 issue of the journal, Political Psychology,  there is a study by a group of researchers looking at a possible link between viewing the confederate flag and increased racism.

In this story we find, “Another experiment featured 116 white students, half of whom were exposed to the Confederate flag via a sticker attached to a folder that sat upon their desks. (They were told someone had left it behind from an unrelated previous session.) They then read a story about a young black man named Robert who engaged in ambiguously negative and aggressive behavior, and were asked to evaluate him afterwards.

“Those who had even a brief, peripheral exposure to the Confederate flag rated him more negatively than those who did not. What’s more, ‘the size of this effect was not related to participants’ pre-existing racial attitudes,’ the researchers noted.

“In other words, the study suggests exposure to the Confederate flag triggers unconscious attitudes of racial bias in white Americans—including those who believe they are free of prejudice.”

This story also references the study.

“Ehrlinger’s study combines two threads of recent psychological study looking at both the power of symbols and the continuing reality of often unconscious racist beliefs. It calls to mind an earlier study of American-Indian sports mascots, which found exposure to such caricatures increases one’s tendency to stereotype a different ethnic group.

“She and her colleagues conducted two studies in 2008, the first of which featured 108 white and 22 black college students. Half were subliminally exposed to the Confederate flag, which appeared on their computer screen 20 times in rapid, 15-millisecond appearances. The others were exposed to a neutral symbol made up of colored lines.

“All were then asked to rate the likelihood they would vote for four major presidential candidates: Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Mike Huckabee. Afterwards, they were asked to rate their political orientation and the degree to which they identified themselves as a Southerner.

” ‘White participants exposed to the Confederate flag reported a significantly lower likelihood of voting for Obama than those exposed to the neutral symbol,’ the researchers report. (No similar impact was found for black participants.) Exposure to the flag had no effect on their self-reported measures of liberalism or conservatism; this suggests the flag’s psychic impact was on racial rather than ideological attitudes.”

One study is not conclusive, so we shouldn’t use this as anything more than a single datum regarding the confederate flag. It is, however, intriguing and definitely calls for further study. If further studies substantiate this, the confederate flag could be more than just a historical artifact or a symbol. It could be termed a public nuisance.

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