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The Surprisingly Easy Way to Make People More Tolerant

April 8, 2014
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The Surprisingly Easy Way to Make People More Tolerant
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Just seeing people of different ethnicities does the trick.

No longer do Latino immigrants remain living in border states and other places where there are long-established Hispanic communities. But while they are successful in finding jobs in the Midwest and the South, they encounter another problem when arriving in these geographic areas: housing segregation.

According to one study, this segregation happens particularly within suburban and rural areas. And another study suggests that hate crimes against Hispanics rise whenever there is an increase in Hispanic immigration. Most of these crimes are reported in places where Latinos are new to the area, as there are few hate crimes in long-established Hispanic communities. The Pew Research Center found that the percentage of Latinos who think discrimination against Hispanics is a major problem in America is increasing, with 61 percent of Latinos saying so in 2010, compared to 47 percent in 2002.

Ryan D. Enos of Harvard University set out to find out why some Americans have negative biases against Latinos. He identified nine commuter rail stations in the Boston area used almost exclusively by white passengers. Then he randomly selected a few of the stations to receive an intervention — two Latino people talking to each other in Spanish while waiting on the platform for the train for two weeks. After that, he surveyed people at each of the stations about their attitudes toward immigration. His findings? He discovered that those who had stood near the Spanish-speaking passengers demonstrated increasingly negative attitudes toward immigration — despite the fact that the Spanish speakers were not aggressive and did not act in an abnormal fashion.

But, he also found that the longer white people were exposed to the Spanish speakers, the less “exclusionary” their attitudes became. When he surveyed people after just three days of exposure to the Spanish speakers, he found them to be much more exclusionary than when he interviewed people after spending ten days near the Spanish speakers on the platform.

Enos’s findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, mirror those of a recent Oxford study published in the same journal that found people with racist attitudes become less so when they simply see people of another race in their neighborhood over an extended period of time. Those with exclusionary attitudes don’t even need to interact with those of another race. To become more tolerant, all they need is to go about their daily business in close proximity with those of different ethnicities. Professor Miles Hewstone, the director of the Oxford Centre for the Study of Intergroup Conflict told Sarah Knapton of The Telegraph, “If two white people with identical views went to live in different postcodes for a year, the person in the neighborhood with more mixing between ethnic groups would likely leave more tolerant.”

Racism and discrimination against Latinos hasn’t ended yet in America, but by 2043, when the U.S. Census has projected that whites will no longer be in the majority in America, it could ebb, just by virtue of increasingly mixed neighborhoods.

MORE: Latino Families Were Hit Hard by the Recession. Here’s How They’re Fighting Back.

 

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