The unintended consequences of the ‘can they win?’ view

There are a lot of conversations about the growing number of presidential candidates and, from my perspective, increasing hope because so many are impressive. While exciting, like others, I’m worried about who can win.

I don’t mean to dismiss that very serious concern. It’s how I made the decision regarding whom to support the last time. However, I’m periodically stung by the conversation because I believe that it has ramifications beyond the election.

When people say that they’re concerned that a woman, person of color or older candidate may be too risky, I’m reminded of the common response to African Americans who rightly thought they deserved to be admitted to schools, have increased housing options or were viable candidates for employment. They were told “it wasn’t quite the right time.” They were urged to wait. There was little sensitivity that waiting would result in permanently missed opportunities.

Numerous applicants of certain religions, races and ethnicities were given the same message when colleges only had a small percentage of openings allotted to them. Women have been hearing it for decades.

Stereotypical jokes do not just result in an uncomfortable laugh and have a momentary effect. When we tease about certain groups being lazy or unintelligent, they are less likely to get jobs or promotions because the decision-makers hold that impression, at least subconsciously.

By disguising expressions of prejudice in a cloak of fun and frivolity, known as disparagement humor, it appears harmless and trivial. However, a growing body of research suggests just the opposite. Disparagement humor confirms stereotypes and fosters discrimination.

Years ago, when we had a house full of teenagers hanging out in our living room and they would tease each other, they’d often follow a hurtful statement with, “I’m just kidding.” I’d remind them that if they have to say that, they probably shouldn’t have said it in the first place.

Jokes, at someone else’s expense, communicate a double message: one is a hostile and prejudiced statement and the other is that the person insulted by it is being way too serious and can’t take a joke.

Again, the information that someone is “less than” is now disseminated and will influence decisions resulting in their marginalization.

Serious messages can have the same effect. When we say that the world isn’t ready for certain people to be president, we’re also implying that they should not be CEOs, get promoted or be given numerous other opportunities, including being hired.

Yes, I want to win, which probably requires a viable candidate who will not turn off too many voters. But do I suggest that they shouldn’t run or do I help to prove their worth for the country’s sake and for the sake of the groups they represent? And do I do that even if they aren’t my chosen candidate?

I believe I should, though I’m not sure how best to convey the message. That’s my problem, and I have an obligation to figure out how to solve it. There is more at stake than an upcoming election.

We must be aware that whenever we share judgments — based on historical generalizations — we are reinforcing sexist, racist, anti-Semitic and ageist stereotypes though we may believe that we are not personally biased. Even if it’s true, we may be reinforcing personal bias in others, which is just as destructive.

Gerri King is a social psychologist and organizational consultant from Concord.

Categories: Opinion

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