Racism, Cross Race Effect & Mob Psychology
The atrocities against the Tanzanian student in Bangalore created a public outcry all over.(#TanzanianGirl, #Tanzanianstudentattacked ) I was particularly affected because I lived in various parts of Africa, love the African people and have many very dear African friends.
But racism is almost an immediate reaction in trying to find rational explanations for this kind of violence. It is possible however that there is more than one reason that may have led to the violence. As it happened a Sudanese seems to have been involved in a road accident and a while after the accident, a Tanzanian woman was stopped and physically abused.
Cross Race Effect Or Why do they all Look Alike?
People are notoriously bad at recognising faces from other races. This is because we have more experience looking at members of our own Race and thus acquire ‘perceptual expertise’ for features and characteristics of our own people. So it is a common occurrence in the world that there is a cross-race recognition deficit.
In a book I am currently reading by Anand Girdhardas called the The True American : Murder and Mercy in Texas the Bangladeshi protagonist of the book is mistaken by an American to be an Arab and shot in the head in the aftermath of 9/11. At first sight you may say an Indian mistaken for an Arab? Cross race recognition deficit is all about this and it is happening all over the world.
In the Bangalore Incident obviously the mob did not see the difference between the Sudanese and the Tanzanian. After having lived 5 years in Africa, I may be able to narrow down the region roughly of the African people, but I am sure I wouldn’t be able to tell with absolute certainty the difference between a Sudanese and a Tanzanian. Any more than a Tanzanian would be able to tell the difference between a man from Uttar Pradesh and a man from Madhya Pradesh. It is natural to have an own-race bias when it comes to facial recognition.
So I am arguing that the problem is that we are unable to decode the details of cross race faces. Daniel Levin, PhD, a cognitive psychologist at Kent State University explains ‘ When a white person looks at another white person’s nose, they’re likely to think to themselves, ‘That’s John’s nose’. When they look at black person’s nose, they are likely to think, ‘That’s a black nose’. Basically we code race specifying information at the expense of gathering individual information.
Mob Psychology & Crowd Dynamics
The other reason which could cloud our judgement on the Bangalore incident is Crowd dynamics. Crowds are the elephant man of the social sciences. Crowds are strange, pathological and monstrous. Members of a crowd are social actors, looking to play a part in any incident that hurts society. And the Bangalore event is unfortunately a case of some people taking charge into their own hands and becoming social vigilantes. We all know that vigilantes are born when investigating agencies like the police, government and other bodies turn a blind eye to serious events that need serious attention.
Mobs are known for losing their self-awareness. Sociologists refer to the process as de-individuation where individual personalities become dominated by the collective mindset of the crowd. Gustave Le Bon an early explorer of this phenomenon viewed crowd behavior as “unanimous, emotional, and intellectually weak”. He theorized that a loss of personal responsibility in crowds leads to an inclination to behave primitively and hedonistically by the entire group.
So whither Racism?
While the initial triggers from the incident may or may not have been racist, it is possible that the unpleasantness and hype created by the incident could result in an embittered local population susceptible to future racist manoeuvres.
The investigating agencies, the police and the Government need to be evolved enough to prevent any further incidents by bringing in harsh measures that will prevent people from behaving in a way that impacts how the Indian is thought about overseas.
After all we ourselves have raised our voices when Indians for example have been attacked in Australia and other countries.
For a city that houses 12,000 foreign students Bangalore needs to uphold the principle of good citizenship and protect our country image. As the lawyer of the Tanzanian student said they think of India as a Big Brother. And Big Brothers don’t misbehave. So irrespective of the reasons for this violence, a bad deed was done and the nation apologises to the Tanzanian lady