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Effects of contact between minority and majority groups are more complex than we think

Image credit: Accessible Organisations website

Recent research has discovered that despite popular conceptions that the mixing of different groups works as an effective tool for reducing prejudice, a more complex and nuanced understanding of the effects of contact between groups is emerging.

An international team of researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of Zurich, Switzerland, set out to examine whether and how contact between groups might help to promote support for social change, in pursuit of greater social equality, while also testing whether the effects of contact might vary depending on status relations between the groups.

The multi-national study included researchers from more than twenty countries around the world, who gathered survey responses from 12,997 individuals across 69 countries.

Studies from the last 10 to 15 years suggest that the positive effects of intergroup contact tend to be felt less among members of historically advantaged groups, such as white people and heterosexuals, compared to the effects typically observed among members of historically disadvantaged groups such as people of colour and sexual minorities.

There is also a growing concern that contact between minority and majority groups may effectively reduce prejudice between groups but do little to change existing social inequalities.

The team, headed by researcher Linda Tropp, found robust evidence that when members of historically advantaged groups engage in contact with disadvantaged groups, they are more likely to support social change to promote equality. In contrast, when members of historically disadvantaged groups have contact with advantaged groups, they are generally less likely to support social change to promote equality.

The findings raise two important questions and points of focus for future research:

  1. How can positive and intimate contact between groups occur without reducing disadvantaged group members' support for social change?

  2. How can support for social change be increased among disadvantaged group members without requiring negative contact experience?

It might be suitable to suggest that the answers to both questions start with members of advantaged groups who engage in contact with disadvantaged members of society to openly acknowledge structural inequalities and express support for efforts by disadvantaged members to reduce these inequalities.

In a time where Black Lives Matter campaigning continues its march across the world, sparking new and continuous debate on race, racism and racial inequalities, the findings of this study - published in January 2020 - couldn't be more relevant and significant. White people and people of colour outside of the black community must continue in their efforts as allies to the cause, as without this backing, change cannot and will not happen.

Society as a whole must continue in the pursuit of education on the systematic racism and inequalities that continue to disproportionately impact and disadvantage black individuals, as education breeds progression.

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