Racism may affect the care Haiti victims receive

By Lindsey Elliott (KTKA.com)
January 22, 2010

As rescuers continue to find bodies in the rubble left after Haiti’s earthquake, one K-State Professor worries racism may affect their care.

“It may be a factor if someone chooses to help them or not,” KSU Associate Professor of Psychology Donald Saucier said.

He says in emergency situations, people’s racial biases can skew their perceptions of how much help a victim needs. It’s a conclusion that he and two graduate students reached after studying Hurricane Katrina.

The three evaluated general psychology students’ answers to a questionnaire where they rated the extent of help needed and the characteristics of hurricane victims.

“Regardless of their levels of racism, the participants thought the average person victimized by Hurricane Katrina was black and lower class,” he said.

Based on how students’ rated certain arguments, Saucier says they determined how racist they were.

“What we find is they evaluate the conclusions more positively when they’re more racist, a little more negative when they’re less racist,” Saucier said.

The overall conclusion. “In the same situations, blacks may receive less help from white participants who are higher in racism, versus the help they would give to white targets,” he said.

In extreme situations like the earthquake in Haiti, Saucier says these biases are most apparent.

“When you see it in a situation where other people’s lives are actually in danger, it just becomes a little bit sobering,” he said.

Saucier says the racism may even stop people from helping.

“People will say I’m not helping because it’s hard,” Saucier explained. “I’m not helping because of the time. I’m not helping because I don’t have the money. They’re not saying I’m not helping because this person’s black.”

Although the study can’t change what happened to Hurricane Katrina victims or what might happen to Haiti victims, he says studies are being done to try to change discriminatory behavior.

Saucier will start a study on the relief efforts in Haiti in a couple of weeks.

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