On top of being considered one of the happiest and healthiest states in the U.S., Hawaii may have another added benefit for people from the mainland — its diverse environment can reduce prejudice the longer someone lives here.
A study released late last month finds that people from racially homogenous areas show a noticeable decrease in racist views after exposure to multiethnic communities.
As part of the study, 99 white University of Hawaii Manoa students from the mainland filled out a questionnaire before moving to the islands and again nine months later. They were asked about the number of nonwhites in their friend groups, whether they identified with a set of racist assumptions and whether they viewed race as a biological or social construction.
“The purpose of the study was to see, what are the factors that influence our thoughts about racism?” said Kristin Pauker, a UH associate professor of psychology who led the study.
“The primary thing that we saw change (at the end of the study) was how they thought about race,” Pauker said. They became less essentialist over that nine months, which I think is kind of cool because it does show that prejudice isn’t fixed, it’s something that can be changed.”
Race essentialism refers to the tendency to believe that certain character traits are race-based. The study found that 66 percent of students reduced their race essentialism over the nine-month period.
An example of a racially essentialist view is the belief that Asians are naturally good at science and mathematics.
Students who participated in the survey were asked to answer on what level they agree with statements such as:
A person’s race is fixed at birth
Racial groups are primarily determined by biology
It’s possible to be a full member of more than one race
How a person is defined racially depends on the social context
Those who strongly identified with the first two statements were more likely to have race essentialist views, and according to previous studies on the topic — people who have more of these views tend to have more prejudices and biases toward other ethnic groups.
According to the study, the decrease in race essentialist views could be directly affected by the increase in diverse interactions and friend groups.
Hawaii is unlike any other state because of its unique multicultural population; the Aloha State has the most multiethnic babies and interracial couples in the country.
Clement Bautista, director of the office of multicultural services at UH Manoa, said Hawaii is unique because its wealth of diversity in people and perspectives differs from neighborhood to neighborhood — and that’s just on Oahu.
“Coming here from outside Hawaii, you’re going to experience a different world,” Bautista said.
At the end of the nine-month period, the students were asked to fill out the same questionnaire, and exhibited a noticeable shift in the amount of answers that represented race essentialist views.
The study also said that a decline in race essentialist views can correspond with a decrease in racism and social dominance orientation, or one’s degree of preference for inequality among social groups, as well an increase in the ability to creatively solve problems, over time.
Pauker, who grew up on Oahu, says that while the outcome of the study looks positive in terms of the impact diversity has on perceptions of race, it’s important to note that the state is not without its vices in this area.
“The point of the paper wasn’t to say that Hawaii is perfect and that we don’t have issues with race relations,” Pauker said. “There still are issues.”
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