Is there discrimination on colour in Queensland? In order to find out if black and Indian people are a discriminated ‘out group’ in Queensland, together with Redzo Mujcic I carried out a large-scale experiment involving bus drivers in Brisbane. We sent test subjects of various races to bus-stops all over Brisbane where these individuals would board a bus with a faulty bus card, subsequently asking the bus driver whether or not they were allowed to stay on the bus.
The 1,552 encounters recorded between bus drivers and test subjects revealed that in the main scenario, some 72% of white Caucasian test subjects were generously given a free ride, versus only 36% of black test subjects (Indigenous Australian, African, African American, and Pacific Islander). Indian test subjects were treated slightly more favourably than black test subjects and were let on 51% of the time, whilst white Asian test subjects (Chinese, Japanese and Malaysian) were let on 73%, almost as much as white Caucasian test subjects. Males were let on 8% more than females, and bus drivers were 6% more likely to favour someone of the same race.
In order to see the importance of dress, we then sent the same test subjects to bus stops in business suits and with briefcases. In such white-collar attire, some 75% of the Black and Indian test subjects were let on versus 93% of white test subjects, indicating that higher social status engendered more favouritism from bus drivers.
We conjectured that the reason bus drivers were more reluctant to give black and Asian help-seekers a free ride was that they did not personally relate to them. In order to test this, subjects were sent to bus stops dressed in army suits, making it appear that the test subjects were patriots and were defending the same community as the bus driver.
Some 97% of white test subjects were given a free ride if they dressed in an army suit, whilst 85% of black and Indian test subjects were let on with an army suit, showing that the reluctance to let on normally dressed blacks and Indians was indeed related to an ‘out group’ reaction by bus drivers that could be overcome by ‘in group’ clothing.
An important possibility to account for was whether black and Indian test subjects were perceived as less trustworthy and more aggressive than the other test subjects. To test this, pictures of the test subjects were presented to random passers-by in selected regions, asking those passers-by to rate how aggressive, trustworthy, and pretty the test subjects looked. The test subjects that were rated as less aggressive were let on slightly more often than more aggressive ones, while perceived trustworthy individuals were also favoured at a higher rate than untrustworthy ones, but this did not affect the results on race.
As a follow-up, we then conducted a survey of random bus drivers at selected resting stations around the city, presenting them with pictures of the same test subjects that had gone to bus stops and asking the bus drivers whether they would let them on or not with an empty travel card.
Some 80% of the bus drivers at resting stations indicated they would give free rides to Indian and black test subjects, even though in reality less than 50% were let on. Indeed, bus drivers said they would let on white subjects 5% less often than black subjects, whilst in reality white test subjects were favoured at least 40% more than black testers. When asked for reasons why a person would be let on or not, the main reason given for not letting someone on was that it was against the rules, whilst the main reason given to let someone on was that it was no burden to do so.
When the bus company learned of the survey, it sent out a general message to all bus drivers in Queensland not to participate any further.
What this study showed is that when it comes to doing favours, there is still significant racial discrimination in Brisbane. People with Indian or black complexion are still more likely to be treated as an ‘out group’ and thus less part of the ‘in group’ compared to white Caucasians and white Asians.
There were many important further elements to these experiments to talk about in future blogs. For those who like to see the preliminary paper for themselves, see here: mujcic_frijters racial bias March2013.
The study is an important stepping stone towards a general theory of human behaviour that is in a recently published book ‘An Economic Theory of Greed, Love, Groups, and Networks’. The first launch of that book is next week in Brisbane, 28th March 2013, 5:30pm, The QIC Building, Level 5, Central Plaza Two, 66 Eagle Street. CNR Elizabeth & Creek Streets. Brisbane, QLD 4001. RSVP [email protected]