, Volume 166, Issue 2, pp 217-229
Date: 06 Oct 2012

What are the cognitive costs of racism? A reply to Gendler

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Abstract

Tamar Gendler argues that, for those living in a society in which race is a salient sociological feature, it is impossible to be fully rational: members of such a society must either fail to encode relevant information containing race, or suffer epistemic costs by being implicitly racist. However, I argue that, although Gendler calls attention to a pitfall worthy of study, she fails to conclusively demonstrate that there are epistemic (or cognitive) costs of being racist. Gendler offers three supporting phenomena. First, implicit racists expend cognitive energy repressing their implicit biases. I reply, citing Ellen Bialystok’s research, that constant use of executive functioning can be beneficial. Second, Gendler argues that awareness of a negative stereotype of one’s own race with regard to a given task negatively affects one’s performance of that task. This phenomenon, I argue, demonstrates that those against whom the stigma is directed suffer costs, but it fails to demonstrate that the stigmatizers suffer cognitively. Finally, Gendler argues that racists are less competent when recognizing faces of other races than when recognizing faces of their own race because, in the first instance, they encode the race of the face (taking up cognitive space that could have been used to encode fine-grained distinctions), whereas in the second instance they encode no race. I argue that in-group/out-group categorization rather than racism is the cognitive cost. I conclude that Gendler has failed to demonstrate that there are cognitive costs associated with being a racist.