Everyone has read text books, seen talk shows and heard stories about the subject of discrimination, but just how much does it affect our everyday lives and activities? This is precisely the question sophomore Asad Chaudhry set out to answer.
An assignment in the honors sociology class Chaudhry took last semester, required students to teach the rest of the class something about racial discrimination and inequality. Chaudhry came up with an idea to test whether there really was discrimination based solely on skin color.
The premise of the project was simple. Chaudhry, who is Pakistani, and his partner, Dave Rachelson, who is white, stood on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and each asked five passerbyers to hold their books for them while they tied their shoelace. One of the men acted while the other videotaped the scene from a short distance away. Chaudhry and Rachelson would compare how many people held the books and the way people reacted to them.
“I’m not really sure what I expected the results to show,” Chaudhry said. “I know my partner Dave was very surprised by them. He didn’t expect there to be any difference at all.”
The results showed obvious discrimination, the partners concluded. All five of the people Rachelson asked agreed to hold his books while he tied his shoe. But only one person agreed to hold Chaudhry’s books. The way the people acted toward the two students, besides just agreeing or not agreeing to holding their books, was also very different, Chaudhry said.
Chaudhry said the one person who held his books for him was not very polite. He just wanted Chaudhry to hurry so he could leave. He said all the people who held Rachelson’s books were very friendly and tried to make conversation with him. Chaudhry also said the people who refused to hold his books made very rude comments to him.
Through the experiment Chaudhry said he hoped to open students’ eyes about discrimination. He said he feels it exists within people even when they do not realize it.
“I bet if you asked those people if they were racist, they would never say yes,” he said. “But there was no other reason for them not to hold my books other than the color of my skin. It seems that there is an inherent racist attitude that I’m sure they don’t think is there.”
Chaudhry said it is important for people to know not only that people are discriminated against but what happens as a result of discrimination, too.
“The experiment was done on election day, which is rather ironic,” Chaudhry said. “It is a `patriotic’ day in which you would think people are most likely to support the values they believe in. I was really insulted and hurt by the results, but mostly I think I was disappointed.”
Chaudhry said that his professor, Ruth Wallace, felt that although the sample taken – five from each student – was very small, the discrepancy between the results, one of five and five of five, showed that there was some sort of racial discrimination.
After hearing about the experiment, some students said they were shocked.
“It’s really sad that we think we live in such a diverse city and people would be so rude and ignorant,” junior Ben Bass said. “I never would have expected that the results of the experiment would come out that way.”
Junior Sara Outterson said she was surprised to hear about discrimination near GW’s campus.
“We claim ourselves to be such a diverse campus and area so I think it’s really horrible that those results turned out like that,” she said.