I found this story at A Race Against Time. Here we have a strongly afro-centric publication, USA Today, citing a study claiming that blacks and Hispanics are twice as likely as whites to have performed heroic deeds:
By Sharon Jayson, USA TODAYNew research would seem to support President Obama’s observation Wednesday night in Tucson that “heroism is here, all around us.”
Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford University professor emeritus and colleagues used a nationally-representative sample of 4,000 adults and found that 20% qualified as heroes — they had helped during a dangerous emergency, taken a stand against injustice, or sacrificed for a stranger.
Obama cited Congressional intern Daniel Hernandez, who helped Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was critically wounded, along with doctors and bystanders after an assassination attempt that killed six others and left 13 wounded.
“Heroes are ordinary people,” says Zimbardo, of San Francisco. “You become a hero by doing an extraordinary deed.”
In the study, both blacks and Hispanics were twice as likely as whites to have performed heroic deeds. Zimbardo says they want to do follow-up research on the reasons for the racial/ethnic differences, which he speculates could be attributed to “greater opportunities to respond” or “being discriminated against makes them have more compassion to others in need.”
The study, supported by the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford, asked participants “Have you ever done something that other people — not necessarily you yourself — considered a heroic act or deed?” Those who answered “yes” selected from a list the actions most similar to their own: helping another person in a dangerous emergency; “blowing the whistle” on an injustice with awareness of the personal risk or threat to yourself; sacrifice on behalf of a non-relative or stranger, such as an organ donation; defying unjust authority; or other.
Among the 20% who met the survey definition, 55% had helped someone during an emergency, 8% confronted an injustice, 14% had defied unjust authority and 5% had sacrificed for a stranger.
If we lived in a world where the scientific, educational and governmental establishments were unbiased, then perhaps we could take such studies more seriously. As it stands, we would do well to be skeptical. But Philip Zimbardo is a renowned professor and psychologist, who earned fame in his groundbreaking Stanford prison study.
A Race Against Time points out that blacks and Hispanics are held to lower standards, that the definition of “hero” and “emergency” can be fuzzy and that NAM’s may be more likely to consider themselves heroes for having taken a stand against “unjust authority”:
Society implicitly has different expectations for different groups, and the “hero” bar is often set much lower for blacks than for whites. For example, when the restaurant chain Firehouse Subs issued “hero cups” in 2009 to honor firefighters who had displayed “incredible acts of bravery,” they selected four white men and one black woman as heroes. All four of the white men had risked their their own lives to rescue civilians in life-and-death situations, while the black woman’s act of bravery was “spearheading a community-based program to strengthen fire safety education for seniors.”
Similarly, the Stanford study muddles the definition of hero by conflating real acts of heroism (e.g., helping another person in a dangerous emergency) with, for lack of a better word, “affirmative action” acts of heroism (e.g., defying unjust authority, confronting an injustice). The USA Today article doesn’t break the list of heroic actions down by race, and I wasn’t able to find the study online, but I suspect non-whites were more likely than whites to have chosen “defied unjust authority” or “confronted an injustice.” Those terms are so vague that acts such as resisting a police officer or attending an “anti-racism” rally would seem to qualify.
Even if blacks were more likely than whites to report having “helped someone during an emergency,” that could be because of differing views of what truly constitutes an “emergency.” It seems like whenever there’s a news report about an angry fast food customer who made a frivolous emergency 911 call, whether because the restaurant ran out of chicken nuggets or lemonade, because their french fries were served cold, or because they were dissatisfied with the amount of food they received, the caller is invariably black. I wouldn’t consider mediating a heated fast food dispute a heroic act, but some black people might.
All of this may be true but, for argument’s sake, let’s take the professor’s word that NAM’s really are more likely to be heroes. My take on this is that one has many more opportunities to be a “hero” if there are many crisis situations in his life. How often do we hear ambulance and police sirens in white or Asian neighborhoods? How often do we hear them in black and Hispanic neighborhoods? When a man wishes to become a hero, he marches off to war or visits the jungle. That is where he is likely to find emergency situations and take action – thus qualifying as a “hero”. Since most blacks and Hispanics live among other blacks and Hispanics, their war zone (or jungle) is right there – so many opportunities, to be a hero, present themselves.