Thursday, January 6, 2011

Blog Post # 4 in response to Question D

The Stanford Prison Experiment
The Stanford Prison experiment, at the time, was conducted to test how good people react when placed in an evil place, and even more to exam the social situations of how people respond to and use power.
This was not the first time I had seen the documentary on the Stanford Prison experiment, but it was the first time I had watched it in the context of racial difference, racial privilege and racial oppression. The guards in this experiment were the ones with the power, who limited “the freedom of someone else and used the power in their role to control and dominate others”. The prisoners were those who did not have privilege and who experienced forms of oppression first hand.
This experiment could not relate any clearer to forms of racism or white supremacy. Those who feel that they have power over others and who are privileged, exert their power over others. The people being oppressed are faced with a myriad of different situations, emotions and feelings. Look at prisoner 416 who went on a hunger strike to try to oppose the system of the guards. Prisoner 416 should have been viewed as a sort of hero as he was willing to fight back against the system, but instead the other prisoners sided with how the guards felt and viewed him as a trouble maker. If everyone who was being oppressed would have stood together rather than apart, maybe racial prejudices would have ended much sooner as a result of combining efforts and support among each other.
Although this may have seemed like a simple experiment of role playing, the study shows how power corrupts people and how it can make people act in a way contrary to their beliefs.  The Electric Shock experiment is another perfect example of how oppression and power affects people. The person running the experiment, the one with power, was giving orders to another, and even though it was against that person’s beliefs they carried out the orders anyway. The conclusion that “decent American citizens were as capable of committing acts against their conscious’s as the Germans had been under the Nazis” is eye opening and frankly horrifying.
 What is it about having power that changes who we are,?Why is it so hard for those being abused or oppressed to stand up for themselves and what they believe in, and why do people feel they are inherently entitled to things over others? I don’t know the answers to these questions. I don’t know why people thought, and some still do think, they are better than others just because of the color of their skin or eyes or because of their gender. It is all a lot to think about, and I am trying to understand it. Without a doubt, people are going to suffer “the same kind of atrocities decade after decade” as seen in this experiment as well as other experiments. However, one thing I am certain of is that until we figure out what in human nature causes us to act the way we do, and why as human beings we have such a desire for power, prejudices and oppressiveness will still continue to exist and cause pain to many every single day.


  1. This was my first time watching this experiment through the lens of racial difference, racial privilege, and racial oppression well.

    Another thing that was said in the documentary was that prisoners felt shame in their roles and the guards felt guilt which sorts of mirrors the feeling of people who experience white privilege - like the white people feel guilt for getting it so "easy" and the other groups feel shame for being "put down" or treated unfairly.

    Regarding prisoner 416 - what I found interesting was that he said that he was not a name, but a number to the guards. This could be extended to minority groups as the privileged group (the whites) do not see these people as people but just a color.

  2. i agree it is a horrifying, painful world especially when we are aware and understand the systems of inequality. it is really sad that those who have power oppress those without. the smartest tool that white supremacy has it that it creates oppression and 'ideas' of how to escape it. it makes oppressed people feel guilty. that must be the reason it is so hard to fight back, because racism and sexism erase cooperation. Oppressed people learn to hate the oppression and the oppressed group and instead of changing the system it is easier to conform to this hate, or internal hate.