“American History X” is a movie that depicts the life of a young white supremacist named Derek Vinyard and his younger brother Danny. Growing up in the suburban area of California, the boys are faced with many ethnic backgrounds and cultural differences. When their father, a fireman, is shot and killed by a black man Derek strives for white supremacy in his small area. Following the most infamous leader and supporter of white supremacy in southern California, Cameron, Derek creates a following of “Skin heads” that include his younger brother Danny. The story follows the life of both Derek and Danny as Danny examines the life events that have shaped his families life. Through “American History X”, the viewer is exposed to many social psychological principles including racism, aggression, violence, conformity/social influence, stereotyping, prejudice and conformation bias just to name a few. Most frequently I saw in many scenes conformation bias and stereotyping being implemented.
Stereotyping is defined as a thought that may be adopted about specific types of individuals or certain ways of doing things, but that belief may or may not accurately reflect reality. Derek’s skin head beliefs are built off the sterotyping that he prescribes to anyone who is not a white protestant. One of the scenes in particular that can greatly depict the psychological principle of stereotyping is the scene in which Derek and his followers break into a convenient store that is run by several Asian- Americans. Before entering, we see that Derek and his neo-Nazi “followers” all seem to have a similar appearance. Each is dressed all in black with combat boots and a shaven head. Before entering, Derek gives them a brief motivational speech in which he states that the country is being taken over by immigrants who do nothing but infest and destroy their community. Derek believes that anyone who is not a white Protestant, is less of a person and is just taking up space and destroying their community.
I believe that this particular scene in “American History X” conforms to the social psychological principles quite accurately. Derek and his fellow neo-Nazi believers make it obvious what they stand for. On the way they dress and present themselves the viewer is able to realize that it is obvious they fall into a “skinhead” stereotype. Because of their matching attire and strong hatred towards anyone they deem different, the viewer is able to place them within that category.
Another major social psychological principle that is regularly prevalent in this movie is conformation bias. Conformation bias is defined as a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. People usually display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively or interpret it in a bias way. One of the scenes that shows this social psychological principle is the scene in which Derek and his girlfriend are arguing with the rest of his family, including his mother’s new boyfriend. The conversation was about Rodney king and other issues that were in the news at that time. Derek was convinced that all the problems of the world were only happening because the non-white Protestants were a part of American society. Instead of listening to facts brought forward by other members of the family, Derek would only listen to facts or opinions that went along with his own. He would put for ridiculous claims that have only have to do with his point of view to make sure he got his bias point across.
This biased opinion you would expect to be because of his joining of Cameron’s “army” of white supremacist but you find out that Derek’s biases could stem from as far back as his father. In a flashback to before Derek and Danny’s father die, the viewer is allowed to see a conversation between Derek and his father which has affirmative action as the topic. Derek’s father was strongly opposed to affirmative action because he did not want someone less qualified watching his back, as a fireman, who only got the job because he was black. He said to Derek that “this is wrong can’t you see that” and then states that Derek needs to question things issue such as affirmative action. This puts these biases towards minorities into Derek’s head at young age and forces Derek to make these ideas heuristically available in his mind by telling him that it is wrong.
The last scene that shows the social psychological concept of conformation bias is the scene in which Derek’s father dies and Derek is being interviewed by a local news reporter. Derek puts forth some radical and racist idea such as problems with aids and poverty only being problems in minority communities and not being problems of the “white” community. The reporter tries to reason with Derek and tell him that these problems stemmed off of other issues in our society. Derek quickly shut down any of the reports ideas and stated more biased opinions that he confirmed with biased information that may not have been completely accurate.
The effects of conformation bias and stereotyping that face Derek and Danny extremely affect their lives in a negative way. These social psychological concepts were so easily entered into their minds and easily changed them into raged filled people who were nothing but angry all the time. This movie showed how these concepts could be easily used to corrupt children’s minds by a manipulator such as Cameron turn out to be. I believe that for children such as Danny and Derek who were already lost after the loss of their father, social psychological concepts such as these can be easily implemented into their minds without them ever knowing. One of the greatest things I learned from this movie however is that no matter how deeply these concepts have been engraved into the thoughts and beliefs of someone, it is always possible for people to change their views when presented with a better choice for their lives.