The contact hypothesis and racial diversity in the United States Military




Bullock, Damon

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This study explains the application of the Contact Hypothesis in the discussion of racial diversity in the United States military. The purpose of this study is to explore soldiers' racial experiences in an ethnically diverse military. The Contact Hypothesis, also known as the Intergroup Contact Theory, was formulated by Gordon Allport in 1954. Prejudice results from negative generalizations or stereotypes about other groups, particularly minorities. Contact between groups will lessen these prejudices, therefore, leading to better communication and interaction. For this research, I conducted in-depth, targeted interviews with 27 soldiers to explore their racial experiences interacting in an ethnically diverse military. Participants in this study were men and women who were at least 18 years old. All participants were current or former military personnel enlisted from the rank of E-4 (i.e. Specialist) to E-8 (Sergeant Major/Command Sergeant Major).

Three research questions were explored. The first research question focused on the role of interracial contact in shaping the experience of race relations in the military. Approximately 93% (N=25) of the participants experienced good relations and high levels of contact with service members of other races and ethnicities, while 7% reported good relations and low levels of contact. No participants reported poor relations with service members of other races and ethnicities.

The second research question concerned the impact of length of contact. Participants in this study reported good relations with service members from other races and ethnicities regardless of their years in service, and regardless of the length of service.

The third research question concerned the intensity of contact. Nearly 67% (N=18) of the participants reported experiencing good relations while engaged in an intense situation with service members of other races and ethnicities.

The military has been able to successfully integrate various racial groups for several reasons: 1.) Inter-group contact between whites and minorities has lessened prejudice and led to group solidarity, 2.) The military has rules, guidelines, and policies that favor combat effectiveness and not a particular individual or group, and 3.) Powerful sanctions are implemented by military leaders to ensure both of the above objectives. Implications of the findings can be discussed. These conditions also illustrate the premise of the Contact Hypothesis.



Social sciences, Contact hypothesis, Military, Racial diversity, Ethic studies, Soldiers, Military studies