In formally learning about what contributes to group conflict in this class, and more specifically about what conditions must be met in order for contact between groups to reduce conflict and/or prejudice they have about each other, a storyline that came to mind for me was that of the popular Broadway musical West Side Story. Besides the magical romance that dominates most of the show’s plot, the show also largely revolves around the conflict that exists between the two street gangs in the story, the Sharks, who are Puerto Rican, and the Jets, who are white. Maria, who comes from the Sharks, and Tony, who comes from the Jets, fall in love and try desperately to avoid being found out by their respective gangs.
It is not as if the main characters Maria and Tony are sitting their groups down together and attempting one, large group intervention, however there are some key social psychological principles that indicate why, when they were brought together, conflict was never resolved.
Firstly, and potentially most importantly, members from both groups do not feel that the social norms of their group either support or encourage equality between them and the opposing group. Although Maria and Tony both feel that their groups may be more equal than they originally thought, they do not trust that their respective gangs will be able to share this more-level headed, fair belief.
Secondly, when Tony meets the rest of Maria’s fellow Sharks, and Maria meets the rest of Tony’s fellow jets, this is an example of the other group members not being exposed to multiple group members, and only being exposed to one token member of the opposing group, which is another essential aspect of resolving group conflict through contact.
Thirdly, at no point in the plot of the show do the gangs ever have to work together to achieve a common goal. The groups do meet so socialize in non-competitive settings occasionally, but as our book explains to us and as research has shown, this passive, non-competitive interaction is not enough to resolve conflict.
And lastly, both groups in this situation do not have equal status. The musical obviously addresses some very clear themes of racial inequality in New York City during this era, and from the beginning of the show the Puerto Rican Sharks are depicted as the class of foreign immigrants. Because the Jets are white and have lived in the city for much longer and were born and raised there in America, the status of the two groups is inherently unequal from the start.
Because of all these reasons, although the show depicts many moments of contact that the groups are able to interact, they are ultimately not conducive to conflict resolution because they do not meet the conditions above.