The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Everyone is Racist?

I love it when I get caught out. Keeps me on my toes, as in the following reply to a previous post:
"EVERYBODY has it."

There's some part of my mind that reads statements like this and just automatically assumes that they're hooey. It's the same part of my mind that can't believe in Christianity.

Even the study you're citing repeatedly -- which may end up being found tendentious, as such studies soemtimes prove with time -- claimed a mere 80% of whites were racist, not 100 freaking percent! So, what's with this "EVERYBODY" claim?
Erich Schwarz

You're right. "Everybody" doesn't do much of "anything" other than breathe. I was exaggerating...but not by much. Note that of the 20% who don't display this tendency, 7% of those have no negative feelings about anything at ALL. So the percentage of people who are CAPABLE of forming negative impressions who DO form them on this one topic is what? 85%? 90%? The math escapes me. However, note that they don't say "completely negative." My guess is that it's a Bell curve, from "somewhat" to "extremely." And that "somewhat" can be overcome by a number of factors, for instance:
1) they “play” for your “team.” In other words, they help you win. Soldiers, athletes, co-workers, etc. who perform to your advantage will anchor positive emotions to your representations.
2) They are unusually attractive according to your value system. Intelligence, intensity, physical features or various kinds can compensate for skin tone, to the degree that positive emotions are anchored, generalizing out to other members of their group.
3) Belief in the Universality of Man. Many religious faiths and philosophical positions lead their adherents and followers to the conclusion that we are “all one.” At this point, the natural tribal wiring comes into conflict with “higher programming”—creating cognitive and emotional dissonance. Such people (in my judgment) often harbor deep, “shameful” prejudices, but refuse to pass them on to their children. Those children are encouraged to associate with people of many races, giving them an opportunity to anchor positive emotions.
In other words, the more evolved you are as a human being, the less things like skin color sway you one way or the other.

Erich, the idea that such a huge percentage of the population harbors such feelings makes perfect sense of the world. It explains bigotry, war, and the sense of deep confusion and self-loathing experienced by so many who begin to dig into their inner selves.

But this programming is basic survival stuff—third chakra, as it were. It can absolutely be overcome. My guess? The percentage of people who manage to be balanced in all three arenas would be the same percentage who manage to rise above their core programming. Not the same people, (that would be convenient and self-serving, wouldn’t it?) but the same approximate percentage.

Maybe a little higher. But the good news is that the emotional space that rises above this stuff is the same space sought by almost all religions and meditative disciplines, the same sense of personal integrity and self-love we all crave.

You’ll never convince me that that low-level aversion isn’t there as long as non-white males can’t have sex in movies without wrecking the box office, Dude. Sorry. Consciously, we’re all Kum-Bah-Yah. Subconsciously, we flinch away from the “Other” and demonize our political opponents. I can’t pretend not to see what I’ve seen my whole life.

It’s just old survival programming. The fact that we haven’t killed ourselves yet should be of great cheer: I have no reason to believe we won’t make it as a species. In fact, much of the dissonance between “Left” and “Right” strikes me as sort of mild epileptic convulsions in a brain with a damaged Corpus Collosum. Proper communication between the hemispheres takes care of all that.

Let’s keep talking.


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