Measured Against Reality

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

You're a Racist

Right now I’m expecting most of the people who read the title of this post to say, “I’m not a racist!” If you had that reaction, go play around on this site for a bit. Take some of the tests, especially the race-related ones.

In case you don’t want to take the test, what it’s looking for is a difference in reaction times (and error rates) when you’re asked to identify “good” and “bad” words as well as “black” and “white” faces (or something similar). These experiments have been around for a while, and they all come to the conclusion (at least every one I’ve read) that people are inherently racist, associating their group with the “good” words and out-groups with the “bad” words.

This should be no surprise, for any examination of history or contemporary politics shows us that xenophobia reigns supreme, at least generally. Foreigners are barbarians, to be used only to improve one groups lot in life, or perhaps slaughtered wholesale. Admittedly, as we’ve become more educated and interconnected, racism and fear of out-groups has been pushed back. But it hasn’t been pushed all that far, we’ve got plenty left to do.

Inherent racism makes even more sense from a Darwinian perspective. Genes that promote kindness to kin and wariness of aliens will do better in the gene pool than other competing genes (if you’re not convinced, remember that a gene in me has a decent chance of being in my family, and in tribes almost everyone is family). Functionally, this would establish a behavior that goes something like, “treat people who look like me well, but be wary of people who don’t.”

That hypothesis is nothing new, but I think it’s worthwhile to remind people that we’re all naturally racist (even if only a bit), and that there’s no need for us to actually be racist. We may have evolved to prefer people who look like us and discriminate against those who don’t, but we’ve also evolved to the point where we can look at that intrinsic behavior and tell that it’s wrong. This extends past simple race distinctions, into any kind of “otherness”. We can’t live in a functional society where anyone is discriminated against simply for being what they are and cannot help being.

Remember, we might be inherently racist, but we shouldn’t act like it.

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  • Race exists because people from Norway do not generally travel to Ethopia to make children with Ethiopians just as Ethiopians do not travel to Norway to make children with Norwegians. There will always be mostly white people in Norway and mostly black people in Ethiopia. The rest of racism, or at least racism as a popularized problem, is just media sensationalism and the inherent fear people have about differences. So in short, kudos!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:31 PM, October 10, 2006  

  • It's natural to be racist, because people do discriminate against others who are different from them. Race, religion, age, gender, socio-economic status... These are just a few of the many things that could divide people. To deny that you're racist is to be naive and self-delusional.
    That said, I don't think that aspect of racism is negative. It's the same as an extrovert hanging around other extroverts and avoiding introverts - they're just excluding themselves from different people.
    The terrible part of racism is when people take such differences to the extreme and make insensitive overgeneralisations about other races. And so as you said, we shouldn't act like we're racist, even if we are, because we should recognise that our impressions are biased and not based on anything rational, and therefore not act upon such impressions.

    By Blogger JeNn, at 9:46 AM, October 11, 2006  

  • Your deference to what effectively is a social darwinist basis for you argument is very problematic. That you also do not engage with racism as being socially constructed leave much missing from your post.

    I agree we are all racist (currently), though do not agree with your repeated reference to it as 'inherent'. Your biological reductionism is very far off the mark...

    By Anonymous c. avolve, at 8:18 PM, October 12, 2006  

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