Many people, I’m sure, have asked themselves this question: Is some racism built into our DNA or at least is it something we acquire through reading, personal experience or family tradition?
It’s been more than two decades since three social psychologists invented the Implicit Association Test that said we Americans favor white over black, young over old, thin over fat, straight over gay and able over disabled. You can take the test by Googling Project Implicit. I gave up part way through because it was too hard to fathom what personal thoughts it wants to judge.
But eventually, I believe, we all arrive back at the question that’s the headline for today’s column: Are We All Racists Deep Inside?
Michael Sheerer, Presidential Fellow at Chapman University, and a scholar on that question says:
“For centuries the arc of the moral universe has been bending toward justice as a result of changing people’s explicit behaviors and beliefs. Although bias and prejudice still exist, they are not remotely as bad as a mere half a century ago. We ought to acknowledge such progress and put our energies into figuring out what we have been doing right — and do more of it.”
You know from my previous columns I disagree and believe we do continue to have institutional racism of the heavy-duty kind that’s not being mitigated..
The Urban Institute is a non-profit research agency that has chewed over the facts of racism in America, separated from opinion or undocumented information. It says:
“Throughout this country’s history, the hallmarks of American democracy – opportunity, freedom, and prosperity – have been largely reserved for white people through the intentional exclusion and oppression of people of color. The deep racial and ethnic inequities that exist today are a direct result of structural racism: the historical and contemporary policies, practices, and norms that create and maintain white supremacy.”
Steven Roberts, director of the Stanford Social Concepts Lab, writes that “People often define racism as disliking or mistreating others on the basis of race. That definition is wrong. Racism is a system of advantage based on race. It is a hierarchy. It is a pandemic. Racism is so deeply embedded within U.S. minds and U.S. society that it is virtually impossible to escape.”
And maybe not just us. Studies done worldwide show that humans have a tendency to like people who are just like themselves. That they are likely to treat people from outside of their social circles less favorably.
One study I read for this column shocked me. It found that black children are better at recognizing white faces than white children are at recognizing black faces.(Children’s Ability to Recognize Other Children’s Faces. Saul Feinman and Doris R. Entwisle. https://doi.org/10.2307/1128809)
When the Public Religion Research Institute — a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy — did its American racism study it found that more than half of white Americans reported having “low” (18%) or “modest” (34%) affinity for people of different racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. More than one-third (36%) reported having “moderate” affinity for these groups, while only 13% feel “high” affinity toward them.
Maybe the best summation comes from John Allen, president of the Brookings Institution think-tank:
“Slavery was America’s ‘original sin.’ It was not solved by the framers of the U.S. Constitution, nor was it resolved by the horrendous conflict that was the American Civil War. It simply changed its odious form and continued the generational enslavement of an entire strata of American society.“