2016 has been an eventful year. Filled with tragedies and firsts, this year even closes with one of the warmest winters to date. Even as a Texas native Christmas is usually at least somewhat chilly, needing sweaters and whatever people find fashionable for pants differs from year to year.
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word “surreal” surfaced more times than any other word search for the year. This curious word search comes from a presidential first: the leader of the free world is a former reality television star who has never held political office or served within the armed forces. The Populist wave has washed over the millions of voters who chose Donald J. Trump as our next President. Many liberals and progressives alike find his rhetoric repugnant, repulsive, and even racist. However the unfiltered inflammatory remarks made by our soon-to-be Commander-in-Chief has inspired a new surge in hate crime nationally. Similarly, though these numbers do not identically compare to the post-Brexit survey conducted by journalists and researchers alike, these racist and, at times, xenophobic actions is disheartening.
Furthermore the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement unintentionally promulgated traditionalist conservatives to bury their feet in the wet cement laid by the very workers they despise and ridicule. With anti-police rhetoric and police “brutality” sweeping across the nation, division and self-segregation is becoming more prevalent.
These recent events come from a long line of resentment building up within the hearts of millions of Americans—and Brits. They should not shock us nor leave us wary to fight against that which is wrong; however we must concede to work together to solve these issues to make tomorrow better for generations to come.
With that said, we must ask a question that reaches deep to the roots of the human soul. Why are we prejudiced? Why do we “act out” against those who either do not look like us, feel as we do or believe like we do? Is racism innate? And if is, what do we do about it?
I’ve been listening to a podcast entitled “Presidential” for the past several weeks. Though I found the Washington Post’s well put together piece fairly late, I must note it is very intriguing. Learning about the personalities of the presidents sheds light on their political philosophies.
I most recently listened to episode fifteen—James Buchanan. Despite Buchanan’s yankeeness, his affiliation with racist, die-hard Democrats affected his governing. His lack of leadership led to seven states seceding the Union prior to Lincoln’s inauguration. Yearning for the day when his term would end, he left these devices for the young, pragmatic and beautifully sanguine Republican. The narrator interviews a historian and Buchanan expert who states that racism during the the 1890s to early 20th century was more violent and anti-“negro”, anti-immigration, pro-confederacy, and pro-segregation than the generations before due to the unwavering party loyalty and staunch dedication to misconstrued “tradition.” These Southerners harboring resentment towards their fellow Americans more so than their slave-owning parents and grandparents is mind-boggling. Some say they were forced to adapt to an unnatural reality. Some point to the economy. Some point to the overly federalized government impeding upon states’ rights. Even so, none can compare the vitriol and visceral frustration and envy expressed towards African-Americans after the forced emancipation of such reliant “creatures.”
These seemingly circular events escalated in the 1950s with desegregation and the removal of Jim Crow laws. However these actions peaked in the mid-1960s with the new-era Democrat LBJ signing the Civil Rights Act into law. Now we face similar problems.
In 2012, the Daily Mail published an outdated study from 2000 reading, “It’s possible, the researchers say, that even right-thinking, ‘egalitarian’ people could harbour racist attitudes without knowing,” and, “The chemicals involved in perceiving ethnic backgrounds overlap with those for processing emotion and making decisions…” According to the previous study, “racism is ‘hardwired’ into the human brain”; however these findings do not account for the preconceived notions and environment affecting these chemical reactions. In other words according to a study conducted by neuroscientists reporting to The Atlantic, the above findings are severely limited.
Alluding to the 2000 study by NYU’s Dr. Elizabeth Phelps, The Atlantic’s Robert Wright counters the study with more revealing evidence:
“In a paper that will be published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Eva Telzer of UCLA and three other researchers report that they’ve performed these amygdala studies—which had previously been done on adults—on children. And they found something interesting: the racial sensitivity of the amygdala doesn’t kick in until around age 14.”
Furthermore, the new study found that some African-American subjects tested positive for bias against other blacks, feeling threatened in some scenarios. The racial sensitivity experienced by the peer groups is contingent upon the diversity of the person’s life. The amygdala flared in some cases where the person wasn’t exposed to diversity while others flared from little to none: “The authors of the study write that ‘these findings suggest that neural biases to race are not innate and that race is a social construction, learned over time.’’’ Wright concludes, “I think that, though we’re not naturally racist, we’re naturally ‘groupist.’”
Echoing Robert Wright’s findings in The Atlantic, the Huffington Post’s Yasmin Ahmed notes the 2000 study conducted by NYU’s Dr. Elizabeth Phelps and its flawed findings and lack of in depth research into the human brain’s response to other racial minorities rendering the study tone-deaf to the residual pandemic of racial sensitivity that has haunted the, specifically, European and North American continents for centuries.
In a UC Berkeley alumni associated magazine, studies found “…Even the Blind Aren’t Color Blind on Race.”
“Obasogie recalls the story of one white blind respondent who grew up in a quiet suburb, and detailed how ‘his parents would drive him and his siblings to the inner city, where he would hear the sounds and smell the smells of urban America. Their parents would say, ‘This is where black people live.’”
The author continues to divulge the origins of the correlations between racism and biology,
“The idea that race is biological emerged in the late 1800s, when European scientists tried to prove that Caucasian men had bigger skulls than their darker-skinned counterparts and were therefore ‘more evolved’—an idea that was used to justify slavery and, eventually, the eugenics movement.”
The writer continues to note the tribalist or, in the words of Wright, “groupist” mindset evolving with our ancestors, creating a fight or flight mentality necessary for survival. However this raises another question, “Do animals have racist tendencies?”
In an interview with the former host of Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show Larry Wilmore, Bill Nye distinctly notes racism is devoid within the animal kingdom. However tribalism is alive and well. This should promote anti-racism. Why are we—with our xenophobic and racial indignation—imitating animalistic behavior?
Besides scientific assessment, racism is intellectually dim, shallow. Judging a person’s character and morals by their outward appearance—no matter how formidable (that’s a relative term) they may seem—is near-sighted and a breeding cesspool for pride. Profiling is, in some cases, necessary for law enforcement officials identifying and precluding criminal acts. But living day to day labeling others inferior because of their nationality, upbringing, or physical appearance is laughable. For example, had we television and social media during the first several decades of presidential races, it is highly unlikely—judging by today’s standards—John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Martin Van Buren, and, up to this point in the podcast series, James Buchanan would fair well with public criticism due to their physical appearances, or lack thereof, and occasionally inflammatory rhetoric.
Nevertheless, we should not be surprised by civilized folk giving into fear mongering, judging physical appearance, and succumbing to the emotional propensity to favor one over another.
The Boston Globe published, within the same month of The Daily Mail’s skewed study, “Racism learned” which found children as young as three and four years old are capable of harboring racial prejudices. In a group test, white children found pictured darker skinned children as a threat while black children displayed no sort of hostility towards any of the pictures.
“It’s quite shocking really, but the gist of it is that 3- and 4-year-olds demonstrate the same level and type of bias as adults. This tells us that children ‘get it’ very, very quickly, and that it doesn’t require a mature level of cognition to form negative biases.”
Like the primal instinct for tribalism in animals, racism is childish/shallow: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11). However the study also concluded, though children learn racism via “observational learning” at a young age, children can also “unlearn” through maturity.
So, regardless of whether the offspring of white supremacists are genetically disposed towards racism via millennia of tribal warfare, such actions/instincts were taught at some point in time. Thus leading to the inevitable conclusion that racism is indeed taught.
Humanity has suffered from ethnic and racial prejudice for millennia. However the American south, once in collaboration with other slave trading nations such as Great Britain, has been fraught with this primitive shortcoming. As Christians in the Bible Belt, we ought to stand with our fellow believers, as well as with unbelievers, to confront the issue brewing within the hearts brought afresh by the once fringe president-elect and his base.
Pastor John Piper addresses this issue in “Stereotypes, Generalizations, and Racism” that, “Christians should not be guilty of stereotyping groups, recognizing that stereotyping is different from the just and loving use of generalization.” He continues to admonish the church to judge righteously for the benefit of others but not for personal gain. He rebukes the negative generalization toward other groups while encouraging fellowship and the few exceptions (Matthew 23; Titus 1:12). Basically, John Piper is implicating that generalizations are good to a certain extent. With the right intentions of the heart, such generalizations can not only be beneficial but critical to life learning; however negative connotations concerning various ethnic groups is a violation of the greatest commandments—loving God and loving people.
Overall, 2016 sucked. Some good things happened; however it so happens the worse things are engrained into our minds. We are pessimistic. We feel hopeless. However just because we may feel this way doesn’t make it so. The Apostle Paul writes, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). We, as Christians, have much to look forward to! We have been granted eternal peace and rest from working for our salvation. We have been united. Christ has overcome the world. We mustn’t fear for it is finished.
(For more information concerning John Piper and racism in America, check out his book Bloodlines)