The Science of Racism by Keerthana Balamurugan

In today’s ever-growing media, acts of racism in both an average man’s life and in multi-million-dollar corporations do not go unnoticed. Rarely do such incidents slip by without spreading the story like wildfire, creating an uproar of opinions from both sides. Instant slander is felt by such companies and thus, in most cases, public statements are released trying to fix the wrongs that have occurred. Talk about race and racism itself has built a reputation over centuries through cultural exploitation and due to this, certain stereotypes have been formed that are now hard to erase. Predetermined opinions are formed and there is very little we can do to fix this. Can racism be removed just like that?

When two black men arrived for a business meeting in a Philadelphia Starbucks coffee shop and asked to use the bathroom without buying anything, they were consequently harshly handcuffed. It was to no surprise that this news quickly reached the ears of millions. This begs the question of whether the same course of action would have occurred were it to be two white men instead or a group of teenage girls sharing a chai latte. The public uproar was hard to shut down hence, the CEO of the company decided to close all of its shops in the US and give its 175,000 employees a much-needed racial bias training. This training included pairing up employees and asking them to talk about how different they are to one another. People were sceptical that a few weeks of training would actually remove bias to a substantial extent.

Changing someone’s mind about a topic especially with thoughts or stereotypes that have been reinforced for years is a hard task to undertake. One sitting hardly has an effect. Through long-term training with the self-desire to change and constant checks, it comes closer to become a more realistic goal. The training all starts with accepting and being aware of the problem at hand but there is worry about such training being counterproductive. What is supposed to remove implicit bias could do just the opposite and fortify the thoughts. A study was conducted in Cornell University that when suggesting implicit bias is everywhere this normalises the thought and hence, normalises the prejudice.

There have been stories of success where the researches at the University of Wisconsin proved that through specific steps racial bias could be drastically improved. Such steps include observing how stereotypes arise and mentally replacing them. Also, understanding a person’s behaviour through situational explanations.

Let us look at the science behind it, where this prejudice actually stems from. One of our brain’s main function is to protect us, to weed out dangers felt and seen and thus, thwart it. Way back when, we needed this subconscious to pull us out of danger but now in our more civilised times, this has come to become a problem. Our brain has inherited the tendency to label something dangerous when in reality it is harmless. Much research has been conducted that supports this theory but other research proves that we have the ability to control our implicit bias. There is a part of our brain in the amygdala which forces us to form impressions of others and helps us consider their perspectives. We have the ability to overcome initial bias with facts and taking into account of social contexts.

There are other arguments stating that prejudice is not something we’re born with but something that is learnt throughout life, especially in adolescence. Research from a professor of psychology in California suggests that initial bias is not innate but one that is developed. Hence, it is proven that with more exposure to diversity the more we can reduce our prejudice.

With today’s incredibly diverse social media, there is more exposure than ever. Also, more cases of prejudice do not go silenced. Not only do we know this but research has also proved that prejudice-based discrimination exists and that we can overcome it with training and the want to change. What we do with this information is now up to us.

Sources:

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/05/starbucks-unconscious-bias-training/559415/

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/04/reich-genetics-racism/558818/

https://newrepublic.com/article/120971/neurological-underpinnings-prejudice

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