Racism in the brain
Carolina Jiménez | Friday, February 24, 2023
Racism seems to be a never-ending battle that our modern society desperately tries to dig itself out of. We have battled external cues and blatant discrimination, believing that this will eliminate the big issue that is racism. However, these observable demonstrations of racism and explicit racial attitudes are minimal to the real battle we have yet to conquer: our brain. Now, dealing with such, is what I believe is the real way to unravel racism once and for all. We have heard about implicit racism before, even if we can’t fully recognize it. That is what fuels systematic racism — discrimination embedded in law and regulations (including the unspoken) of a society. An example of such racism has been in the spotlight recently — the skewed police brutality toward Black men over white men. An estimate by Northwestern University in 2019 places a Black man being 2.5 times more likely to be killed than a white man by a police officer in their lifetime. Now, this might be one of the first cases of major awareness to implicit bias. Implicit bias is thoughts and acts on the basis of prejudice and stereotypes without intending to do so. It brings an underlying layer of racism to light as even the most well-intended people harbor hidden prejudices against specific racial groups. This is the modern battle of racism.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made big strides with the civil rights movement of 1964. He created awareness to the explicit bias and blatant segregation of the times. He changed the nation’s contentious racial landscape. The United States saw an African American president for two terms. Black political figures routinely serve at top levels of the legislative branch, proving race has not deterred in the ballot box. African Americans have obtained legally mandated equality in civil rights and voting rights. However, he could’ve never guessed the devastating scars that a long time of injustice would leave in our society. As demonstrated by a Stanford University’s Recruitment to Expand Diversity and Excellence Program research, to this day about 75% of whites and Asians demonstrated an implicit bias in favor of whites compared to Blacks. A 15 page-study research on health care disparities provided results suggesting that implicit bias against Black, Hispanic/Latino/Latina and dark-skinned individuals is present among many health care providers of different specialties, levels of training and levels of experience. A Cornell Law review has found that black defendants fare worse in court than their white counterparts. These cases aren’t blatant and in your face; they are subtle and unacknowledged without deeper thought. At fault is our brain.
A cognitive process takes place where the brain decides if the person is an in-group or an out-group. Out-groups (“bad”) are seen as unaffiliated groups that provide discomfort and danger — which our brains mostly associate with people of color. In-groups (“good”) are usually considered people of the same race or similar to oneself that provides a sense of identity — however, even in cases of fully identified Black men are seen to consider other Black men as out-groups. This does not mean explicitly a show of discrimination is given by the people to their out-groups; instead, it concludes that their first impression is primed by the brain to follow stereotypes subconsciously.
The Implicit Attitude Test designed by Harvard shows how much implicit bias a person has. I recommend everyone reading to take it. Further understanding what motivates racism, and how we can therefore prevent it, may make our society a better and safer place for all of its members.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.