Happiness Blog

Breaking Through Racism: Seeing the person beyond the label

by | General

We are hard-wired to be racists— neuroimaging studies show that in the first few milliseconds before it even reaches conscious awareness, everyone notices race. Humans are relentless categorizers—native/immigrant, white/black, straight/gay, good/bad, friend/foe. When people detect someone from a different category, their brains instantly go into high-alert. Prejudice and discrimination root in these one-dimensional categories and knee jerk reactions.

How then, can we grow to judge others based on the content of their characters, instead of the color of their skin? How do we diminish racial tension and shake stereotypes of blacks, immigrants, women and gays?

Stereotypes diminish when people consider another’s intentions, beliefs, and preferences—when we look under the headscarf of the Muslim man, we might discover he’s closer to a hard working, well intentioned guy with a nice family than to a one-dimensional bogeyman.

One study asked people one question about a previously stereotyped man: Do you think this man likes carrots? This undid the stereotype. Considering vegetable preferences transformed the one-dimensional stranger into full human being. Robust evidence shows that considering another’s intentions, beliefs, and preferences diminishes stereotypes.

Bring to mind someone you have some conflict with or don’t like very much. In your mind’s eye see them and consider:

  • This person has friends, family and perhaps children…Just like me.
  • This person has insecurities, vulnerabilities and self-doubts… Just like me.
  • This person has fear and sadness…Just like me.
  • This person has felt rejected and lonely…Just like me.
  • This person wishes to feel love… Just like me.
  • This person will someday die…Just like me.
  • This person wishes to feel peace, joy and happiness… Just like me.
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