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When Racism Motivates Violence - Politics - Nairaland

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When Racism Motivates Violence by softvio(m): 5:22pm On Jun 22, 2015
I do not see how we will ever solve the turbulent problem of race confronting our nation until there is an honest confrontation with it and a willing search for the truth and a willingness to admit the truth when we discover it.”

-- Martin Luther King Jr., “The Other America,” 1968


Earlier this year, I wrote an article for Aeon magazine called "Running Amok: The Crisis and Opportunity of Mass Shootings in America," (link is external) followed by a short referential blogpost here at Psych Unseen: "Mass Shootings in America: Crisis and Opportunity." In a sentence, these could be summarized by saying that the usual culprits brought forth to explain mass shootings, like guns and mental illness, should be viewed skeptically and that the underlying roots of such behavior are more deeply ingrained within human instinct and behavior.

Just a few months have passed and all too soon we have another mass shooting. We're saddened, horrified, and outraged by the events that occurred at a church in Charleston, South Carolina earlier this week, if maybe just a little bit more inured to it all. But the lesson in the seeming frequency of mass murder and my claim that such events cannot be explained away by mental illness (a claim similarly made the other day in this article from Slate magazine ), isn't that we should become desensitized to violence or accept it, with nothing to be done to prevent future acts. On the contrary, if we begin with the premise that mass murder isn't typically perpetrated by some inexplicable "other" that can be swept under the rug of insanity, we can come to see how the seeds of hate and murder lie within us all and within the fabric of our society. Once we come to that realization, we can assume a responsibility that we can and must all do our parts to curb violence.

This week's tragedy seems to offer a kind of case in point, with an opportunity to learn how we might move forward. Let's start with my standard Goldwater Rule disclaimer (see this past blogpost for my explanation of this ethical guideline for psychiatrists) — professionally speaking, I don't know anything about the suspect arrested for the Charleston shootings. Sure, we've all heard a bit of rumor, but in the fog of mass murder, we really don't know much. One article describes the alleged shooter as “quiet and strange,” as if that's telling. Another piece posted shortly after the suspect's arrest provides a very short list of "everything" we know about him thus far (link is external), claiming that the alleged shooter is a "pill-popping racist." Finally, in the midst of polemics about whether racism was to blame, this New York Times suggests that, yes, yes it was

And so, while we still don't know enough, the available evidence presented through the (often unreliable) media suggests that the shooting was indeed racially motivated — an unfortunately classic example of a "hate crime," in this case targeting African Americans. Along a backdrop of cases highlighting the potential mistreatment of African Americans by police over the past year, it would seem that racism is the topic of the hour. And, as Martin Luther King Jr. said back in 1968 (see the quotation above), it’s something that needs to be talked about honestly, with a willingness to accept the truth.

So let’s talk about racism. Many of us prefer to think that racism isn’t that big of a deal anymore, with this kind of denial coming in two flavors. One says that we’ve come a long way from the days of slavery and segregation, with a black president and whites potentially destined for minority status. Another concedes that racism may still be a problem within certain people or certain pockets of America, but not among those of us who sat watching 12 Years a Slave (link is external) in horror and moral outrage. But the truth is that, psychologically speaking, racism is a reality and, as a reflection of evolution-driven tribalism, it’s in our DNA.

In the psychological literature, one aspect of racism is studied within a construct called “implicit bias.” As explained by the National Center for State Courts, “unlike explicit bias (which reflects the attitudes or beliefs that one endorses at a conscious level), implicit bias is the bias in judgment and/or behavior that results from subtle cognitive processes (e.g., implicit attitudes and implicit stereotypes) that often operate at a level below conscious awareness and without intentional control.” (link is external) In other words, as was the conclusion of a 2002 paper called “Why Can’t We Just Get Along? Interpersonal Biases and Interracial Distrust,” it appears that racism is often “subtle, often unintentional, and unconscious.”1

Now, before you affirm to yourself where you stand on how pervasive implicit biases about race are, click through to the Harvard University’s Project Implicit website (link is external), and take the Implicit Association Test (IAT) labeled “Race IAT.” Then, while you’re at it, try the Skin-Tone IAT, the Presidents IAT, the Weapons IAT, the Arab-Muslim IAT, the Sexuality IAT, the Weight IAT, or any of the others. Needless to say, the results may surprise you. I took several of the tests recently and let's just say that some of the results made me more than a little uncomfortable. And even if you’re African American yourself (or belong to another group against which people hold implicit biases), I suspect that your own test results might be at least as unsettling.

Now, to be clear, the results of the race-related IATs shouldn’t be taken to mean that you are or aren’t a racist.2 Rather, they highlight how implicit biases about race are ingrained in our both culture and our individual minds, regardless of our own identities or socio-political views (for a characteristically eloquent but entertaining illustration of this reality, see Muhammed Ali’s classic BBC interview from back in 1971 (link is external)). In that sense, racism is undeniable.

Once we acknowledge the prevalence of implicit biases about race, we can start to think about ways to change for the better. How do we do that? Several findings from research with the IAT offer some possibilities. On the discouraging side, a recent study suggests that the very act of taking the IAT make actually reduce positive interracial interactions,3 at least in the short-term, laboratory setting where “priming effects” may not be translatable to the real world. Likewise, holding the belief that race biases are fixed and unchangeable seems to be associated with overcompensation and efforts to end interracial interactions as soon as possible.4 On a more positive note however, believing that race biases are malleable seems to foster better interracial interactions. Finally — and this should come as no surprise — people who have interethnic friends tend to have less implicit race biases as measured by the IAT.5

Which brings us back to mass shootings and what we can do to prevent them. To begin with, we have to understand that there is no one single cause of mass murder. While I often argue that mental illness is a convenient, but inaccurate explanation, sometimes people with serious mental illness do commit murder. Just so, not all mass shootings are motivated by racism, though some certainly have been — the 2011 Norway attacks (link is external) and the 1999 Los Angeles Jewish Community Center shootings (link is external) (a case for which I interviewed the perpetrator, while assisting with his psychiatric evaluation) readily come to mind.

If there is a common unifying thread to mass shootings, it's that they're carried out by people — mostly men — without well-defined mental illness who take certain beliefs to an extreme and carry out their aggressions on some perceived “others.” Such beliefs, which are often socio-political or religious in nature, are the kinds of beliefs and biases that we all harbor to some degree, just as we all tend to engage in divisions of “us” and “them.” As the IAT demonstrates, racism is a prime example of the kind of seed of violence that spans a continuum from all of us to the mass murderer at other end of the spectrum.

Accepting the premise that the roots of violence lie within us all doesn’t mean that we’re all closet murderers — for the vast majority of us, taking another human life is a bright line that we wouldn’t cross in most circumstances. But it does mean that typical motives for mass murder and the emotions they’re grounded in — aggression, hate, and revenge directed at an “other” — represent “you or me… amplified.”6

Taking a page from IAT research, it’s important to think of these motives — even if they are “normal” to some degree — as modifiable. It's vital to not let ourselves become inured to violence no matter its frequency. Nor, for that matter, should we allow our racial biases to write some violence off as status quo, as we're prone to do with the alarming rates of murder among black youth living in certain pockets of urban America, like Chicago

Then, just as perpetrators of mass violence inevitably target those that are viewed as “others,” we must not fall into the easy trap of painting the mass shooter, or the person on the path towards such violence, in the same way, as something that lies so far outside of ourselves that we can dismiss it as "evil" or "insanity." The roots of mass murder are much more integral and insidious than that, like cancer that's born within our own bodies of cells gone awry.

In a multicultural society, we need to engage in more multicultural interaction. We need to make more friends with people who aren’t like us and encourage discussions of opposing views that don't quickly descend into hateful bickering, like they often do in online commentaries. By doing so, we can all do our part to work on our implicit biases about those that we might view with fear, misunderstanding, and aggression, in order to foster a more peaceful society. By commiting to that within a culture, perhaps we can in turn temper the rageful passions of those few outliers who pursue a more violent path.

culled from :https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/psych-unseen/201506/when-racism-motivates-violence

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Re: When Racism Motivates Violence by Crieff(m): 6:30pm On Jun 22, 2015
I also read an interesting article on race rivalry. How I wish people can and will engage in in constructive discussion and conversation on tribalism as Nigeria is concerned.

This is the article.
Re: When Racism Motivates Violence by Crieff(m): 6:32pm On Jun 22, 2015

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