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Hercules Killing the Lernean Hydra, Cornelis Cort [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Multi-headed Hydra of Prejudice

A friend of mine, a lifelong Democrat, lives in a retirement home in one of the most liberal cities in California. One day at lunch he decided to sit at a table of residents he didn’t know. He soon realized that they were all Trump voters, enthusiastically expressing their pleasure with the election. “Finally, we won’t have to look at that nigger in the White House any more,” said one woman. My friend was stunned. “Look,” he said, “it’s OK for us to have political disagreements, but I’m deeply uncomfortable with your using that ugly word.” “Too bad,” she said. “We can say whatever we really feel now. To hell with your political correctness.”

I’ve long been annoyed by, and written critically about, the language police on many college campuses, where well-intentioned efforts to ban “offensive” words and deeds frequently lurches into preposterous and sometimes funny extremes. In the prologue to the latest edition of his best-selling sex-information book, The Guide to Getting It On, Paul Joannides writes:

I’ve given up trying to please people who insist that every word of every sentence must not offend a single person on the entire planet. I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say “a woman’s clitoris” because it might offend people who are transgender. So instead of using words like “woman” or “man,” I’m supposed to say “a person with a clitoris and vagina” or “a person with a penis.”1

So let’s stipulate that none of us likes being told we can’t say what we think, and that we shouldn’t think what we feel. But the kind of political correctness that Joannides laments at least has the benefit of trying to make people aware of the uses and consequences of language, as adding “or she” did to the former norm of using the generic universal male to encompass women. It pales next to what the Trump voter meant by the phrase. For her, and others like her, being “politically correct” means that somehow they have been forced to suppress their racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic feelings. (Suppressed? Have they never been online?)

As studies from social, cognitive, and evolutionary psychology demonstrate, prejudice is a Hydra: cut off one of its nine heads, and another emerges.

Across the country, those feelings are erupting like mushrooms after rain. African-American freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania were spammed with threats about lynching black people. Vandals in upstate New York painted swastikas on a building with the scrawl “Make America White Again.” The lid is off the cauldron, revealing how much rage and prejudice had been bubbling below. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, given the racism that Barack Obama’s presidency released, starting with the birther movement that questioned his very legitimacy. Marilyn Davenport, a member of the Orange County Republican Party Central Committee, sent out an email depicting Obama and his parents as chimpanzees, and was surprised by the outcry. “Oh, come on! Everybody who knows me knows that I am not a racist,” she said by way of apology. “It was a joke. I have friends who are black.” (Or did.) I guess her having to apologize is the kind of political correctness her supporters object to.

This election vividly reminded me of a classic study in social psychology, conducted in the early 1980s when many Americans were optimistic about the gains of the civil-rights movement. In a study that student subjects were led to believe was about biofeedback, Ronald Rogers and Steven Prentice-Dunn asked white students to administer an electric shock to either African-American or white confederates of the experimenter. (They weren’t actually shocked.) In the experimental condition, participants overheard the biofeedback “victim” saying derogatory things about them. In the control condition, participants overheard no such nasty remarks. Then all the participants had another opportunity to shock the victims; their degree of aggression was defined as the amount of shock they administered. At the beginning, white students showed less aggression toward blacks than toward whites. But as soon as the white students were angered by overhearing derogatory remarks about themselves, they showed more aggression toward blacks than toward whites.2 The findings were subsequently replicated in studies of how English-speaking Canadians behave toward French-speaking Canadians, straights toward gays, non-Jewish students toward Jews, and men toward women. In all of these conditions, members of the majority were willing to control their negative feelings toward the minority at first. But as soon as they became angry or got a jolt to their self-esteem, their unexpressed prejudice revealed itself—aggressively.

An equally powerful predictor of the eruption of prejudice is economic: competition, real or perceived, for jobs and security. When two groups are worried about their livelihoods, prejudice between them increases—and prejudice in turn justifies anything each side says or does to diminish or dehumanize the other. My friend and colleague Elliot Aronson tells this story in his classic social- psychology text, The Social Animal, describing how white attitudes toward Chinese immigrants in the United States fluctuated during the 19th century. When the Chinese were working in the gold mines and potentially taking jobs from white laborers, the white-run newspapers described them as depraved, vicious, and bloodthirsty. Just a decade later, when the Chinese began working on the transcontinental railroad, doing difficult and dangerous jobs that few white men wanted, prejudice against them declined. Whites described them as hardworking, industrious, and lawabiding. Then, after the railroad was finished and the Chinese had to compete with Civil War veterans for scarce jobs, white attitudes changed again. Whites now thought the Chinese were “criminal,” “crafty,” “conniving,” and “stupid.”3

Notice any relevance to the 2016 election? Today’s Chinese are Mexican, particularly the migrant workers whose labor is needed but who are perceived as costing Americans their jobs. Starting in the late 2000s, as the American economy worsened, violence against Latinos rose more than 40 percent, and Mexicans became the main focus of white anger about illegal immigration.

Censoring prejudiced language doesn’t touch the prejudice, any more than cutting the tops off weeds causes them to die.

As studies from social, cognitive, and evolutionary psychology demonstrate, prejudice is a Hydra: cut off one of its nine heads, and another emerges. Prejudice subsides in good times; in bad times it reemerges, with new targets. It survives because it accomplishes so many things for the people who embrace it. It wards off feelings of doubt, fear, and insecurity. It allows people to create scapegoats on whom they can displace anger and cope with feelings of powerlessness. It binds people to their own cultural, ethnic, or national group and its ways; by disliking “them,” we feel closer to “us.” It justifies a group’s dominance, status, or greater wealth: across the globe, wherever a majority group systematically discriminates against a minority to preserve its power—whether the majority is white, black, Muslim, Hindu, Japanese, Chinese, Hutu, Christian, or Jewish—they will claim that their actions are legitimate because the minority is so obviously inferior, stupid, and dangerous. Finally, prejudice is the ultimate tonic for low self-esteem: No matter how bad off I am, those people are inferior. As the historian Ian Buruma recently observed, the election of Obama was a shock to those “white Americans, [who,] however impoverished and undereducated, had the comforting sense that there was always a group beneath them, who did not share their entitlement, or claim to greatness, a class of people with a darker skin. With a Harvard-educated black president, this fiction became increasingly difficult to sustain.”4

Anyone who wants to understand prejudice, therefore, has a daunting task. Not only do we have to peel apart the functions a prejudice has for any given individual or group; we also have to distinguish explicit attitudes (such as the unapologetic racism and anti-Semitism of white supremacists) from unconscious ones (the “implicit bias” that many people hold in associating a group with various negative traits); active hostility toward another group from simple unfamiliarity and thus discomfort with that group; what people say from what they feel; and what people feel from how they behave. Did the woman at the lunch table insult Obama in order to momentarily feel superior? To let her friends know she’s one of them? Or to ventilate anger that her white middle-aged husband is out of work, drinking too much, and suicidal, and how come the country is paying more attention to “them” than to him?

Skeptic 22.1 (cover)

This article appeared in Skeptic magazine 22.1 (2017).
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I don’t care about her reasons on a personal level, which is why I commend what my friend did at that lunch. He didn’t shout, or call the woman a racist, or storm away from the table; he raised a clear but civil objection, knowing that otherwise his silence would convey approval. But I do care about her reasons on a societal level, for that affects our thinking about what it will take to find true antidotes for the prejudices that are revealed in ugly language. Censoring that language doesn’t touch the prejudice, any more than cutting the tops off weeds causes them to die. One powerful antidote is, simply, making connections. We all feel better in “safe spaces,” hanging out with others who think as we do and share our experiences, but one of the factors most strongly related to the reduction of prejudice is contact with those who are different from us. Remarkably, contact actually works best for the most intolerant and rigid people, apparently because it reduces their feelings of threat and anxiety and increases feelings of empathy and trust.5

As we go forward into the known and unknown brambles of Trumpland, we will face many personal decisions: speak up or shut up? Shout down the opposition or try to hear them? Retreat to safe spaces or seek common ground? END

About the Author

Dr. Carol Tavris is a social psychologist and coauthor, with Elliot Aronson, of Mistakes Were Made (but not by me). She writes “The Gadfly” column quarterly in Skeptic magazine.

References
  1. Paul Joannides. 2017. The Guide to Getting It On, 9th edition. Goofy Foot Press.
  2. Rogers, Ronald W., & Prentice-Dunn, Steven. 1981. “Deindividuation and Anger-mediated Interracial Aggression: Unmasking regressive racism.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 41, 63–73.
  3. Aronson, Elliot. 2012. The Social Animal, 11th ed. New York: Worth.
  4. Buruma, Ian. 2016 (November 29). “The End of the Anglo-American Order.” New York Times Magazine.
  5. Hodson, Gordon. 2011. “Do Ideologically Intolerant People Benefit from Intergroup Contact?” Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 20, 154–159.

68 Comments

  1. bruce says:

    “It shouldn’t have been a surprise, given the racism that Barack Obama’s presidency released, starting with the birther movement that questioned his very legitimacy”

    Why is questioning the legitimacy of a potential president based on doubts about place of birth racist? It may or may not be based on the questioner’s racism but it isn’t inherently racist to ask. But this kind of doubt is suppressed by dismissing it offhand as mere racism. It seemed pretty clear that Obama supporters wanted the issue to just go away. Using the race card to do so is akin to using the anti-Semite or Nazi epithet against ideas you disagree with. Much as doubters of climate change hysteria are labelled and dismissed as climate change deniers. And unlike climate change, questions about birth place are not settled science. Both groups may be wrong in their thinking but dismissing them by calling them names like birthers and deniers is similar to dismissing black people as niggers.

    • Patrick says:

      Questioning the legitimacy of the president based on doubts about his place of birth is indeed inherently racist because the issue was completely made up to appeal to racists.

    • Robin Collins says:

      Bruce, In this particular case it was pretty obviously based on racism (there was a correlation between his skin colour and the need to investigate — the motives were suspect); but no it is not inherently the case that asking about a candidate’s birthplace is always a racist inquiry.

    • Benny says:

      “Using the race card to do so is akin to using the anti-Semite or Nazi epithet against ideas you disagree with.” Bruce, you are correct. When people can’t use facts to support their position, they use ad-hominem attacks.

    • DoctorAtlantis says:

      Why was the president’s place of birth *NOT* an issue when the candidate was white male John McCain, who most certainly was not born within the 50 states? And when we had plenty of evidence that Obama was?

      • Kirk says:

        DoctorAtlantis, I beg to differ with you regarding John McCain because I remember that there was a great deal of controversy regarding his birthplace as a qualifier for his candidacy and the controversy was resolved in his case based upon the “natural born citizen” clause. There was eye-witness testimony from Obama’s grandmother who witnessed his birth that she said he was NOT born in the United States, and thus was not a “natural born citizen”.

    • Majorityofone says:

      It’s racist AF. Where was Mitt Romney born? Somalia? Kenya? Where was John Kerry born? The black man isn’t qualified to be president but NOT because he’s black, lawds no! He’s not an AMERICAN!

      ted Cruz wasn’t born in the US but that was A-ok wasn’t it?

      • Kirk says:

        No, Ted Cruz is NOT eligible to be President because he is not a “natural born citizen”, so he was not, and is not “A-ok”.

        • Tom says:

          Ted Cruz was born to an American mother, therefor the place of his birth is immaterial. Barak Obama was born to an American mother, therefor the place of his birth is immaterial. This is fairly well settled law. However, I would like to point out that it is possible to object to Barak Obama for other reasons than his race. I detest his views on the economy, social justice and his view of America as being less virtuous than other nations. I vote against him based on his policies and I would have voted for Colin Powell if he had run as Republican or Libertarian.

  2. Benny says:

    This article smacks of some prejudice on the part of the author. I wonder if her conclusions could pass a logic test. This is another hit piece on Trump which attempts to blame him for anything and everything that a voter says or does. Consider me a skeptic on this article!

  3. Robin Collins says:

    Where did the birther movement start? http://www.politico.com/story/2016/09/birther-movement-founder-trump-clinton-228304

    “In fact, birtherism, as it’s been called, reportedly began with innuendo by serial Illinois political candidate Andy Martin, who painted Obama as a closet Muslim in 2004. That spiraled into a concerted effort by conspiracy theorists to raise doubts about Obama’s birthplace and religion — and essentially paint him as un-American.”

    • Raf says:

      Bruce seems to be having difficulty differentiating between descriptive words like “birthers” and “deniers” from derogatory ones like “niggers”. Furthermore, the article was about racism; calling a person a denier or birther is not racist.

  4. Bad Boy Scientist says:

    Thank you for this illuminating article. It did not ‘froth at the mouth’ as so many articles on this topic seem to do nowadays. I realize that it is another prejudice to think that an author who writes calmly and unemotionally is more trustworthy than one who inserts insults, ad-hominem attacks and ‘sly’ put-downs.

    Also, it seems to support my position (admittedly, I am a lay-person when it comes to this – my expertise is in Astronomy and Astronomy education and not sociology & psychology). I have long felt that racism is not a permanent state of being – it’s false to say Joe is a racist, always has been a racist and always will be a racist. Everyone (You, me and Joe) has the potential of racism within and it’s largely environmental factors that bring out that potential or not.

    Although I may be wrong about that, it is comforting to think that by changing the environment, we may be able to reduce the hate, anger and fear that is running rampant in this country. Simply changing people’s perspective of the ‘other side’ could go a long way to reducing the hate, anger and fear.

    One last thing – when I read the line “Today’s Chinese are Mexican” I thought that may be true for blue collar jobs but in Silicon Valley, today’s Chinese are H1B visa-holders. Cynical people suspect that issuing so many H1B visas isn’t about finding employees with rare skills (the program’s stated purpose) as much as flooding the market with cheap tech labor to keep salaries down.

  5. Steve says:

    “Finally, we won’t have to look at that nigger in the White House any more,” — I imagine that it rather difficult to find Republicans that speak like this and if one did they most certainly would be atypical.

    • Majorityofone says:

      I’ve heard that sentiment expressed by republican relatives who add a little more flourishes to the insult but to be honest, they’ve felt comfortable saying nigger since the 60s.

      I’m to the point where my response would be, ok no more political correctness then. I’ll start calling you what you are– a complete cunt. (BTW I’m female and HATE that word but it’s the only word that matches the level of disgust I feel)

    • 123elle says:

      Think of it this way — of people who use that word and make statements like that lady in the retirement home, what percentage of them vote Republican? I’d wager close to 100.

  6. Kirk says:

    The birther issue was a legitimate issue at the time and it was separate from racism. There had been alleged eye-witness testimony that Obama had been born elsewhere than Hawaii, which I have not seen adequately refuted to date. And I personally am not able to consider Obama a true Negro because his mother was a Caucasian, which used to be called Mulatto. Many people would label me a racist for stating this, but I am merely being literal about the use of definitions. That is why I continue to reject the censorship of political correctness when I express myself in any context or social environment.

    • Larry says:

      WOW!

      So why don’t all presidential candidates release their birth certificates to prove they were actually born where they say they were. That never happened before Obama. So, while the question, standing alone, is racially neutral, why was it asked?

      You say there were sightings of Obama being born outside the US? Really? Those folks must be confused because Hawaii is a United States state. Inducted in 1959. Obama was born in 1961. That would make him an American Citizen.

      And by the way, his mother was an American Citizen – unless you question that fact as well. (Note: she died in 1995 in all places Honolulu, Hawaii, one of the 50 US states where, wait for it — Barack Obama was born!) So, that would make Barack Obama an American Citizen by rule of law. Just like Mr. John McCain who was not born in the US, but in a US territory (a territory is NOT a state by the way) to an American mother. Is he an American citizen? And don’t get me started on Ted Cruz. He was born in Canada and had dual citizenship until he decided to run for president. Is he an American? Inquiring minds want to know.

      So, do you get it? Hawaii is a United States State where Obama was born and has an American citizen for a mother. McCain was born outside the US. Cruz was born outside the US.

      BUT, the only one questioned was a black lookin’ guy named Barack Obama – who was actually born in the US of A. There would be no need to question his birthplace would there unless ….

      BTW, your reference to mulatto – From Wiki – “Mulatto was used as an official census racial category in the United States until 1930.”

      1930 dude. That’s coming up on a term being dead 100 years.

      Also from Wiki – “In the early 20th century, several southern states had adopted the one-drop rule as law, and southern Congressmen pressed the US Census Bureau to drop the mulatto category: they wanted all persons to be classified as “black” or “white”.”

      The one drop rule – that’s so them god ol’ boys could segregate without getting to complicated. He looks black, but what if he has some white in him? Can we let him drink out of the whites only water fountain?? Nope. One drop -you get the black only drinking fountain. Oh! BTW, the 1930 were also a time when the Southern States we’re erecting statues to the great General Lee. Pay your respects boy, cause you know where you stand Nigger.

      Yup, birthers were just asking innocent questions about a black man running for the Presidency.

      • 123elle says:

        Thank you, Larry. It seems this article has turned over the log on a number of birthers (it’s risible that they don’t like “that word”). The whole birther campaign was a thinly disguised and unabashed racist dog whistle fueled by Trump. He recognized an opportunity, however odious, to aggregate potential voters and took it. Birthers don’t like being called out as racists because of course they are only interested in establishing Obama’s citizenship for the highest-minded reasons (eye roll).

        As to the N-word, discouraging its use through social pressure is important. It reinforces avoidance of the ugliest term of bigotry to define and cruelly disparage people. People speak courteously out of respect and empathy. For those whose race hate is so powerful that they absolutely must use that word, let them be exposed for what they are and suffer the consequences.

        I would have challenged that unabashed hater in the retirement home with some unkind comments of my own to help her realize that using hateful language is not passed off with a chuckle. She’d think twice before using it again in my presence.

      • aqk says:

        Larry –
        Kudos. But you forget to mention “Mezisto, “Quadroon”, “Octaroon”, and for all I know, a “Hexadecaroon”. This one uses base-16 arithmetic. :-)

        See my reply elsewhere here regarding census forms.

      • Kirk says:

        No, Larry, you neglected to include the detail that Obama’s grandmother was present at his birth and she testified that the location was not Hawaii (in fact was not in any of the United States or its Territories). Therefore, he was not a “natural born citizen”, which is a qualification for President (Article II, Section 1, U.S. Constitution)

    • aqk says:

      “…alleged eye-witness testimony…” – lol.

      But Kirk- I too often laugh at the US’s.. excuse me, “AMERICA’S” white-black bipolar fascination.
      In America, you are either WHITE, or you’re coloured. But how coloured?
      America should hire some of those old South African Apartheid “judges” who were always trying to pigeon-hole a guy into one of 17 “races” if he wasn’t perfectly “white”.
      I remember one of the neatest (and funniest) remarks by Obama when his family was about to acquire a dog. Undecided as to which race, uh, breed of dog to get, he remarked something to the effect that “maybe we’ll just get a mutt like me”. Sadly, they didn’t.

    • Lallie Hayes says:

      And how, pray, would you assess a “true Negro”? Would that be like a “true-breeding” dachshund or one of Mendel’s pea plants? Perhaps you should do some reading in basic genetics (the science-based kind).

    • Ronable says:

      I have always wondered how the ‘birther’ issue COULD actually be legitimate, given that Obama’s mother was a US citizen, and that makes him a natural born US citizen no matter where he was born. To me it is clear that the entire issue was totally unfounded and clearly based in race since the only place other than Hawaii he was suspected of having been born was Kenya.

  7. Bob Pease says:

    “Today’s Chinese are Mexican” In reply to Bad Boy

    I think this means the Mexicans of today occupy the role that the Chinese
    did in the past.

    i looks to me that you have read it to mean that Chinese today occupy
    the role of Mexicans in the past , and have demonstrated this to be false

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      Actually, I read it the same way you did. Perhaps I did not articulate my point well (because, Bob, you almost always understand my points when I explain them adequately).

      My point was that in today’s Tech Sector, there is a growing sentiment toward H1B visa-holders (Chinese, Indian and others) that echoes the sentiment toward Chinese laborers a century or so ago: these folks are coming into our country and taking our jobs and driving down wages. Alas, that resentment is misplaced.

      Then – as now – immigrants were brought here to EXPLOIT them which lead to driving down wages. Any anger should be directed to those who exploit immigrants (and thus harm the general workforce), rather than at the immigrants themselves.

  8. Bob Pease says:

    “Today’s Chinese are Mexican”

    I think this means the Mexicans of today occupy the role that the Chinese
    did in the past.

    i looks to me that you have read it to mean that Chinese today occupy
    the role of Mexicans in the past , and have demonstrated this to be false

  9. Raf says:

    Kirk, any attempt to classify a person as anything other than human is inherently a racist move.

    • Bob Pease says:

      In “Little Big Man ” movie, Indians were referred to by themselves as ” human beings “… and conversely… This seems to be a widespread idea

      e.g (among Lenape /Delaware the name means “real human beings ” with the obvious implication that non- Lenape are not

      Look up “Burkino Faso ” for more of this kinda stuff.

  10. Thomas E Lull says:

    I believe it was Joseph Goebbels who said something to the effect, “Give me the children from ages 5 to 10 and I’ll have them for life”.
    The majority of the problems stated in this article have been learned at their parents knee.

  11. Traruh Synred says:

    In the 60s the late Dick Gregory was engaged in destroying the word ‘nigger’, but he failed.

    As it is it’s become so taboo that you can’t even say something like

    Mark Fuhrman called OJ a nigger. You have to substitue n-word which seems silly and does not get across what an asshole Fuhrman is.

    The taboo gives the word more power than it should have.

    There’s nothing wrong with telling people what Fuhrman actually said.

    There’s nothing wrong with saying “You should never call anybody nigger”

    But it is wrong to call somebody a nigger. You should not use the word, but it should be ok to say it even on TV. Cutting it off just makes more heads of the hydra grow.

    I hardly ever use the word ‘fuck’; I don’t want to dilute its power.

    -Traruh

  12. Dr. Bill says:

    I “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.” This was originally attributed to Aristotle and was adopted by Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. That’s not to say Goebbels didn’t bogart it for his own uses.

  13. aqk says:

    Is Joseph Conrad’s classic “Enward of the Narcissus” still available in American libraries?
    At least, I think this is what it’s called…
    Of course, in the rest of the world it has a different title.

  14. Tzindaro says:

    In filling out a government form, I once wrote in the space marked “race” the word, “human”. The bureaucrat who examined the completed form looked at me, then erased the word “human” and wrote in something else. I did not see what he wrote in place of my self-description. I have always wondered what he thought I was.

    • 123elle says:

      May have written just “declines to identify.” I’m unpleasantly surprised to see “race” in job applications, since our race is indeed the human race. If it’s “merely” for statistical purposes, then why not add age, height, weight, and eye color — to deepen the statistical information?

      • Marc Schneider says:

        No offense and I am sure you mean well, but it’s a bit disingenous to pretend that all we need to do to make the world a better place is pretend race doesn’t exist. The fact is, that’s not the way the world works; we divide ourselves into various groups or are divided by others. One of those ways is by race. It’s not a color-blind society and saying that your race is “human” just dismisses the actual racial problems that actuall exist.

        At the same time, I do think there is often an emphasis on race as an all-encompassing explanation of everything that happens in society. Whether you are a racist or not depends, to some extent, on how you define racism. If it’s simply a matter of thinking one race is superior to another, most people would consider themselves not racist. Today, however, most on the left would consider racism to cover a much broader spectrum of ideas. So, someone who opposes affirmative action is inherently racist because he or she ignores the existing racial hierarchy. I think this is why saying someone is or is not a racist is not a simple matter; other than avowed racists, it is often a matter of interpretation.

    • aqk says:

      Tzindaro –
      Back in the ’70s, I worked the data processing dept of a large Montreal Hospital. I was once asked to update our patient data base system with the “lastest, modern” package supplied by the US,… excuse me “American” office of IBM.
      Perusing some of the fields, “name” “sex” etc, I came across the field “race”.
      There were three choices for this field: “WHITE”, “BLACK” and “YELLOW”. Click one.
      I had never seen a form such as this in Canada before. I often wonder how the end user admissions clerk handled it…

      Incidentally, the latest Canadian Census form of two years ago that everyone in Canada was REQUIRED to fill out, now has a field “Ethnic Origin” (I think) and there are about 11 choices to choose from. All of them are optional.

  15. Ned Coates says:

    Consider the case of the R-word in connection with the Washington NFL team. Most people who use the team’s mascot name mean no disrespect to American Indians; yet to others it is equivalent to the N-word since in some historical contexts the R-word referred to scalps, penises, and vaginal labia which were offered as proof by bounty hunters of a kill, more payment forthcoming for adult males, less for women and children.
    So, if we are kind and sensitive, we should be aware of how some folks react to these N- and R-words and their correspondents and avoid them altogether. One football annual refers to the Washington team only as Washington, as do some commentators. Praise to them.

    • Lallie Hayes says:

      Good points. If one refrains from using them altogether, the chances of being pounced by one side or the other are reduced.

  16. Bob Pease says:

    “Redskins” is in context with the moral tone of football.
    At Regis High School in Denver we were called the Regis Red Raiders
    The name was changed to Raiders and Indian logo’s ( correct spelling )
    removed .
    Football is just a step below Rollerball and should be abolished in any public venue,

    As an admitted example of “Liberal Guilt” , i still remember when I
    mowed down a 50 lb child and could have hospitalized or Killed him.
    I was sidelined for a few minutes but felt no guilt .

    Since then, things have gotten worse with Child Buggery as an accepted norm in many high school teams

    I could not have kept a High School job if I had talked this way
    .I think Cricket is a pretty good sport

  17. Sheik says:

    Raf, right on! The very concept of race (other than human) is racist.

  18. Wayne says:

    When everyone is a racist, then no one is a racist. Think about it!
    What about Free Speech, Constitution?

    When the N-word is racist, when the R-word is hateful, then it is only a matter of time until A-Z-words become racist.
    And who gets to decide what is racist of hateful, Black Lives Matter, Antifa, College professors, Actors, Actresses?
    When a word offends us just make it hateful or racist.
    When someone disagrees with us just shut them down as racist.

    Here are two beautiful and soothing (for the present) words: Free speech. And another: Constitution.

  19. Barbara Harwood says:

    I find the idea of ethnicity to be very hard to deal with. We were told on our census papers to state what you feel like. Those of us who are of mixed ancestry find it hard to pick one part of it. I simply put American. As I live in New Zealand, there seem to be very few choices other than European, Asian, African, Maori, of belonging to a particular island. They also seem to accept a specific European country, but I could not limit myself to just one. European might seem like the best choice, but some of my other ancestry would not be covered.
    eople who claim to be white might consider themselves insulted if called “Honkies”. Reverse racism works, too. It may be good to remember that all people came from Africa.

  20. Marc Schneider says:

    Unfortunately, what has happened today is that the insistence of anti-racists of suppressing anything that smacks of what they consider racism has empowered the true racists to use offensive language in the guise of being anti-PC. Anti-racism has become a fetish in itself where anti-racists look for racism in the most innocuous things written or spoken by people who are clearly not racist. Obviously, there are racists regardless of what anti-racists do, but in trying to eradicate any vestige, no matter how trivial, of perceived racism, the anti-racists have created “anti-racism fatigue”, where people simply tire of being told what they can say. IMO, this phenomenon is not limited to race; it’s basically de rigeur these days to have to search for the politically appropriate term to use for any group. And, since the proper labels often change, it’s almost impossible to stay current. The effect of this, I think, is to stifle real discussion of important issues; you simply cannot express a contrary position on anything that infringes on something related to race, gender, disability, etc, etc. So, there is no discussion; as the author notes, however, this doesn’t eliminate the offensive attitude (if it is offensive); it merely pushes it underground where it often becomes radicalized.

  21. Kevin Dwyer says:

    Just in case anyone thinks that the USA is the only place where the places of birth of politicians is a cause for mass hysteria, please read this to see that the disorder is just as prevalent in Australia.

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/letters/theres-too-much-pointscoring-over-citizenship-row/news-story/13ffa9d3cb2bb822fdef6d928032cf63

    None of it is sexist, homophobic, islamophobic, racist, tintist or antisemitic..

    • Kirk says:

      Thank you for the link, Kevin. I was interested enough to want to read the article you referenced, but when I followed your link, I could not read the article unless I paid for a subscription to The Australian. I was interested in the article, but not THAT interested!

  22. Loren Petrich says:

    The transgender one seems very odd. It seems to me that we have both a somatic gender and a psychological gender, and that in transgender people, they are mismatched. I note that many transgender people go through a lot of trouble to give their bodies an approximation of their psychological gender. So one could forestall objections from some transgender people by saying that one is referring to somatic gender.

  23. Germain says:

    Good and timely article. We need to look at the phenomenon of racism with the distance of science. We can’t defeat what we don’t understand. Most of our human history has been spent in tribes looking over our shoulders at the SOB tribe in the next valley. Overcoming this is not going to be easy.
    An important part of the understanding, not dealt with in this article, will also come from understanding racism from minorities directed at other minorities and the majority. How do black racist attitudes towards Koreans or Latinos for example differ from white racists towards blacks?
    It seems the media in general is afraid to take on this topic. A leader of Black Lives Matter in Canadareferred to Justin Trudeau as a “white supremacist terrorist”. This went largely unmentioned and unchallenged in the press. I consider this the racism of low expectations. If the popular culture/media really considered people as intellectual equals, they would have challenged this as they do any other ludicrous statement by a white leader.

  24. Michael McConkey says:

    I read a long way into the comments and everyone was fixated on Obama’s birth certificate and whether concern about it was racist. Surely, this article had a little more to reflect upon than that.

    So, some other thoughts. Is it far fetched to observe that what she’s describing here is human nature? Yes, in times of danger or threat, we tend to pull together into our in-groups — and will signal our intentions as an insurance policy in the interest of promoting protection from our in-group. And when such dangers or threats are minimized, we’re less attached to in-groups and more open to other opportunities. See for instance the work done on parasite stress theory: the Thornhill and Fincher book provides a thorough introduction. Also, many clinical experiments demonstrate this, for instance the Doug Kenrick and his colleague’s replication of the famous Solomon Asch conformity experiments, in which different groups were primed with either danger or mating stimuli. Unsurprisingly, when primed for mating men wanted to stand out from the crowd, but when primed for danger they wanted to blend into the herd.

    So if what’s she’s describing is human nature, what of that? Obviously I’m not promoting the naturalistic fallacy. Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean you have to consider it moral or ethical. However, the other side the naturalistic fallacy is Orgel’s second rule: “evolution is cleverer than you.” Just because something doesn’t meet with your moral or ethical approval, don’t go getting ideas in your head that human nature should be changed to suit your preferences. We’ve been down that road too many times in the 20th century.

    Science is a wonderful tool for understanding the human world. Presuming that scientific knowledge justifies aspirations of social engineering is quite another thing. How about this: let’s just say the one mechanism we have to avoid many people’s lives getting far worse is the violence-alternative: an open market place of ideas. Whether minds are being changed or steam is simply being let off. Talking is better than killing. So, let’s just all toughen up and let people say what they want — racists included. And for goodness sake let’s stop all the nonsense about words being forms of violence.

    Those are the thoughts that struck me upon reading this. And thanks to the author for her efforts.

  25. Bill says:

    Micheal McConkey

    “…let’s stop all the nonsense about words being forms of violence.”

    I hate to disagree with you as I enjoyed your post very much, but,
    my experiences over my 78 years of existence is contradictory to the above assertion. Words are like daggers, at the very least, and can be terrible weapons when applied mercilessly to others in our pathways, no matter whether the others are white, black or whatever other color is chosen to depict them. We are all capable of violence under the right circumstances. This is the most terrible fact of human beings.

  26. Bob says:

    Not a well reasoned article here. One of the main pieces of factual data it uses flies in the face of its premise. It relates the experiment where whites were less hostile to blacks than other whites in a normal setting, but once subjected to negativity from the blacks, then they were more harsh to them. This is supposed to indicate racism? Helloooo, this indicates historic human nature, nothing more. In fact, it proves that in general, whites aren’t racist in normal everyday life. But, if you provoke them, then you’ll see attitudes change. The exact same scenario would play out if you reversed the scenario, with blacks administering the punishment, or if you swapped in any different races of people into the mix. In fact, this experiment has been perfectly played out in America on a wide scale over the past 9 years. America had much less racial tension before Obama came into office. We had normal society, with some of the best racial harmony on the planet. However, as soon as whites started getting blamed for every conceivable evil in the world, and charged with racism every time they questioned something, then things got worse. How could they not? People don’t like being wrongfully accused of being evil, so in turn, some actually have started behaving in ways they haven’t in the past. They become tired of the accusations and so they lash back. These race wars are being manufactured, by people who want to see this very thing happen, just like in those experiments. Why is it so hard to see this?

  27. R. B. says:

    This article is a perfect example of the very bigotry it claims to oppose.

    Because I’m neither Republican nor Democrat, I have friends of both parties, and find them equally narrow minded.

    I doubt the N word was used as you claim. I think you made that up to promote your hateful agenda, just as the racist graffiti you noted was possibly committed by Democrats looking to demonize Republicans after Trump’s victory.

    In these cases, no proof is offered, just accusation. Skeptic has been caught up in the anti-Trump hysteria, joining in the witch hunts this magazine was founded to oppose.

  28. Claudio Ramirez says:

    At The risk of being labeled “Mexican” or “Hispanic” (or worse), I shall try to give my opinions to everybody.
    First of all, “human” does not describe a race (no matter what you hear everywhere). Human is another name for members of a species, Homo sapiens sapiens. What we call race is biologically a subspecies. If you care to know that chimpanzees and humans differ by less than 1.2%, and there is really less than 0.1% difference between any two humans (see http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/genetics), you would perhaps understand that whether you look black or white is, really, not important.
    So, why all the fuzz? Because evolution (The E word many “white” supremacist don’t believe in) has programmed us to try to conform to the rules of our social groups, BECAUSE IT MENT A SURVIVAL ADVANTAGE. Unconsciously, we try to be liked by the group, and particularly the leader (the alpha male), who can save our butt by helping us against the lion of The Savannah by inducing all the members of the tribe to help up in that endeavour. And when it is our neighbour, we will do the same. Survival advantage, nothing else.
    So, what happens now? You felt threatened by the outsider (judging from the color of his skin) and band against him. The fact that he was born in Hawaii is of no importance (evidence is disregarded when emotions rule). And now that he is out of office all the prejudices surface. The fact that a seemingly “white” man (despite the orange hair) keeps blurting nonsense, at times because he says it on intent and very often because less than three neurons got together, doesn’t help. And the saddest part is that in the process, the United States is coming apart, not just from unimportant comments or ideas, but because of the loss of the principles and moral high attitude that once, perhaps, guided some people (not all, otherwise Isis, Latin America and the world at large would keep looking up to the US (not America, that goes from the Hudson Bay to the Patagonia)).
    Sorry to have said all this, but the light that shined from the United States towards the world has dimmed continuously since Abu Grahbi, perhaps before, and is at risk of going out completely.
    Best wishes, I would like to see some hope but the light is going off.

  29. Tom K says:

    I’ve come to think that racism will never cease to be part of the “human” condition. The object of that racism may change, but I doubt if racism itself will disappear, since it’s rooted, in part, by the fear of the “other.”
    My father was a rancid racist. When I was younger I was appalled by his views & swore I would never hold them. As I’ve grown older I’ve seen some of those same views in myself. And it scares me.
    When Obama became president, I was shocked to see overt racism, in its ugliest forms, in friends whom I had never seen this aspect of their personalities. It lowered my opinion of them, but do you suddenly stop caring for people whom you’ve known for decades? We are all flawed.

  30. Bill says:

    Claudio Ramirez

    Good Post!

    The “defining aspect of fragile human beings” is as follows: “Shoot first and ask questions later”.

    Remember The Planet of the Apes: “The only good human is a dead human” and “Get your hands off me, You damn dirty ape!”

    That says it all.

  31. Don Baer says:

    I started reading the replies above, and started getting bored. Way too many admirable arguments. I live in the bible belt, in Charleston, SC, the buckle of the bible belt, and here are my observations. A vast majority of the people I’ve met here, are openly racists, and coincidently are rabid if not insane Trump supporters.

    I’m moving to Canada, and I love the French.

  32. OldNassau says:

    “Well, then,” the “lifelong Democrat”, promptly replied, “I’m so glad glad I sat down at a table where I can freely call you a racist bitch.”

  33. William Cutler says:

    Having scanned the comments, I’m disappointed to find little or no self-examination expressed. I think the crux of the matter is, to what extent am I prejudiced and what do I do about it. My position is that, the better I am at perceiving unfiltered reality, the safer and more effective I will be as a human being. Part of reality is that unfiltered reality would overwhelm our minds and render us helpless, so we’ve got to employ filters. Prejudice is one such filter and all of us have it to greater or lesser extent, whether conscious or unconscious. So, my job is to try my best to be aware of my filters and make a judgement on which ones to employ, based on the best criteria of compassion, ethics, morality, social utility, personal advantage and survival, etc.

    BTW, I confess I can enjoy a good racist joke but before telling one I try to identify it as such and make sure nobody present would be offended and that they can take it as intended humor and not to degrade anybody, I also admit I’m on thin moral ice with that.

  34. Dr. Strangelove says:

    Dr. Carol Tavris,

    Your article criticizes prejudice but you seem unaware that your article is prejudicial. You make the association ‘racists’ and “Trump voters.” Do you have evidence that the vast majority of Trump voters are racists? Are you saying they became racists because they voted for Trump? Or they voted for Trump because they are racists? If you had lunch with murderers, would you call them Hillary voters? Assuming they voted for Hillary.

    You make the association ‘racism’ and “Trumpland.” What is Trumpland? Places where Trump won? Are all the people there racists? Is racism the only reason they voted for Trump? Do you have data on how many of them are racist and the top reason why they voted for Trump? By the way, majority of voters voted for Hillary. It’s more appropriate to call America Hillaryland than Trumpland. Would you associate ‘murder’ and “Hillaryland?”

    If you are alluding that Trump is a racist, then you should explicitly state it and give examples of his statements that are racist. Your article is prejudicial because you allude to something negative without justifying why you’re making the allusion.

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