Evolutionary psychology says racism is in our genes — a genetic adaptation that helps groups survive by favoring themselves over others. Skin color cues us in to who’s “in” and who’s “out.” (Yet the most prosperous areas of the world are those that cooperate and trade with each other?)
When I explain the theory, my students are appalled. (Though they readily accept evolutionary psych when it comes to explaining supposed sex differences.)
I once wrote a comment questioning evolutionary psychology on Slate and got the following response:
And what about all of those studies on doctors that found they treat patients differently because of race? What about those studies that show that we show preference to people wearing the same color of shirts as us?
Then shouldn’t children prefer parents who have their same hair/eye color? Not in my case. My mom has brown eyes and very light skin like me and my dad has green eyes and darker skin. Yet as a child I preferred him because mom was the disciplinarian.
And doctors could treat patients differently because they learn prejudice and not because they are genetically programmed to discriminate.
You also have to wonder why so many brown-haired, brown-eyed people have a preference for blonde, blue-eyed looks if our genes cause us to prefer our own type. But then, we’re all bombarded with messages that teach us that blue eyes and blond hair are best, at least on women.
Relatedly, about half of the Black people who take Harvard’s test of unconscious prejudice show a preference for Whites. If evolutionary psychology is right, shouldn’t they have a preference for Blacks? But again, Black Americans (just like the rest of us) are barraged with unfortunate messages that White is prettier, smarter, and less criminal.
Meanwhile, some people show “no preference” for either race when they take Harvard’s “implicit” test of unconscious bias.
Or consider the most recent presidential elections. The younger a person was, the more likely she or he cast a ballot for Barack Obama. Was there a mass genetic mutation that caused younger voters to be less racist? Or has society changed enough through the years that young people have simply learned less racism?
Evolutionary psychology says racism is in our genes. Looks more like it’s learned.
You inherited you grandmother’s eyes. Did you inherit her racism, as well?
February is Black History Month
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Prejudiced people are stupid. That’s not me pre-judging. That’s science.
An article published in the Journal of Psychological Science, and reported in Live Science says children who have low IQs tend to become prejudiced adults who are drawn to socially conservative beliefs that – in turn – encourage prejudice, adherence to hierarchy and authority, and promote resistance to change.
The researchers suggest that low intelligence makes it difficult to grasp the complexity of the world, which could explain the appeal of oversimplifications like, “Poor people are lazy.”
But you also have to wonder if the appeal of prejudice comes partly from a desire to feel like you are better (and smarter?) than someone.
John Dean wrote a book (which he had begun writing with Barry Goldwater just before Goldwater died) called Conservatives Without Conscience. These two conservatives presented a list of characteristics that are common among right-wing authoritarian “followers” (as opposed to “leaders”). The traits seem to fall into two categories: those that would appeal to the less intelligent and those that are just mean. Right-wing authoritarian “leader” traits fell almost entirely into the “mean” category.
Examples of beliefs and behaviors that fit well with not thinking too hard include: conventional, submissive to authority, highly religious (follow God’s authority), prejudiced, narrow-minded, inconsistent and contradictory (“Get your government hands off my Medicare!”) and having little self-awareness.
The “mean” list includes these traits: prejudiced, aggressive on behalf of authority, dogmatic, mean-spirited, intolerant, bullying, and highly self-righteous. All suggest a desire to feel bigger and stronger than someone else — as in overcompensating for insecurities?
Ahhh, that was fun for a liberal like me who gets so annoyed by both right-wingers and prejudiced people.
But there is a crimp in the analysis. First, the researchers recognize, not all liberals are brilliant, nor are all conservatives dense. We’re talking averages here. Certainly there are smart conservatives, including John Dean and Barry Goldwater. Also, the less intelligent are drawn to social and not fiscal conservatism.
And of course, extremists on the left and the right may both be simplistic. As the authors admit:
A study of left-wing liberals with stereotypically naïve views like “every kid is a genius in his or her own way,” might find that people who hold these attitudes are also less bright. In other words, it might not be a particular ideology that is linked to stupidity, but extremist, over-simplified views in general.
The main advantage of this research is finding clues to decreasing fear and hatred. For instance, many anti-prejudice programs ask people to see things from others’ perspectives, but that might be too hard for those with low IQ. And since prejudice is more emotionally than intellectually rooted, it’s probably better to change feelings instead of thoughts.
Who knows, perhaps the fear of appearing dimwitted will itself advance the cause against fear and hatred.
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Saudi women got the right to vote and run in municipal elections this week. It’s a big step forward.
There are limitations. It’s hard to run for office when you can’t drive or show your face. Some fear political stalling. And men could keep their wives and daughters from voting. But the women are optimistic. Let’s hope for the best.
Interestingly, only about five years ago George W. Bush sent Karen Hughes to Saudi Arabia to express her hope that one day Saudi women would be able to vote and drive. She was surprised when many said they didn’t want to do either.
Past relations between Western and Middle Eastern feminists have sometimes been strained with Western feminists lecturing Middle Eastern women, and Middle Eastern women rejecting what they see as Western arrogance.
Yet the road to women’s rights presents plenty of opportunity for all of us to learn from one another.
There is plenty that Westerners could have, and may have, learned from our Arabian sisters and brothers in the early years of Islam. When we were in the Dark Ages.
Back in the 7th century the Koran gave women the right to work, own property and inherit, and provided protections from domestic violence. Women were also granted the right to give their consent to marry.
But lately Arab women have been taking some cues from us. Both the Arab Spring and Saudi women’s suffrage were inspired by Western democracies.
And perhaps now it is time for us to learn from them, again. The Arab Spring has inspired many Americans who wonder at our current state of democracy which is marked by legalized bribery (large campaign contributions) that make important matters like environmental sustainability and economic renewal political impossibilities.
Too often Western women think they have nothing to learn from their Middle Eastern sisters, while Middle Eastern women reject Western notions out of hand.
Perhaps we would do better to have dialogue and learn from each other.
The Norwegian terrorist who killed scores of people in late July was motivated by racism, particularly Islamophobia. But he is also a misogynist. It’s not unusual for racism and sexism to go hand in hand. But why?
It’s the destructive and suicidal Sex and the City lifestyle (modern feminism, sexual revolution) [that] we are taught to revere as the truth. In that setting, men are not men anymore, but metrosexual and emotional beings that are there to serve the purpose as a never-criticizing soul mate to the new age feminist woman goddess.
Futrelle says Breivik’s rants are typical of “manosphere” blogs, which his manifesto
plagiarizes in part. When a prankster posted his quotes anonymously, they got the “thumbs-up” – at least until his identity was revealed.
Other obsessions of Breivik/the manopshere include no-fault divorce, STDs, and women
manipulating men with their feminine charms. Worried that Islam will out-breed Westerners, Breivik advocates limiting contraception, banning abortion, and discouraging women from education and full-time careers, which “will involve certain sexist and discriminating policies but should increase the fertility rate.”
Breivik’s misogyny doesn’t surprise Michael Kimmel, a feminist who studies men, and who says that racist and sexist right-wing movements are largely about manhood. Men who are drawn to them feel emasculated by “Nanny States” that demand equal rights for everyone and whose taxes prevent people from making a free and independent living, as they see it.
These same men also feel that feminism makes men “wimpy, more pacifist, less authoritarian, more ‘sensitive’, less competitive, more androgynous, (and) less possessive.” The merging of masculine and feminine is a problem because how can men be superior if women and men are similar, or equal?
They add racism to further inflate their self-worth. As Kimmel describes it:
White Protestants are set against various “others” who aren’t men the way they are – blacks, Jews, gay men, other non-white immigrants – who are variously depicted as either “too” masculine (rapacious beasts, avariciously cunning, voracious) or not masculine “enough” (feminine, dependent, effeminate).
Bringing sexism and racism together, “real men” can feel “better-than” everyone else.
And by “protecting” white women from (so-called) non-white beasts, they may earn
women’s love and admiration, and further reclaim their manhood.
Breivik and men like him are desperate to feel like they are better than everyone else.
Even when they so clearly are not.
In honor of implementation of the French “burqa ban,” and the brouhaha it is causing from Bill Maher to the New York Times, I repost the following:
The French “burqa ban” has got me thinking. Did women have equal power to create the burqa? And who benefits from this garment?
Some charge that rejecting the burqa comes from fear of the other, or ethnocentrism. I’m in sync with cultural relativism, so long as no one is being hurt. But buqas and “burqa cultures” don’t give women equal power. And women certainly did not have equal sway in creating the customs of these societies.
Think about the laws that exist in places where women are required to cover up in burqas, abayas, niqabs (facemasks) or various other veilings.
Is it likely that women decided that men could easily demand a divorce, but women could get one only with difficulty?
Is it likely that women created the notion that sharing a husband with other women might be fun?
Did women create the idea that an adulterous man be punished by burial up to his waist before being stoned, while a woman must be buried to her breasts – and one who escapes, escapes the stoning?
In these cultures, when a woman is raped it is her fault. She obviously let some hair fall from her covering, or she allowed an ankle to show. Everyone knows that no man could resist such things. Did women decide that women, and not men, are responsible for men’s sexuality?
Did women originate the notion that after rape, the victim must be killed to restore family honor?
Did women clamor for a burqa that limits their power and autonomy – keeping them from driving in Saudi Arabia and getting jobs that are far from home? Did women design this garment that prevents small pleasures like seeing clearly or feeling the sun and the wind?
And who benefits?
Men benefit from easily obtaining a divorce, but not allowing their wives the same privilege. Men benefit from the sexual variety of having many wives, while women are left to share one man. Men benefit by more easily escaping a stoning. And men can rape with impunity since women fear reporting sexual assault, lest their families kill them. Men gain power when women are incapable of getting jobs and income. How much easier is it to beat women for the infraction of straying outside the home, or letting a wrist show, when they are black or blue blobs, and not human beings?
It is common to make accusations of ethnocentrism when one culture rejects the practices of another. Often the fears are valid.
But if a powerful group creates a culture that benefits themselves to the detriment of others, the critique is not about ethnocentrism. It is about human rights.
As Women’s History month winds down I’d like to ponder the difference between being powerful and merely feeling powerful. Too often people chase the feeling and give up the real thing.
I sensed the phenomenon in a highly publicized event last year.
Last October a Yale fraternity chanted “No means yes, yes means anal” in front of the campus Women’s Center. One man concluded it was all meant to stir up feminazis. “The sole purpose of that building,” he opined, “is to give hatemongering academic feminists a base to spread their propaganda and recruit new members… They most likely (chanted there) because feminazis always go out of their way to harm men. Just about every policy implemented by academic feminazis is meant to incite misandry and marginalize men.”
Interesting tactic. “Who looks worse?” I asked.
“The guys will come across as arseholes, but they don’t care. All they care about is stirring up the feminazis.”
The commenter has a blog which seems to have the same goal. I just don’t know whether any feminazis go to his site so that he can stir them up.
Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt that his theory could be true. Do you think the Yale frat staged a blow to feminism? Or to sexism, instead?
While some seek to feel strong by chanting rape fantasies, real rapists and wife batterers are involved in the same loop. They want to feel powerful, so they beat down a woman or invade her body. Or both. They feel dominant in the moment. But their potency is actually pretty limited. And the acts are only destructive, not constructive.
Any time gang members beat or kill someone they probably feel formidable. But in the long run, how mighty are they sitting in jail, or dead?
A few early feminists made the error of feeling powerful over the real thing when they spewed man-hating rhetoric. In the moment they likely felt pretty tough. But the strategy did not create real muscle and feminists at large gave it up. For the effect was to repel potential female and male allies, alike.
Now we are left with the brand “feminazis.”
To all of the above I ask, why don’t you do something with your efforts and your lives that are both powerful and constructive, instead of beating others down in a basically weak attempt to feel better about yourselves?
And next time you seek power, consider whether you are being powerful only in your own head.
March is Women’s History Month