The Psychology of Racism

Racism takes the normal human tendencies to categorize to an extreme. So much of neuroscience is our science telling us that down to our brain operations- we’re still biologically the same. Still Racism seems to bring out the ugliest reactions in the most varied ways .

Let’s make sure we understand why this happens.

It starts with cognition. “In an effort to cope with what would otherwise be an overwhelming environment, humans unconsciously engage in a series of complex cognitive processes that enable us to parse and react quickly to incoming information.”[i]

This affects us because; as you should be observing, white people are in positions of power a lot. Schemas in the collective white consciousness affect who gets jobs, business loans, punishment and even resources like food and shelter.

It was a convenient tendency to create schemas that distorted the system of slavery, once white people – Bourgeois capitalists realized that they could profit from slave labor.

The incoming uncertainty created from years of dehumanization and oppression creates a field of fear in Black and white relationships. The passionate distance created between Black and white Americans increases friction on the boundaries of these schemas – any possible outcome which infringes on the status quo becomes a threat.

Now the amygdala is involved.

This the the oldest part of our brain that deals with life and death responses to danger or threats. “The term “fight-or-flight” represents the choices that our ancient ancestors had when faced with danger in their environment. They could either fight or flee.iii

The white psyche is constantly assessing the threat of its security. We’re four hundred years later, and nothing has happened. Yet the result of the dehumanization, is that you believe subconsciously, now that your peers, fellow Americans and colleagues are devoid of value. The world seems to be crumbling around you. It reaches a fever pitch in an us versus them show down as those others advocate for themselves, to gain resources which you access with no protest.

Then Racism offers the way out-

You’re on high alert for danger – but the schemas you own don’t match what the danger actually is. The rational brain doesn’t kick in, you’re still reading danger. This is where you need tools to fight the logic and assumptions of racism.

Executive functioning is compromised.

Executive functioning boils down to our decision-making ability. It’s the ability to regulate emotion, and act with focus, effort, will and determination. In a Racist place this process is challenged by racism as a distraction. Eventually the task of needing to balance so much emotional turmoil boils over into the frontal lobe, which almost certainly is the human version of a red light malfunctioning.

Our executive functioning abilities are what separate humans of today from early homosapien species – we have intelligence and metacognition – and rational minds. Except when we let racism take the wheel. Racism does not even need permission, so much as a seat at the table. At this state memory- and the history of oppression, dehumanization take over the once rational white person, and devoid them of any emotional and regulatory clarity.

The self-aggrandizing reminders of separating, conquering a race of people in an environment where the progress in civil liberties and freedom relies on secession of power itself becomes a threat- and the cycle repeats itself until Racism has mutilated its host.

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