The Archie Bunker experiment
I conducted a simple but illuminating experiment: post Archie Bunker-type comments and analyze the reactions to see if anyone knew the simple secret to instantly eradicating racism.
Result? No one did. That wasn't attributable to a small exposure pool (the number who read the Archie-like comments) because, thanks to national media outlets such as Media Matters, the Huffington Post, and MSNBC's Martin Bashir along with their devoted followers, they temporarily forgot about bashing O'Reilly, Limbaugh, and their usual targets to focus on me, evidently thinking I was a Republican. Not exactly; I'm highly disappointed by politicians on the Left and the Right. They create more problems than they solve, and the last time they solved anything major was long ago.
I'm part Native American, part black, and more than a bit miffed by what I've seen working as an ER doc in which the red carpet was rolled out for rich and well-connected white folks while black patients could be intentionally murdered by healthcare workers waging a race war that I reported years ago in my then-popular (#1 on Google for years) ER site and not one person responded or mentioned it. I contacted the NAACP, thinking they'd be outraged, but never received a reply.
This makes me wonder: does anyone really care about racism? Or only when it is a convenient political hammer with which to bash opponents?
Just as Michael Jackson's surgery may have been motivated by how his father reportedly “taunted him about his "fat nose",” I paid a plastic surgeon to give me “whiter” features after years of being called “nigger nose” and “nigger lips.”
Those comments made me empathize with others disparaged or mistreated because of their appearance or race, but as painful as they were, they were trivial in comparison to hate crimes such as the murder of my great-grandfather, who was killed in a shockingly horrific way because of his ethnicity at a time when some viewed Italian immigrants as dogs who stole jobs from “real Americans.”
The roots of racism are perfectly understandable because part of our genetic heritage is xenophobia, which conferred a survival advantage earlier in human evolution—that's why it persisted. Genes predisposing us to xenophobia are still in us. We can deal with that fact intelligently, or we can sweep it under the rug as we are doing, and pretend we're better and more refined that we really are. Yet as Project Implicit found, “three-quarters of whites have an implicit pro-white/anti-black bias,” and even one of the professors involved in that project harbors that bias.
Bias serves a dual role by also helping people feel better about themselves by putting others down. Attractive, successful, or otherwise advantaged people commonly disparage others who are less fortunate. Appearing on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, President Obama said, “It's like, it was like the Special Olympics or something” in referring to his low bowling score. In spite of his gifted intellect and Ivy League education, he evidently thought his comment was very funny, and what we see from politicians is heavily filtered as their brains work overtime to say just the right things.
The simple solution to racism—evidently not taught at Harvard—could have immunized Mr. Obama from such low humor. Here it is:
“President Obama, you are Hollywood-handsome, in great shape, and athletic—a hunk, to put it colloquially. How would you feel if you weren't, and someone who was cracked a joke at your expense?”
The compliments are optional; the core of the solution to racism and countless other problems is asking “how would you feel?” That works quickly in almost everyone because while humans are wired for xenophobia and bias, we're also wired for fairness. The “put yourself in their shoes” fix works in everyone except sociopaths, children before empathy matures, and mentally disabled people. Everyone else—bam!—instant cure. Research demonstrated that when healthcare workers were taught to put themselves in the shoes of their patients, they instantly give better care.
Doctors could harmonize better with nurses (and vice-versa) if they put themselves in the shoes of nurses, seeing things from their perspective. Ditto for husbands and wives, siblings, friends, co-workers, bosses and employees, and on and on. The “put yourself in their shoes; how would you feel?” solution is simple, effective, and so quick to teach there's no excuse for not imparting it.
Though simple, the Archie Bunker experiment and myriad similar cases prove that when people see racism or just political incorrectness, they either ignore it or bash it. When it is the latter, they often go way overboard, expending considerably more time and energy than is required to convey the “put yourself in their shoes” solution. Spend hours or even days lambasting others and doing no good in the process, or spend seconds and help someone become a better person—it's not a difficult choice.
So let's do what our politicians and other leaders haven't done in ages: solve a persistent problem. Then we will all feel better and deserve a pat on the back.
- Hours after I posted this article, CEO Steve Faktor mocked the ones who blast others in a brilliant LinkedIn article, Intolerance We Trust.
- If We're Being Candid Here, There's a Good Chance Your Company Is Sorority Racist, Too
Comment: Superb article.
Excerpt: “Sorority racism is when the majority group uses its privilege and power to other (yes, that's a verb) those who are not members of the privileged and powerful group.”
- Tracking prejudices in the brain
- Do I like you? Opinion set in milliseconds
- New study finds our desire for 'like-minded others' is hard-wired
- UCLA Diversity Chancellor Jerry Kang discusses implicit biases at TEDxSanDiego 2013
Comment: Today's hip youngsters haven't overcome racism and bias as much as they think they have; they're just better at camouflaging it, cognizant of the cultural penalty for admitting it. Nothin' like sweeping a problem under the rug to perpetuate it …
- Implicit social biases made to drop away during sleep
- Pervasive implicit hierarchies for race, religion, age revealed by study
- Psychologists find unintentional racial biases may affect economic and trust decisions
- You may not be able to say how you feel about your race
- Implicit race bias increases the differences in the neural representations of black and white faces
- New perspective diminishes racial bias in pain treatment