Good Morning! Let’s Talk About Racism and Reparations

The Atlantic and New York Magazine present complementary features about racism in America. Jesse Singal points out that “Racism Doesn’t Work The Way You Think It Does” and Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of America’s foremost public intellectuals, makes “The Case for Reparations.” #longreads Get some coffee, take some deep yoga breaths, visualize our minds opening. OK. Ready?

Let’s start with NYM’s Singal and circle back to Coates later in the day when we’ve had a chance to fully digest his argument. Singal’s article points out that people in positions of power discriminate without meaning to, because they are more likely to help other folks like them:

an important new paper soon to be published in American Psychologist argues that “in present-day America, discrimination results more from helping ingroup members than from harming outgroup members.” In other words, racist outcomes can arise without much actual racism, simply through the very human tendency to help out people with whom you have something in common. …

Human beings have a deep, ages-old drive to help out those with whom they have something in common, even if it’s something as simple as living on the same street or going to the same church. The problem is that because of how stubbornly persistent segregation is in most facets of American life, “something in common” tends to have a racial component. In addition to putting these sorts of day-to-day experiences into a broader context, Greenwald and Pettigrew’s argument also helps explains why the national debate over race is so dysfunctional. If the question isn’t really about who is oppressing whom (whether explicitly or implicitly), but rather about how, through our acts of kindness, we are unwittingly driving segregation and other aspects of the racial divide, that’s a very different conversation, and potentially a less vitriolic one.

Is there anything to be done? The article doesn’t say, and neither do the psychologists themselves, at least not yet. But being conscious of the actions we take on a daily basis, and the unintentional way we prop up and perpetuate prejudicial systems, is a good first step.