Profs: 'Racism is wired into the American mind'

  • ​Two college professors wrote an op-ed arguing that many Americans’ actions are driven by racism.
  • They said that because of how American society was built, racism "likely" factors into most people's thinking.

Fort Lewis Associate Professor of Sociology Benjamin Waddell and Florida Gulf Coast University Assistant Professor of Psychology R. Nathan Pipitone argued in a recent op-ed that “racism is wired into the American mind.” 

Their conclusion comes in the face of great civil unrest in America, as many have taken to the streets protesting racial inequality.  

Waddell and Pipitone worked together seeking to understand "how race and society influence the brain.”   

They summed up their work saying, “Our respective work reveals a difficult fact regarding recent efforts to eradicate racism from U.S. society: If you’re American – regardless of the color of your skin – racism likely structures how you think.”  

The professors reached this conclusion based on a variety of factors. They looked at police shootings, which showed that minority police officers were just as likely to shoot minority individuals as White police officers. They argue that this proves the inherent racism of Americans, quoting Boston University Center for Anti-Racist Research Director Ibram Kendi who said, “You can be someone who has no intention to be racist, but because you’re conditioned in a world that is racist and a country that is structured in anti-Black racism, you yourself can perpetuate those ideas.”  

[RELATED: After reading 'How to Be An Anti-Racist,' Central Michigan U president vows to act accordingly] 

They argued that schemas, or mental shortcuts, can reinforce racism. 

"Schemas are grounded in cultural teachings. They’re nurtured by your upbringing, your educators, your mentors, the movies and shows you watch, and your physical surroundings,” they wrote. “And when it comes to race and ethnicity, schemas embody both the positive and negative associations that society teaches about different racial and ethnic groups. Over time, everyone, regardless of their own race and ethnicity, can develop implicit biases that feed into stereotypes, prejudiced behavior and discrimination.”  

These mental shortcuts are based on experience, and as such, the professors argue that they can encourage and stimulate racism. 

"If you are American, your mind observes from a very early age, whether consciously or not, that opportunity is tilted in favor of White people," they claim.

Waddell told Campus Reform, “Schemas can be negative as well. For example, if you grow up in a social environment in which the nightly news portrays individuals from a particular racial group as delinquent, you may eventually develop negative schemas or stereotypes against that group regardless of their actual propensity to commit crime.”  

[RELATED: University asks students to 'pledge to practice antiracist behaviors' in full-throated endorsement of BLM movement] 

Waddell argued that this intrinsic racism could come from many places. One specified in the op-ed was healthcare. 

"This shift [towards a less racist society] would also depend on equal access to health care.” He expounded on this argument to Campus Reform, saying because minorities had less access to healthcare, “members of these groups are unable to accumulate resources in the same way that White Americans do—hence the massive disparity in wealth between White Americans and minorities. Over time, these financial realities influence the way the human mind views members of different racial groups, and thus, contributes to stereotypes and even racism.”  

Waddell and Pipitone also pointed to the research of Dr. P. Keith Payne, who performed a study in which people were asked to, in a split second, identify if an object was a gun or a tool. Payne found that “in the snap-judgment condition, race shaped people’s mistakes. They falsely claimed to see a gun more often when the face was Black than when it was White.” 

In a similar study, “responses made by African American participants in one study were indistinguishable from those of European American participants: both groups were biased toward claiming weapons in Black hands more than in White hands.”  

Waddell and Pipitone concluded the op-ed by saying that, “in time, more equal opportunities for minorities will rewrite the implicit biases that guide each of us. Until then, Americans’ subconscious minds, as well as our decisions, will continue to reflect the divisions we see in our physical world.”

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John Hanson
John Hanson | Oklahoma Campus Correspondent

John Hanson is an Oklahoma Campus Correspondent with Campus Reform. He is a junior at Oklahoma Wesleyan University, studying Accounting and Political Science/History. He is the Treasurer of the College Republicans as well as an active member of his local pro-life club. John is a Fall 2020 Intern with Campus Reform.

14 Articles by John Hanson