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Racists are made not born

Different races? Racism? Such matters rarely touched my young life growing up on Oregon’s northern coast. Most everyone in town was of northern European extraction while I was not aware of an African-American until I reached high school,  he being the only one—a man who shined shoes in a barber shop downtown and lived in its basement.  There were two youths in my high school of other origins, two Chinese-Americans.

I did not acquire good or bad thoughts about persons of other races. The African-American shoeshine guy was likeable whenever I went for a haircut and the two Chinese-American kids mainly kept to themselves.

Meanwhile, there were those among my fellow Americans who adopted racist views.  I got huge doses of their views and values on the subject from my college and university years as well as the world of work among my fellow Americans from teaching and training positions inside the U.S. as well as overseas.  Throughout my adult life I have asked, “How do these people become racists?”

It would require more space than what’s available here for a comprehensive treatment of the subject.  However, should the reader be interested in exploring some of the major reasons that have been identified, let’s consider a few.  In the mean time, the subject continues active in me and cries out for attention.

It’s argued that the most common reason people become racists is due to their environment and upbringing. So, if one’s parents are racists and raise the child with their ideals, then prejudice and racism can be taught or ingrained at an early and impressionable age.  It’s challenging for a child to distinguish the difference between right and wrong when his or her parents, their first role models and people they love and respect, inculcate racist ideas. Then, too, as one grows and matures, those exposures, often years-in-length, can indoctrinate a person as much as youth want to make and keep friends by going along to get along with the same hair style, mode of dress, social and sports activities, and points of view.

This second point can be difficult for many Americans to accept.  Nevertheless, highly reputable study after study has found that a person is racist because he or she has low intelligence.  As far as why racist people are more likely to have lower than average IQs is open to interpretation.  Let’s review a couple here, including that people with low IQs may be more impressionable and thereby less open-minded when it comes to changing childhood impressions. In other words, from where they started in life, with all its early and later influences, remain largely unchanged regarding their foundational views of the world.

Much of this approach to the matter has to do with what makes up the size of the parts of a person’s brain.  Apparently, the ability to think and problem solve has a great deal to do with brain parts like the amount of amygdala versus gray matter in the anterior cingulate cortex. Studies have disclosed that heavy on amygdala fosters fear over anything new and different while more gray matter helps to reason, understand and practice empathy. Bottom line: racism is a form of simplifying things for those who have a problem with complex issues that require open-mindedness, understanding and dealing with that which is novel and fresh.

All of this can get very scientific and esoteric to the average American. Meanwhile, we have some large and very troubling problems in our country related to racism and the consequences of it in the form of white supremacists, the KKK, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and so many hateful others.  As an American, I try not to be naïve about the prospects of changing our people into Kumbayaists; yet, we know we could do a huge-lot better than now and, of greatest importance, just because an American may not arrive in life with great gobs of gray matter, or whatever it takes, without excuses, does not mean that person is not educable.

Today, now, finally, may we Americans re-dedicate ourselves as a people to those founding principles that established our nation whereupon this great land fulfills its promises from the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution and we, from the many, really become one.

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)