A cure for racism?

If there’s one thing that the recent United States elections made plain to me, it’s that, sadly, there’s a lot more racism still about than I had realised – and that goes for this side of the pond as well, and pretty much everywhere.

But what if there was a way to ‘cure’ racism? It’s a tricky question, because prejudice of any kind isn’t a disease or pathology as such; it’s part of the way our minds are wired, but (to use an analogy which I hope isn’t too inaccurate) it’s more of a software issue rather than a hardware problem.

Nonetheless, a team of university researchers believe they may have found a short-cut method for eroding the race-focused deep bias:

Tarr’s findings overlap with other results suggesting that the key to reducing racial bias — at least in a short-term, laboratory setting — is exposure to people in personalized ways that challenge stereotypes. This is hardly a new notion: it’s the essence of the contact hypothesis, formulated in the mid-20th century and the basis of integrated schooling.

But unlike carefully structured social mixing, with precisely controlled conditions of interdependence and equality, Tarr and others raise the possibility of a a lab-based shortcut to bias reduction.

Even if this method turns out to be genuinely effective and harmless, I doubt we’ll be seeing it deployed en masse any time soon. Maybe it would be applied to serious recidivists as a punitive correctional method, but the legal implications of rewriting someone’s mind are going to be an ethical minefield for years to come. And to receive the cure voluntarily would be an admission of being racist, which is the principle barrier to defeating the bias in the first place… even so, an interesting insight into mental plasticity.

I wonder if they could remove my positive bias towards unhealthy foods?

5 thoughts on “A cure for racism?”

  1. That is a fascinating study. I can imagine people volunteering for a technique like this, though.

    I’m trying to be a glass-half-full person about the election. I wish Obama had won by an even bigger margin, but for once, the low-information voters were soundly outvoted.

  2. ^^ i agree. but i have to say that i think these notions of what racism actually is are fairly misplaced. Malcom Gladwell’s book “blink” suggested that “racism” as a subconscious mindset was primarily down to the subtle influence of the world around us rather than an inherited or acquired resentment towards people who are different. The studies he refers to suggest that even black people associate black with negative and white with positive. There is much hidden within the fundamental make-up of Western society which creates these subconscious feelings. Not that I’m suggesting that this study is inappropriate – i merely wanted to comment on the fact your posts implies that racism is a quality you either possess or not: I would argue that “racism” is far more complicated than having a set of people who [pretend] to be colourblind and another group who wear white hoods. Many social inequalities are completely innocent but equally as concerning and institutionalised: equal pay, urban crime, access to education all have racially biased stats but there is no racism per se to cure.

  3. Actually, I agree with you, C – we all have that tendency to judge “the other”; what I suspect manifests as what we call racism is a failure to actively work against those instinctive feelings. It’s surely both nature and nurture!

  4. That treatment could be for a first time offender but for a repeat offender, a REAL cure is in order: A race change operation that is permanent, like a sex change. Imagine a David Duke (the former KKK member) waking up “re-assigned” as a member of the ethnic group he hates. For best results, ensure the recovery room has mirror walls. Of course, the 8’th Amendment prohibits punishment by medical procedure (other than lethal injection). David Duke wannabes should be grateful.

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