Harvard has an online tool called Project Implicit which can measure your unconscious prejudices. Malcolm Gladwell, a famous African-American author, took the test and it showed he had “a moderate automatic preference for whites.” His result is not unusual; according to Harvard, 70% of people of all races get this result.
Today, the public discourse largely acknowledges that the color of your skin has no impact on the content of your character. The problem is, our instinctive reactions have not yet caught up to this intellectual acknowledgement.
I read Malcolm Gladwell’s story in Blink shortly after returning from a study-abroad trip in Senegal, and immediately took the racial prejudice test on the Project Implicit website. The first time I took it, I got the same result as the famous author.
Then I closed my eyes and thought about all the friends I made in Senegal, my time laughing and joking with them, how much they had helped me. I imagined their faces one by one. Then I took the test again. This time, my results told me that I did not have a preference for one race over the other.
In Project Implicit FAQs, it says, “if the outcome varies widely from one taking to another (something that is unusual) we suggest that you just regard the set of results as ‘inconclusive’…. the Implicit Associations Test is also known to be malleable based on differences in the social setting and recent experience.”
There you have, it straight from Harvard. It’s unusual for someone’s prejudices to change, but they can change based on “social setting” or “recent experience.” Or in my case, focusing mentally on my recent experiences did the trick.
The recent Zimmerman verdict brought racial prejudice out of hiding in many people. Many people in my liberal social group were horrified and shocked to see the true extent of it. But it’s not just people like this troll on my Twitter who feel racial distrust and fear:
According to Harvard, 70% of all races feel this distrust and fear to some extent. My Sri Lankan colleague freely admits that he crosses the street in fear when he meets a black man alone at night. He says that black men are more likely to commit crimes because of their distressed social circumstances.
However, people erring on the prudent side, pursuing their own safety, shape the experience & destiny of thousands of young black men. Imagine what it would be like to have strangers flinch in fear from you your whole life long. In some ways, it must be similar to the experiences of Muslim Americans directly after September 11th. Except that September 12th lasts your whole life long.
It would take a great soul indeed not to react to this treatment with anger, bitterness, and resentment. In weaker souls, the anger and bitterness probably go rancid and increase the likelihood of violent choices. In this way, our fears actually make the world more unsafe. As Yoda says, “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”
So if you’re wondering how you can make the world better after the Zimmerman verdict, the answer is very simple. Stop being afraid. Next time you pass a black man on the street at night, don’t cross to the other side. Smile and say hello.
But. You say. What if the guy actually happens to be dangerous?
What, you think walking to the other side of the fucking street is miraculously beyond his criminal capabilities?! If chickens can cross the road, muggers definitely can too. Fear is not logical. It bypasses the logical thinking circuits of our brain.
I’d like to propose this counterpoint to Yoda’s formula:
Courage leads to connection. Connection leads to love, love leads to growth. Courage is the path to the Light Side of the Force.