A question was kicked into my head by people chanting racial slurs: “What makes people divide into groups and believe one is superior?”
The question followed me throughout life. Although my question came from pain, the answers I found in ghettos and waterfronts hold beautiful possibilities for a world where all forms of diversity are welcomed.
After talking with tens of thousands of people, I have the answer to “why” people often hate others. I know “how” humans cut themselves off from other races and groups. I know how we can reverse the process.
The cure for racism is a bitter pill to swallow.
Its bitterness would explain why this disease has historically run rampant in segregation and apartheid, back to times it sickened us with tribal warfare against “those devils across the river.” There are evolutionary patterns in our development as a species that explain why this disease infected the ideas of our forefathers, and continues to plague societies today.
The cure for racism must be taken internally. It requires an individual to learn a bitter fact about humanity.
The bitter fact is this: racist beliefs are only the fruit of racism, not its seed.
When people show prejudice by chanting hate in the streets, their ideologies are only the festering, rotten fruit of racism. The seeds of this fruit lie much deeper within humanity itself.
After studying pre-verbal infants, Yale psychologist Paul Bloom concludes:
“A bias to favor the self, where the self could be people who look like me, people who act like me, people who have the same taste as me, is a very strong human bias. It’s what one would expect from a creature like us who evolved from natural selection, but it has terrible consequences.”
For racism to be cured, this bias must be recognized as part of each and every human being on earth, including ourselves.
No matter our egalitarian thoughts, our own status or gender or color, we all share the possibility for the altruistic best and divisive worst in humanity to grow from this seed of bias.
The cure for racism is the recognition that self-bias is not only within “them,” those laden with divisive and hateful ideological fruit, but this seed is carried within “us” as well.
This recognition is a bitter pill to swallow, yet once cured we find ourselves free of many forms of judgment. We’re able to welcome people who are different in many ways.
When we take this cure, the “self” does not disappear. It expands. It broadens as we recognize our kinship with the whole of humanity, and find that beneath appearances and beliefs so much is shared. 3,500 generations ago in Africa, a Mitochondrial Eve gave birth to us all. This expanded self, our related family, is found everywhere on the planet within each human being.
The cure for racism is awareness of a bitter seed of self-bias within us all, yet one that bears the sweetest of fruit when “self” is allowed to grow beyond boundaries.
Finding this seed within all people allows us to cure the disease of racism and cultivate compassion that nurtures the world.