It’s no secret that humans use stereotypes about other humans to make snap decisions about the level of risk those other humans present, and this is a tendency that can be observed from birth. It’s called in-group bias or preference, and it arises from the reality that for most of human history, when someone shows up who looks, acts and sounds very different from the people you are used to, bad things tend to happen.
The idea of in-group bias is well established in behavioral science, and it has its roots long ago, in humanity’s tribal era. The fact is, the people in your own band are more likely to nurture you, care for you and protect you from harm, while the people from the tribe over the hill are more likely to, well, eat you.
Neuroscience researchers at NYU have confirmed that this bias continues to exist to this day, and interestingly enough, that we do not simply assume certain attributes belong to certain groups, but our brains will literally see things that are not there to confirm our stereotypes. Men are thought to be more aggressive, women are thought to be more appeasing and Black men are thought to be more hostile, and these preconceptions can influence what our brains think we are seeing.
The moment the image of a Black person flashes in front of the face of a white person, the image is perceived of, initially, for just a fraction of a second, as male, regardless of the person’s actual gender. It takes a slightly longer time to process the fact that some Black faces are female and some are male. When Satoshi Kanazawa asked ‘Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women’, he arrived at the same conclusion as the NYU researchers – that Black women are perceived of as more masculine and less feminine than other women, yet the way he framed the question caused a massive firestorm that cost Kanazawa his job.
The NYU researchers are very careful to dance around the social and cultural implications of their findings. They never ask the key question: is there a good reason to perceive all Black people as hostile and male? Is there some evolutionary advantage to assessing the risk as very high? Could it be that on the balance of probability, treating all unknown Black people as a threat makes a lot of sense?
The NYU study only looked at how white people reacted to Black people, and not at how Black people themselves looked at other Black people. Now that would be an interesting study.
Here is what I would like to discuss today: The angry Black people calling for reparations on the grounds of the on-going harm of slavery are pretty much confirming all our stereotypes about Black people, aren’t they? There is no question that the reality of life for Black Americans sucked under Jim Crow laws and that many innocent people paid terrible prices for the civil rights that Black Americans now enjoy.
Show me a huge civil rights conflict in which that didn’t happen.
The case for reparations is built primarily on envy and spite. Black Americans took a staggering blow from the government when Black fathers were kicked out of their homes and families. There is no denying this reality. The removal of Black men from the lives of children and women has been an absolutely epic disaster, but Black families are not the only ones who have ever staggered through an horrifically unjust, blood-soaked past.
The European Jews have a few stories to tell. As do the Cambodians who fell to the Khmer Rouge. Mao’s Great Leap Forward resulted in the deaths of 45 million people, the vast majority of whom were ethnic peasant minorities. The Soviet Grain famine caused millions of deaths. That’s just in the past 100 years. Go a little further back and one might think the Irish have a strong reparations case against the English who let them starve and then sold them into debentured servitude in the colonies.
Every single one of those communities faced tragedy, injustice, indifference from authorities and gross prejudice from the social classes above them. At one point, Blacks and Irish were considered equally vile. But it is only Black America that has refused to rebound. The Jews built Israel, shedding gallons more blood in the process. The Irish, the grain producing ethnic minorities in Russia, the Cambodians and the Chinese all fought back. They refused to be defined by the tragedies of their past and looked towards the future.
And they worked their butts off to achieve their goals.
They didn’t refuse education and training, refuse to abide by the laws of the land, refuse to integrate into the broader society, refuse to curb their own excesses and they certainly did not burn down their own cities, abort their children en masse and kill each other at epidemic rates, and then demand others pay them for their inability to move forward. Rather than looking inwards to investigate why Black America has failed so miserably to overcome a terrible history that is not unique to Black America, Black Americans seem content to rage and attempt to hold anyone but themselves responsible.
Slavery was terrible. So was the Holocaust. So were all the great wars and famines. Human history is a story of loss and grave injustice. It’s also a story of carrying on. If we were not able to persevere in the face of perverse resistance, we wouldn’t be here.
And yet, here we are.
Well, most of us. There is a huge group in our society that has a very, very noisy public relations chapter insisting on hostility and anger. #BlackLivesMatter has the support of 65% of Black Americans, which is significant majority. Black Americans are supporting an angry, confrontational, murderous movement that kills police officers (including Black police officers), engages in assault and battery against political opponents and burns down Black neighborhoods, all while screaming whitey owes them.
Do you want to know why white people perceive Black people as hostile and male?
Lots of love,