Racism is Seldom Conscious, and In the Current Climate, No One Is Exempt
It takes mere tenths of a second for your brain to determine the trustworthiness of a stranger. That’s why you dress up for your interviews—you want your potential employer to think well of you, even though your clothes have little to do with your capacity to work. Before your conscious mind has time to even articulate your first impressions, you’ve already mostly made up your mind about the person you’ve just met.
In those milliseconds, your subconscious is completely running the show. All those autonomic nervous impulses you’ve trained yourself to suppress—the urge to punch someone who just insulted your loved one, to run away from the mouse in your garage, to judge someone based on the color of their skin—now have free reign of your psyche.
The problem is that your subconscious is overridden with bias. Over the course of your entire life, your subconscious has gathered data, from every experience and every interpersonal encounter, data that it then files away and analyzes in real time. Your mind begins to notice patterns, which it then brings to your attention via intuition: your “gut feeling.” And depending on the quality and quantity of data your subconscious analyzed, your gut could lead you to the wrong conclusion.
Your subconscious is completely running the show. All those autonomic nervous impulses you’ve trained yourself to suppress now have free reign of your psyche.
Hollywood, the media and an overall lack of exposure to other cultures don’t foster an environment that accurately represents black people. We rarely see black men in humanizing circumstances—as lovers, as fathers, as the groom’s best man. Black people are generally underrepresented in all spheres of American society—and despite their most intentioned campaigns, the media and entertainment industries do not cover black lives in as much depth or as often as white lives.
So, the race-based data to which we’ve exposed our subconscious is lacking in quantity, precision and reliability. It’s no wonder our subconscious comes to inaccurate, and deadly, conclusions.
The racism we fight is no longer necessarily the conscious kind. It’s not explicit, like slavery or segregation. That’s a positive sign that we’re progressing as a society.
The race-based data to which we’ve exposed our subconscious is lacking in quantity, precision and reliability.
But it is not enough. Now, our fight lies not with the mind—in most circumstances, the subconscious data collection and analysis is incredibly powerful and useful. Our fight lies instead with the data to which we subject our minds. We must fight to accurately and ubiquitously represent people of color, to interact with them as often as possible in casual settings, to hear their stories. That is what fighting stereotypes looks like.