Racism, it seems, is a Sleeping Monster.
An excerpt from a Salon.com interview with Shankar Vedantam. Vedantam, science writer for the Washington Post, speaks about his book The Hidden Brain.
Thomas Rogers: You spend a considerable amount of the book explaining how the hidden brain affects the way we think about race -- and suggests that racism is deeply embedded in many people's brains.
I don't think racism is hard-wired into the brain; that would suggest we are always bound to be racist. In many cases this mechanism is very functional. If you are persuaded by evolutionary biology, there are strong reasons why we would want to form quick associations. If you were to see one tiger in the wild, it would make sense that you would not want to have repeat encounters with tigers. The brain is very good at extrapolating and generalizing. This may have carried survival value at one point, but now we operate in a more complex world where the quick judgments that once aided us may now imperil us.
I think the brain does have that unconscious mechanism, but what those associations end up being are shaped by culture, personal histories and whom we choose to associate with. The fact that many Americans have a race bias against Africans and African-Americans isn't because of biology. It's because of culture...
...the hidden brain doesn't always learn what it's taught to learn. We can consciously teach people that certain attitudes are right or wrong, but that does little to alter the hidden brain. It's a much dumber system that learns much more through repetition and blind argument and making associations. When you're watching television, for example, the hidden brain is watching who is being shown in positions of authority. It's not something you need to think about on a conscious level. By the time a child is 1 or 2 or 3 or 4, he or she has seen thousands of these kinds of associations.