Your Brain on White People

The co-editor of a book on psychology, neuroscience and how we process race has a fresh perspective on the recent controversy surrounding the lack of racial diversity on HBO's Girls. In a piece for Salon, Jeremy Adam Smith explains how the media's "overwhelming whiteness" can actually change our minds, and how we can change them back.


On the science: We found that decades of studies say yes, the racial vision of “Girls” does matter. For example, a series of four 2009 studies found that people who watched shows that featured negative nonverbal behavior toward blacks became more prejudiced themselves, as measured by tests of implicit bias — this was especially true when viewers didn’t recognize the behavior as negative. It seems that TV can indeed subconsciously induce racism.

On how TV shows can correct for that: The research is overwhelmingly clear: job one is to confront the fact that racial difference exists. The new science of racism reveals that our brains do indeed seem to react negatively to people of different races — exposure of just milliseconds to a black face can cause white folks’ amygdalae to light up with fear.

On why colorblindness doesn't work: [B]ecause we never stop spotting differences in our environment.  Our brains are designed to do that; that’s how we survived on the savannah 50,000 years ago, and it’s how we survive in the globalized urban jungles of the 21st century.

On the antidote to subconscious bias: [It is] not political correctness — shoehorning in a quirky, spunky black BFF for the girls will just annoy black viewers, instead of making the world a better place. Rather, the best cure for what ails shows like “Girls” is a dose of thoughtfulness, self-awareness and courageous originality.

Read more at Salon.

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