This month, the LA Progressive entered its fifteenth year. Fifteen years ago, Dick and I – two anti-racist, social justice activists founded the LA Progressive. My intent was to infuse the publication with a heavy dose of anti-racist content along with a panoply of news and opinion pieces all written from a progressive perspective.
This publication has exceeded our expectations in many ways. One of the those ways has been the quality of the work contributed by dozens of authors. This year, we are putting a spotlight on the work of LA Progressive contributors. In this post, I want to highlight the work of Charles D. Hayes not just because he has contributed since the beginning but because his articles are particularly thought provoking and unique.
Charles is a former police officer, from Texas. He’s white and admits to being in his late 70s – not someone you would expect to write for a progressive, social justice publication. But Charles is a life-long learner has been on a journey trying to understand racism an has written about that journey. In an email exchange we had recently we chatted about his new book, “Evolving in a Dangerous World Made Racism Inevitable”.
If you care about racism, the arguments Charles makes in this book can lead to an awakening. We highly recommend this book. Spend a couple of hours of reading and your perspective on race and racism will be forever changed.
Charles gave me permission to publish the introduction to the book. Following is an excerpt from, “Evolving in a Dangerous World Made Racism Inevitable” by Charles D. Hayes:
By the time this book is published, I will be 79 years old and less than a year from having had triple-bypass open-heart surgery. Such life events are stressful, but they are nothing compared to the emotional dread many of my generation feel because of the political danger we find ourselves in today. We are teetering on the brink of trading democracy for autocracy. This is being driven in part by politicians who weaponize our human differences using our tribalistic tendencies. The subject of race is used as a means of strategic polarization—when insecurities about identity are used to fog reasoning, millions of people will feel racial animus, instead of opting for the ideals of the better argument, which is crucial for the existence of democracy. We are facing nothing culturally that warrants the demonization of individuals, groups, or races of people. There are no valid reasons for tribalistic hatred in America. None.
Caveat: Having been interested in the subject of bias for more than a half century and after spending much of the past decade studying the subject intently, I can say with confidence that if you are not the kind of person who can be persuaded by the better argument, then this book will be a waste of your time. Go to any work on Amazon about mitigating racial bias and read the reviews. You will likely find many examples of people dismissing antiracist works based purely on political grounds, rather than engaging with the writer’s actual arguments. This mindset is emblematic of the difficulty in addressing an egregious social problem that, for every few steps forward, we take one or two back. But if you are amenable to the better argument, I believe you will find the evidence offered in this work is worthy of a paradigm shift about the subject of implicit bias, a stunning revelation when put into perspective given how long we have been arguing about race relations while making very little progress. An important caveat here is psychologist Gordon W. Allport’s observation that, “Defeated intellectually, prejudice lingers emotionally.”
Addressing the problem of racial prejudice by explaining the way our minds work is often called behavioral realism, or biological realism. Some advocates for racial justice fear that, by biologizing racism, the history of explicit racism will be ignored or disregarded. This may in some cases be a valid concern, but I see it as a separate issue. In Race on the Brain: What Implicit Bias Gets Wrong About the Struggle for Racial Justice, law professor Jonathan Kahn reminds us that implicit bias is not an end-all in and of itself, and he is right. But we are talking about realism, so let’s keep it real.
Trying to solve the problems of racial prejudice without dealing with how our minds default to subconscious assumptions is like trying to explain the subject of shadows without acknowledging the role of the sun. Indeed, the dynamics of implicit bias are not an end-all, but understanding the functioning of our subconscious provides the ammunition necessary to understand why racism is so hard to eradicate. Kahn suggests that neuroscience studies can have the effect of marginalizing the role of explicit biases, and while I agree this is possible, it is by no means inevitable. Kahn’s concerns about how we use what we have learned about implicit biases are warranted, however, and the potential for that to go wrong is made worse by current efforts to politicize race.
Defeating the inevitable backlash movements that follow positive measures for achieving racial justice requires a liberal arts effort of epic proportions against all the social components of tribalistic hatred, with every conceivable tool that can be put to work. I am all for this in every way possible. I don’t personally know how to cancel tribalistic hatred. My goal is simply to help people, like me and my generation, who have unwittingly internalized cultural biases, but who care deeply about wanting to stop them from unintentionally resurfacing and resulting in acts that mimic explicit bias.
Kahn is right that implicit bias cannot be understood apart from its social and historical context. Historical context provides the impetus for default behaviors caused precisely because of encountering cultural differences with others. The sun causes shadows; likewise, putting an emphasis on differences when we assume people are outsiders will result in the internalization of biases. In a historical context, expressed social differences are inevitable, conflict is inevitable, and a case could be made that war and genocide cannot be ruled out. Kahn argues that behavioral realism has a lot to offer (but it is no magic bullet), and that raising awareness is a good thing.
The incessant academic and politically contrived arguments about the exact nature of racism keeps us from acting on what we know. Kahn says, “Racism is protean: as you try to grasp it, it changes form.” I agree wholeheartedly. Think about it this way: Given the anatomical functioning of human gray matter in the context of widespread social relations among peoples of the world, with dramatically different customs and traditions, is there any way under the sun to have avoided racial biases, given the way we react tribally to our differences? I don’t think so.
To buy the book click here
We thank Charles D. Hayes for his commitment to discovering truths.