A friend of mine posted this quote from Denis Leary.
Of course, I know I shouldn’t take advice on psychology from comedians, no offense, but the quote did get me thinking. Not because it’s so profound but because it’s dangerously incomplete.
To be sure, I don’t believe that hatred and racism are innate traits. To that extent, Leary is correct. But it is innate to want to categorize our world and our observations and to believe that our group (and therefore oneself) is better than others and distrust or fear others. And if we’re in the habit of taking advice on psychology from pop culture, this seems more trustworthy to me:
This process that kids engage in is called in-group favoritism. Or bias.
When we don’t talk to our kids about race, they may categorize people based on race to try to understand people’s differences. If, in a diverse class, a kid of x race sees a children of y race act out, he may think all people with y-colored skin misbehave. Or, if a kid sees another kid of his own race correctly answer questions, he may think that all kids like him are smart. Race is obvious. We don’t do kids any favors by pretending they are blind.
So, back to Leary, yes, I believe we must be taught to hate. But bias leads to suffering, and it is both innate and insidious. Leary misses the point if he thinks he can absolve parents of responsibility strictly if they are not Klansmen. Hate killed nine people in Charleston, but bias kills one at a time (Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Renisha McBride, and John Crawford, to name a few). Bias threw kids on the ground during a pool party. Bias sentences African American men to prison for longer terms than similar white defendants. Bias drives down property values when an African American family moves in. Bias leads to African Americans being paid less to do the same work. We may need to be taught to hate, but in-group favoritism leads to suffering and deaths too. It’s not enough only to not hate.