Saturday, August 15, 2020

Perception and Reality in Race Relations

Perception is what we subjectively see while reality is what we subjectively accept as true! Changing perception often leads to changes in perceived reality. We are not talking about physical properties of tangible objects but what those objects mean to us. Race and discrimination are about what we subjectively see in others without having enough outside anchors to make an accurate reflection of ourselves in context to others. 

When introduced to new stimuli through people who are different than you the brain uses the most previously used neural networks to asses that stimuli and produce a reaction.  As we use certain networks we strengthen those networks so that information, or lighting up the network, continues to prefer those networks to understand the stimuli. 

Thus when we learn a new job or skill we are creating additional networks and the more we practice that skill (i.e. throwing a baseball) the better we get at it. Discrimination is the same thing. The more we tell ourselves that others are dangerous, lower than, or in some way defunct the more are unable to see the alternatives to those distorted beliefs. 

That is why to understand a group's beliefs you have to understand their language. This is one reason why discrimination is often learned and why some groups are more discriminatory than others. Let me give you a real example. A group of friends that have not changed their social networks since high school have few alternative perspectives about others and share these distorted beliefs among each other.

Everything they think and see about minorities has no real connection to those people. It is something they saw on tv, in the news, or say among their friends. It is distant from them. Now if they use the word "nigga" to describe Black people, "terrorists" to describe Muslims, and "Spic" to describe Hispanics they will teach each other and their children to be bigots and racists (It should be noted that all races, religions or identity based groups can engage in the same types of story creation behaviors). 

Let's say that they have never met or associated themselves with different types of people and in turn they continuously reconfirm their own distorted identity through the terminology they use about themselves and others. Their biased neural networks are very strong and thus whenever they have an emotional charge the first things that comes to mind are these deeply embedded biased images and thoughts. 

Perception starts to become reality.

Thus, when an entire group has come to accept those distorted beliefs they can easily accept the subjective perception as reality. Once they begin to confirm each other's beliefs they are unable to develop new neural networks or foster an environment where healthier behaviors can be exhibited or accepted by the group. Eventually the group loses its objective reality and in turn their beliefs become increasingly distorted.

The more they engage in selective acceptance of some information while filtering others they will inherently feel more justified in using illegal and aggressive tactics.  If they are supported by public officials and a wider network of friends through turning a blind eye to such behaviors then the more likely distorted hate type thinking will become embedded and accepted in the community. 

Its not the one who stands up against poor behavior that is the weakest it is those who must strictly adhere to the distorted values of their social group for fear of being rejected. 

This is one reason why we should not sweep things under the carpet when they occur in our community. Racism and bigotry quickly catches on and become projected into our systems. Our society is currently in the process of challenging our perception of race/religion and thus will go through some stressful times as new neural networks among our public officials are developed. 

Racism an discrimination are learned and taught. We teach our kids, we fail to hold perpetrators of hate crimes accountable, we laugh and sneer when someone calls us out for bad behavior. We must then come to ask ourselves at what point will we end the cycle of hate and aggression? That won't happen unless the parties get the help they need or are forced to interact with others of different backgrounds to create new neural networks. 

The neural networks that allow for universalized justice and civility can be enhanced through practice.

Our justice system has an obligation to fight against hate crimes and in many cases they do exactly that; yet all too often perception and reality are distorted. Sometimes they don't go far enough and come to accept those distorted beliefs as under the bar of legal enforcement. That is also a subjective choice. Universalizing the justice system means creating new ways of thinking (i.e. neural networks) that see individuals as equals under the law and in our social networks. 

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