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Are We Born Racist?: New Insights from Neuroscience and Positive Psychology Paperback – June 29, 2010

6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this slender multidisciplinary analysis, scientists, novelists, and religious leaders examine the roots of racial prejudice and possible antidotes. Princeton psychology professor Susan T. Fiske pre-sents neuroscience findings that in repeated studies, when white test subjects look at photographs of black people, their amygdalae—the seat of the fear response system in the brain—lights up, suggesting that bias is unconscious and deep-seated. But biology is not destiny, nor is bias ineradicable, as following essays attest. Contributors address how schools, businesses, and police departments can counter an inborn tendency to distrust that which is different. And the book's third section celebrates racial and ethnic diversity as a source of vitality. Rebecca Walker addresses being biracial, and others meditate on raising bicultural and biracial children or being part of an interracial couple. The concluding essay by Archbishop Desmond Tutu relates how the truth and reconciliation process helped heal South Africa's deep racial fissures. While topics are explored too briefly to be of scholarly interest, their brevity will be an advantage to readers looking for a snapshot of contemporary research into and activism around ending racism. (Aug.)
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From Booklist

The bad news about the human species is that our impulse to prejudge others predates our evolution from primates to humans, but the good news is that more recent evolution of the neocortex restrains our less noble impulses. Combining research from neuroscience and psychology, this collection of essays examines the question of whether we are born with biases based on race, gender, age, religion, and sexual orientation and whether we can learn to control ourselves and come to appreciate our differences. Contributors provide historical perspective on how science has served racism, including eugenics, and looks beyond the individual impulses to the institutional support for discrimination. The collection begins with scientists drawing on brain scans to examine the instinct toward bias and how we can mitigate those instincts and goes on to psychologists exploring the psychological roots of prejudice and highlighting tools to overcome bias without succumbing to the myth of color blindness. In the final section, social scientists ponder how we can learn through changes in cultural beliefs and social circumstances to appreciate diversity. A highly accessible, thought-provoking collection on racial bias. --Vanessa Bush

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (June 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807011576
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807011577
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #129,197 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jeremy Adam Smith writes about parenting, science and technology, popular culture, urban life, and politics--sometimes all of them at once.

He is author of The Daddy Shift (Beacon Press, 2009), which the San Francisco Chronicle calls "amazing," author Michael Kimmel calls "impassioned [and] insightful," and the New York Times praises as "a chronicle of a time... we will look back upon as the start of permanent change." He is also the co-editor of two science anthologies: The Compassionate Instinct (W.W. Norton & Co., 2010) and Are We Born Racist? (Beacon Press, 2010).

Currently, Jeremy is a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. He the founding editor of, where a series he developed and edited with the nonprofit news site Public Press won an Excellence in Explanatory Journalism Award from the Norther California chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists. He is also the former senior editor of Greater Good magazine, which was nominated for multiple Maggie and Independent Press awards during his tenure.

Jeremy's essays, short stories, and articles have appeared in Mothering, The Nation, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Utne Reader, Wired, and numerous other periodicals and books. He has also been interviewed by many media outlets, including The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, The Today Show, The Talk, USA Today, Nightline, The Daily Beast, numerous NPR and CBC shows, ABC News 5, NBC News 11, and He is a regular guest on The Takeaway, a drive-time morning show co-sponsored by New York Times, BBC World Service, and WNYC.

He lives in San Francisco with his wife and son.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Paul in DC on August 19, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a long-time student of both neuro-science and D&I, I found this to be just the right mix of hard science and research to compliment more traditional texts on inclusion. While it in no way let us "off the hook" for prejudiced behaviors, it does remove the guilt often experienced when people first come to terms with their own primal instincts to discriminate. More importantly the authors challenge us to intentionally engage others from whom who are different (nicely referencing studies on "contact hypothesis") so that we can re-educate the neo-cortex portion of our brains and reprogram our responses. Nicely written!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By KingGeorge24 on September 15, 2011
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My review will be brief, as I have already written a rather lengthy review of the text as a comment under the 1-star review by The Wolf.

Buy this book if you are curious how we process those who are different than us, notably by race. Essay by essay, the authors argue persuasively that humans have no control over whether or not they notice race. Our bodies - from our brains, down our spine and into our nervous systems, through our bloodstream and to our hearts - respond differently to people who differ visibly from us. This has been shown by fMRI and EEG readings of amygdala activity (the part of the brain related to stress and fear, among other things), as well as hormone release (cortisol, a fright or flight hormone, is released both when prejudiced people are forced to interact with people of another race, and to people of another race when they are being antagonized). We have this amygdala activity and hormone release to protect us. For hundreds of thousands of years, we needed to be very defensive and alert. This programme was essential to survival. But today, in structured societies of humans whom science has declared all equal, this programme is obsolete. Much like our irrational fear of spiders and Mad Cow disease (you are much more likely to die in a car, but cars weren't around 150,000 years ago and food pandemics and deadly insects were), our inclination to "other" people unlike us is an unfortunate part of our design feature that is here to stay.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Sam I Am on September 5, 2010
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"Are We Born Racist?" gives the research behind the cognitive processes of racism. There is a difference between prejudice and racism that we as a society need to examine more closely. There are ways to change for the better how a racist thinks. This book shows how people of different demographics can cooperate, work, live more harmoniously. The future can be brighter and better; we can make it so.

I highly recommend this book.
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