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Are We Born Racist?: New Insights from Neuroscience and Positive Psychology Paperback


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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: 8.5 x 6.2 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #299,649 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

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 Shareable.net, 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 Salon.com. 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

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The future can be brighter and better; we can make it so.
Sam I Am
There is not a scintilla of evidence in the book to support this claim.
Alex Wolf
This diverse group of articles makes this book a very interesting read.
Matthew Tillman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Paul in DC on August 19, 2010
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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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6 of 7 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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2 of 2 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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I have always been interested in the conflict between the neuroscience of the brian and our behavior. One issue that often raises tension, especially being in the American South, is the discussion of race. I decided to read Are We Born Racist? New Insights from Neuroscience and Positive Psychology in order to explore the link between neuroscience and racism. Jason Marsh, Rudolfo Mendoza-Denton, and Jeremy Adam Smith do a good job collecting articles on the issues of racism and neuroscience. Overall, this is a great read explaining the neuroscience behind racism, and some very practical methods in how racism should be handled in today's modern society. The book is not too scientific, so the common reader is able to follow along, and it might bring to light some of your own racist tendencies you might not now see.

The book is separated into three sections. These sections contain many short essays and articles, written by neuroscientist and psychologist, centered on the theme of that section. The articles are not necessarily linked to each other, so there are many point of views expressed within the sections. The first section of the book looks into answering the question that the book actually poses in the title, Are We Born Racist? This collection of articles investigates the modern racism and the science behind them. The racism found in today's American society is different from previous generations. Rather than an out-spoken racism, the modern racism is silent, but looking at minority groups within the societal structure, one can see its affects. Looking at neurological studies, it is found that we do have a natural tendency to favor others of the same race compared to others of a different race.
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10 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Alex Wolf on May 31, 2011
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I read this book thinking I would find some scientific evidence to address the question that the title asks. Instead, there is lots of references to research (some of it very interesting) that shows how people who are socialized in a racist environment respond to race-containing stimuli. If you're going to ask whether or not we're BORN racist, it would be helpful to provide data that show we are, you know, actually born racist and not socialized that way. There is not a scintilla of evidence in the book to support this claim.

On the other hand, there is a lot of very imprecise language from scientists who are ostensibly trained to avoid such language. Saying "it appears to be human nature..." and "It's almost as if our brains are hardwired...", etc. These types of statements are eschewed by people who claim to be studying human nature or the innate qualities of our nervous system. It's sloppy language.

Finally, there are flat contradictions, most egregiously when one writer states "Issues of racism and prejudice have been a source of struggle throughout history" (p. 23) and another states "Racism in the modern sense did not exist in Rome. There is little evidence that Romans saw light skin as superior to dark skin, or vice versa." (p. 99-100) Which is it? Either something has always existed or it hasn't. This is sloppy editing.

The view that racism is part of the human condition and that undoing it requires great vigilance benefits only those who benefit in a society that is reliant, both politically and economically, on racism. This book has (perhaps) unwittingly done the job of bolstering those who would promote the lie that while this may not be the best of all conceivable worlds, it is the best of all possible worlds.
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