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

3.8 out of 5 stars 9 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: 5.5 x 0.5 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 (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #41,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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"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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Format: Paperback
The workplace, school, and policing were discussed. I wish there had been some discussion of the neighborhood dimension. Under what conditions do neighborhoods maintain racial stability and under what conditions do they tip racially? Some research indicates that as neighborhoods become more diverse racially, the sense of trust is reduced. What are the conditions that are conducive to maintenance of housing stability and, therefore, schooling? I think the inclusion of literature from housing and urban planning would have added to the book's attention to schooling and policing, and resulted in wider appeal.
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