The Edmond Sun

March 29, 2013

Can Americans bridge racial divide?

Mike Hinkle
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — Writing about or talking about race is a tricky proposition. There is a range of politically correct opinions and one who strays beyond that range runs the risk of being labeled a racist. There are areas of scientific study that are off-limits due to the potentially explosive reaction that might follow if results contradict approved rubric.

Currently, there is an onerous double standard applied to those who presume to advance opinions on the state of race relations in the United States. The shortcomings of “White America” are fair game to be explored, exposed, discussed, demeaned and broadcast by any commentator who cares to pile on.

White Americans are invited to acknowledge their collective racial guilt and stand mute as the sins of the fathers are heaped on the heads of a generation that took no part in the wrongdoing and wouldn’t tolerate the abuses of the past.

There are several recent news items that should cause us to spend some time putting off our racial weapons and armor and reflect on the situation in a fair and responsible way.

First, consider an article in the April 4 issue of The New York Times Review of Books. Leonard Mlodinow, a respected physicist at the Max Planck Institute of Physics wrote an article titled “Most of Us Are Biased After All.” Here, Dr. Mlodinow reviews a book by Drs. Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald, both nationally recognized social psychologists. Their book “Blindspot: Hidden Biases in Good People” suggests there are widespread biases in people that operate on a level outside the realm of conscious mind. Dr. Greenwald is the principal creator of the Implied Association Test, which seeks to determine the existence of subconscious bias in those who take the test.

Here’s a summary of how it works. If you are given a deck of cards and told to make two stacks, as fast as you can, diamonds and heart in one stack, clubs and spades in the other, the process should flow fairly easily for obvious reasons. After all, it’s no great challenge to group the cards by color.

Now assume the two stacks are diamonds and clubs on one side, hearts and spades on the other. This will prove a little more difficult and thus take more time.

Now suppose you’re given a deck of cards with pictures of white and black Americans, and cards with positive and negative words written on them. You’re told to put the cards with black Americans and positive words in one pile, the white Americans and negative words in another — or vice versa. According to the test, the more time it takes to complete the task, the more errors you make in the process, provides insight into your subconscious biases.

I haven’t read “Blindspot” but Dr. Mladinow reports that 75 percent of Americans have an unconscious automatic preference for whites over blacks. This preference is allegedly played out across racial lines. This is where I leave the data in your lap and ask you to consider the following: (1) What is your visceral response to this information? (2) Assume these findings are incorrect, what does this error tell us about race relations in America? (3) Assume the findings are correct…?” (4) If the findings are correct, do we need to change something? (5) Are we justified in making a concerted effort to damage the image of white people if this is one way to erase the preference? (7) Are there ways to moderate the preference without using guilt or shame to get it done?

Unfortunately, discussions of race typically evoke aggressive and defensive positions that obliterate or constrict our abilities to speak to each other in the spirit of mutual understanding. Consider the example of the “Being White in Philly” article appearing earlier this month in Philadelphia Magazine. When the article appeared, the merits of the discussion were lost in a storm of racial charges and counter charges.

Consider also the case of Dr. Benjamin Carson, a noted pediatric neurosurgeon, who is the victim of a grossly offensive barrage of racial epithets because he expresses opinions that run counter to “the profile.”

Any reasonably conscientious social observer should acknowledge there are racial problems in this country. Any reasonably fair-minded commentator should know that heaping culturally approved shame and guilt on innocent victims is not a prudent solution even if it does furnish some short-term effectiveness. Knee-jerk name-calling, wholesale labeling and mindless dismissal of differing opinion is not the solution. Perhaps we can shake hands and agree to build a better future together. I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.

MIKE HINKLE is an Edmond resident and retired attorney.