They all look alike! Have you ever heard that? Have you ever teased a friend who mistakenly called you by another persons name of your same race? Traditionally, that has been a marker we've used for racism in a person. I remember being called by another co-workers name and laughing telling the person who'd made the mistake, "We don't all look alike!" Well, there is evidence that to him, we actually do!
The superior temporal sulcus is a part of the brain that helps us read different expressions on the faces of others. It tells us whether the person appears OK to approach, to run away from them or to get ready to fight. Another region of the brain called the fusiform face (FFA) area helps us recognize what is familiar and what is not, who is a friend and who is an enemy. Of course these areas are important for survival and social acceptance. If you cannot judge if someone is angry, perhaps you may mistakenly say or do something that provokes them into a physical fight. Or, if you misinterpret someone as a friend when they are a long time enemy, you may end up in a rather dicey situation.
Stanford researchers and neuroscientists specializing in human memory conducted a study using a Functional magnetic resonance imaging matching (fMRI) to track blood flow changes in the brains of dozens of black and white volunteers as they watched pictures of the faces of black and white subjects. The stronger response to a face, the brighter the sensors shined.
They found that the FFA responded more vigorously to faces that were the same race as the participant. This was a consistent finding in both white and black participants. When shown the photographs again later, participants were able to recognize those faces that their FFA had responded to the most in the prior test.
Have you ever wondered how to explain some of the things you've experienced as a minority to someone who couldn't relate? When you tell them about the circumstance and tell them you didn't like it, they tell you it's just you. They say you are being too sensitive or that you are misreading the situation. You know there is something there that made you feel crappy and it is the type of thing that happens so often that you get exhausted by having to navigate these deniable situations all the freaking time!! How about when you are sitting in a meeting and you give a suggestion that is ignored only to be repeated by someone else who is met with praise and accolades related to the idea that you made and was ignored for?
Here, Kimberly Papillon puts a name and description to these situations. She breaks down why these situations are not random, why they are unacceptable and why they make you feel the way they do..
Why is there such anger, defensiveness and aversion to speaking about race and the lack of fair balance in our society as a result of racism to certain members of our society? Why is it so difficult to speak with them about these issues when others see it so clearly? Your race can determine where you live, what you do for work, what car you drive and sometimes if you live or die.. There is no doubt that perspective is the most important factor. What perspective did you grow up with? What perspective do you live with now? Have you ever had to navigate the things that minorities in this country have to navigate often as a matter of life and death?
I have had occasion to speak with white colleagues and friends about racial issues in this country. I tend to be a bit of a stubborn type believing that I can provide the majority with minority perspective if they would just hear it out. And on almost as many occasions, I have been iced out, drowned out, cried out or just plain put out. Most simply did not want to hear it and frankly were not prepared for the feeling it gave them deep down inside. Reason went out the door and emotion took over. This reaction is not intentional. The feeling inside is not controllable. It is the result of a perspective minorities have a difficult time understanding because their race has been front and center in their lives since birth. How can they possibly understand the perspective of someone who has not had to think about their race for the majority of their lives? Professor of communications Judith Martin described it this way:
"As in other Western nations, white children born in the United States inherit the moral predicament of living in a white supremacist society. Raised to experience their racially based advantages as fair and normal, white children receive little if any instruction regarding the predicament they face. let alone any guidance in how to resolve it. Therefore, they experience or learn about racial tension without understanding Euro-American' historical responsibility for it and knowing virtually nothing about their contemporary rolls in perpetuating it." Prof. Judith Martin