Racism: Psychology's Place in an Unequal World

As a psychologist it pains me to say that psychology in itself has reached a new low point, in which psychologists are using the brain as a justification for racism. When Dr Richeson conducted her study into the racist attitudes of white people she found some interesting findings. Although I will comment on the lack of scientific validity of the entire investigation I can say some interesting (to say the least) conclusions can be drawn. I would like to state in advance, this article does not mean I promote or agree with racism or other forms of inequality for I do not, I simply wish to outline the low points which science has reached in order to justify those actions of people with closed minds and too readily opened mouths.

According to an article published in this month’s Psychologist (a magazine published by the British Psychological society) Dr Richeson’s research was done on a small and relatively bias sample group. With only fifteen participants (an overwhelming 175 below the standard limit needed for a research study to be scientifically valid) and all of whom were white undergraduate students – read middle class or high achievers – at an American University, it would then seem relatively unsurprising that I do not trust her research, even remotely. To me it is as valid and as useful as taking a lesson in algebra from a three year old, so not then. Of course, I would render it no more than a correlation, again as valid as lessons in algebra from a three year old. However, to highlight was she found is as follows.

She had her participants partake in several tests, ranging from testing reaction speeds (she suggested that the person with the more racist mind would react faster when seeing words such as ‘white’ and ‘good’ than ‘black’ and ‘good’) when she found these results she had several other stages of her tests. These ranged from interviews with people of different ethnicities to brain scans. Of course, she claims that in her study she found that those individuals with a more racist mind tended to show more activity in the central control regions of the brain. Interesting to say the least. However, this accounts only for people with racist minds and closed mouths.

I do not fully understand if Dr Richeson is trying to justify racism and call there a reason for it or if she suggesting that we should understand racism more than we do, for there is signs of brain activity (in a mere fifteen participants of similar backgrounds) I do not know, all I know is that with this information I could, as a psychologist, go on to further research such topics and consequently give reasons – quite strong arguments for the natural existence of things such as sexism, elitism, homophobia, and many other forms of discrimination and claim that they are natural and some express them purely for the lack of control in their brain, this should then be considered a mental illness or defect and so one cannot be held responsible for it. I could then, with success on that topic say, the difference between murderers and innocents is a lack of control in their brain, they should not be charged for this.

It is then safe to conclude that psychology is now trying to justify the wrong of people, not to understand them and empathise, then trying to help reform the person using valid and reliable scientific techniques but simply forcing us to say ‘yes there is good reason’ I for one can say I hope this approach does not settle with psychologists and can seriously say I think Dr Richeson would have been far more popular – if not loved – in a 15th century parliament, thanked by her kin. I believe and certainly in the eyes of slave trade lords who benefited (the very few with fewer morals) she would have been something of a God.

Still to give credit to a researcher who has researched an interesting area and has caught on to something, though not desirable, interesting, the study did peak my interest in the area and I am interested to know if more studies are to be done on the topic to prove or disprove such theories. Justification after all could be a thing which is useful in later years and could of course then have a way in which could take such views effectively (perhaps psychiatry is yet to put bias and closed minded people on medication for their problems. A day I’d truly love to see. The excitement is almost overwhelming. ) Where this topic will take it’s place, clinical, social or forensic would interest me further. However all I can do is to apologise to Dr Richeson, should she ever read this, if I have been incorrect in my direction of this, and to hope that further research would offer a spectrum of more ethnicities, backgrounds and ages of people with a higher sample number.

Of course, I would love to know, is this a natural reaction in humans to each other? Or is the media, and social values misguiding us into a reaction like this? Of course, I’d need a sociologist to back me on that piece of research.

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