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Reading TomP's reclister, I was relieved to hear that the crowd outside the president's appearance in Arizona talking, yelling, chanting and singing about his race weren't racists.

Their constant, reflexive caveats regarding their lack of racism really put me at ease on a question I never asked.

It's always reassuring when someone opens a conversation by denying, in the most definitive and unassailable tone, accusations that have not been made.

"Hey, Timmy. Wow, that candy bar looks good."

"I didn't steal it!"

 

Lot of not-racists these days. Paula Deen. George Zimmerman. The "Asian Girlz" dudes. (Have to say, I don't know squat about those guys--a band, I think--but I do know they're not racist).

Hearing all these people come out proudly as not racist is kind of sad and shameful for me. Because I am racist. Or bigoted or xenophobic or whatever word people use when just the word "racist" feels too icky.

It's not my fault, really. I blame my parents. They were, you know, those kind of people. Humans.


Last month, Lesley Stahl had a fascinating piece on 60 Minutes about the work of Yale University's Infant Cognition Center, which explores the behavior and thinking of very young children.

One of the Center's findings: though infants appear to have an innate sense of fairness and a desire to see all beings treated equally, they also seem content to see beings who share their preferences treated, well, more equally than those who don't.

I like Cheerios. The orange cat puppet likes Cheerios. The grey cat puppet likes graham crackers. It's cool if the orange cat's mean to the grey cat. 'Cause we're Cheerios guys.

87 percent of the other babies tested. From this Wynn concludes that infants prefer those "who harm... others" who are unlike them.

...

We are predisposed to break the world up into different human groups based on the most subtle and seemingly irrelevant cues, and that, to some extent, is the dark side of morality.

Ugly, huh? But what can you expect from those Cheerios guys? I've never liked them.

Racism, bigotry, xenophobia, tribalism, whatever you want to call it, has been fairly useful for survival over the history of our (and other) species. So it's gotten reinforced. It's deep in the bone.

But it's not inevitable. Another study at the Center found some hope.

But a funny thing happens as kids get older. Around age 8, they start choosing the equal, fair option more and more. And by 9 or 10, we saw kids doing something really crazy --deliberately giving the other kid more.
See, we really are racists, by birth (god I hate those racists!). But there has also been a survival benefit in teaching our children the trick of acting counter to our racist natures and reinforcing our "everybody gets a fair share" instinct.

I'll confess in my own case, I was a lot older than 8 before those lessons sank in. Fact is, I'm still learning them every day. It's difficult. It takes thought and self-reflection and a lot of really awful, humiliating moments when it gets pointed out that maybe I haven't quite gotten the knack of it yet.

I'm glad those people in Arizona don't have to go through that humbling and often painful process. I have to say I'm a bit envious.

Must be nice to be not racist.

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