Your Brain on Bigotry

Racism and the Brain

This summer, the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, ignited long-standing racial tensions throughout the Midwestern city. A riot erupted at a candlelight vigil between the protesters calling for justice and the local police — resulting in over 155 arrests to date — including freelance journalists who came to cover the event — and the looting and vandalism of over 12 businesses near the site of the protest. Nine people have been injured in the ensuing violence. As protests rage on, both in real life and in the realm of bloggers, the media continues to explore the incidents leading to Brown’s death and how the state of Missouri is handling the crisis. Unfortunately, the conflict runs much deeper than any one of these isolated events.

The history of America has been, from the beginning, painfully intertwined with racial prejudice. Our progress as a society has been marked by the great strides taken to overcome it, from Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation to the civil rights movement a century later, each bringing promise of a brighter tomorrow. Many of the darkest moments in American history, however, are the result of racial intolerance, violence, and misunderstanding.

From shootings of black citizens by white police officers, to racist comments by some of the biggest names in professional sports, all the way up to the highest levels of government, racial tensions have been brought back into the forefront of the news.

After so many years of sweat, blood, and tears in the name of racial equality, why are we surrounded by so much racial prejudice? Will we ever be truly free from its detrimental effects? Given that prejudice manifests as a deeply unconscious process in the brain, perhaps neuroscience can provide us with some fresh insight on the answer.

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