We just don’t know what we don’t know. The more we learn the more we must unlearn. We think we know things until we turn on our brains and turn off our lizard minds. Our education is never complete despite the Marie Kondo tidiness of our cranial storage units. That’s where stereotypes fit so well. Othering follows right behind. Our quest for speed, productivity and generating economic value, makes it easier for us to put people in boxes and rank their importance based on their utility to us.
Our brains get hard-wired with bias, prejudice and even hate. We are all prejudiced and racist. We de-humanize people through our transactional relationships that often are connected to our economic consumption and productivity. We all contribute to hate by speed labeling others and determining whether they are good or bad in an instant.
… we all have to contend with our culture’s influential role in shaping prejudice. Years, even generations, of explicit and implicit cultural messages—gleaned from parents, the media, first-hand experiences, and countless other sources—link particular physical appearances with a host of traits, positive or negative. Neuroscience has shown that people can identify another person’s apparent race, gender, and age in a matter of milliseconds. In this blink of an eye, a complex network of stereotypes, emotional prejudices, and behavioral impulses activates. These knee-jerk reactions do not require conscious bigotry, though they are worsened by it. Susan Fiske (remarkable neuroscience research)
Each of us processes and applies our coding, prejudice and hate differently. We literally have coded our bigotry. Some people still use seemingly innocuous acronyms, PLU (people like us) or NOKD (not our kind, dear). But there are much harsher ones. When I heard UFO for the first time (ugly fucking orientals) I was stunned and saddened.
The increased awareness and spate of Asian hate crimes, like all hate crimes, erode our faith in humanity, our hope for equity and our ability to work together on our common destiny. It also can catalyze our anger and drain our reservoir of love for each other. Hate begets hate.
Both science and history suggest that people will nurture and act on their prejudices in the worst ways when these people are put under stress, pressured by peers, or receive approval from authority figures to do so. We see this in hate crimes directed at homeless people, gays and lesbians, and all ethnicities. Susan Fiske
As I have said on these pages many times, until we have as much empathy and compassion for the perpetrators of crimes as the victims, we will not heal ourselves of the hate and violence. No hate or violence can be justified. People must be held accountable for their actions. But we need to understand the complexity of identity, of behaviors, and of outcomes.
I just counsel us to not link all incidents, the motivations of all perpetrators, into a conspiracy. The media pushes us to see patterns where there are none. We are baited into our worst instincts to react with anger, fear and then even more hate. We become what we abhor.
We cannot lose sight of the systemic and institutionalized racism, hate mongering, oppressive cultures, and policies that spawn hate and now more Asian hate. Systemic racism that has gone unchecked for generations and hundreds of years.
Asians have been hated and marginalized since they arrived in this country. Asians are still “the other” rarely counted, polled, acknowledged, profiled, elected or promoted. That has been my personal experience my whole life and career. It is good that our awareness of hate and hate crimes is greater than ever. But hate is a symptom, and have always been symptoms of institutionalized hate.
We grieve the victims of Asian hate. Let us know their names and stories. We must reserve judgment of the perpetrators until we understand their stories too. Never to excuse any commission of crimes, but to understand the underlying causes of these tragedies. Whether we like it or not perpetrators are victims too. Victimized by a system that has teaches and governs using “difference” to separate us, divide us and pit us against one another.
Yes, we are all humans. We must be taught the evolution of our interdependent existence on this planet. We must learn the true history of this country. We must understand the depth and breadth of the immigrant experience–since we all are immigrants! From our colonizing Manifest Destiny to our brutal White Supremacy roots to our pursuit of the American Dream of equality.
We get lost in our differences and fail to see that our DNA is the same. That by focusing on these differences we disable our ability to help and love one another to reduce the amount of unnecessary suffering in the world and sustaining the planet. We lack a shared understanding of our oneness, fostering hate and separating us from our common destiny.
Every individual has a history, lineage, ancestors that come from the same source. While our variety is extraordinary and beautiful, we are all made of the same clay. How that clay is molded, the infinite potential of that clay and what forces mold the clay are things we must focus on.
Our understanding of “diversity” is a lifelong pursuit. It requires each of us to study our own gaps in understanding. It requires us to read, to ask questions, and recalibrate the narratives of racism and stereotyping in the convenience stores of our minds.
We all fail at understanding the diversity of the diversity. The complexity of reality intimidates us, and we recoil into our tiny inadequate but comfortable minds where barcoding is expedient.
Neuroscience has found that we classify some faces and races as inanimate objects and even as garbage or human waste. Barcoding separates us, builds othering, and breeds hate.
How do people identify themselves versus how we identify them?
As a third generation Japanese American (sansei) whose grandfather worked on the railroads and whose parents were interned during WWII. I married a hapa (mixed Asian) woman whose birth parents met during the Korean War. My children are half Japanese, 25% Korean and Irish. Welsh, and German. My daughter married a man whose family is ethnically Chinese but lived in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge. Their future kids will be…………The deeper you go the more layers you discover. And I am just speaking of ethnicity and race here as a small part of identity.
There are approximately 29 sub-ethnic groups in “Asian” and “Asian-American”. Even AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islanders) is an attempt to link similar but entirely different communities, histories, and identities to increase political clout and policy relevance. It is a barcode that lumps together 4.3 billion people on this planet–or approximately 60% of the world’s population. Isn’t that helpful?!
The deeper you travel into diversity you end up at commonality.
Once you take the diversity of the diversity seriously you realize how futile and foolish it is to barcode anyone–“white”, “Asian”, “black”, “Latino”…….
Not advocating “color blindness”, differences matter and need to be understood and celebrated. But differences that divide us as humans, that breed hate have no place in our worlds. Difference and diversity are an essential part of nature. Our appreciation of snowflakes is understanding that every single one is unique.
More recent research shows that our prejudices are not inevitable; they are actually quite malleable, shaped by an ever-changing mix of cultural beliefs and social circumstances. While we may be hardwired to harbor prejudices against those who seem different or unfamiliar to us, it’s possible to override our worst impulses and reduce these prejudices. Doing so requires more than just good intentions; it requires broad social efforts to challenge stereotypes and get people to work together across group lines.
Let’s march, protest, and then follow-through on changing public policies to ensure equity in rights, teaching the full truth in our history classes, and electing leaders, to help us understand each other in addition to protect us from one another.
Let us avoid the trap of using hate to respond to hate.
Let’s make the time to understand who we think we “know” or “work with” or “care about”.
Let’s slow down our transactional and judgmental barcoding.
Let’s barcode love. Then we will see more of what binds us and what connects us than what divides us.
Thanks for reading. John