Friday, January 16, 2009

Stirring the pot, again

"Every man has reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone but only his friends. He has other matters in his mind which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But there are other things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind." Fyodor Dostoyevsky

"For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate....For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is not longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me." Romans 7:15 & 19-20.

Let me start this by asking for your grace, gentle reader. This is something to be approached with fear and trembling, and that is what I will attempt to do. Please bear with me.

I have always been blunt. That is good and bad. I was this way forever, and then medical school beat a little bit more tact out of me. It is surprising how few doctors are able to look someone in the eye and say "the cancer is back." Or "I'm sorry; your son is dead." Or "Yes, you should call your family now. It's time." We prefer to look down at the chart and mumble some doctor-speak while backing out the door.

So I pride myself on my ability to speak truthfully and directly and plainly.

Except when it gets me into trouble. Sometimes a little beating around the bush is not such a bad thing.

Hold your nose; here goes the cold water.

I took a test called the Implicit Association Test. You can find it here. I would very much appreciate it if you would take the "race" test and report back with your thoughts. (In brief, the test shows you pictures of faces, and asks you to quickly categorize them as "European American" or "African American." Then you are shown words such as pain, failure, joy, or laughter, and asked to categorize them as good or bad. Then the words and faces are mixed together, and you sort good words with the white folks and bad words with the black folks, and vice versa. If you find it more difficult to associate good words with black people, that's described as an implicit preference for whites.)

The test is not designed to detect hidden racism that the poor test taker did not know they harbored. No one is saying that if you score "Your data suggest a strong automatic preference for European American compared to African American" (my score report) that you are a closet member of the KKK.

But the test measures something, yes? The results are not random; and surely I can learn something from this experience.

I am not a racist. I have never been taught racism. I do not condone it. In any way.

It makes me so sad that I scored the way that I did. I wish I could change it.

At some level, for some reason, it is easier for me to associate positive traits with white people than with black people. And easier to attribute negative traits to black folks.

In any given situation, if I stop and think, even for a second, I will hopefully catch that fallacy and realize the irrationality. I don't really believe that white people are better or different or smarter or nicer or anything of the sort. But some aspect of my personality still tends to make those assumptions, at the level of gut instinct, when I don't stop and think. Or even for those few milliseconds before I stop and think.

So I guess my point is, I need to stop and think more often. And more quickly.

Or maybe the point is, I'm fallen and sinful, and I keep discovering more and more evidence of that fact in my own heart. (Why does this continue to surprise me???) Stopping and thinking is important, but only as a component of God's ongoing redemption at work in me. I need deliverance here. May He show grace. Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3) I am aware that willpower is insufficient to the task.

I'm glad I know this about myself. I wish it weren't there, but like a cancer, you have to know about it to take steps to get rid of it. The test served as a tutor, if you will. Or a CT scan, to keep with the medical metaphor. A Cat scan of the soul.

I'll copy over just a few of the most helpful tidbits from the FAQ section on the test website. Quotes are in blue. If you take a test, please, by all means, peruse that section to think about your results.
  • Familiarity: There is a known relation between familiarity and liking - people tend to like things that are familiar more than things that are unfamiliar. In this way, familiarity might be importantly related to implicit attitudes. So, there may be a role for familiarity in liking of the categories – people tend to like things that they are familiar with compared to things that they are not. What might emerge as an implicit prejudice may have its basis in unfamiliarity. I think this definitely applies to me. The simple fact is that most of my friends are white. I grew up in a town that was mostly white. Went to a college that is mostly white. My medical school was more diverse and that was a great experience; I could definitely use more diversity in my life. For me, that helps the "other" to become the "familiar."

  • Prejudice: So does this mean I am prejudiced? Social psychologists use the word 'prejudiced' to describe people who endorse or approve of negative attitudes and discriminatory behavior toward various out-groups. Many people who show automatic White preference on the Black-White attitude IAT are not prejudiced by this definition. It is possible to show biases on the IAT that are not consciously endorsed, or are even contradictory to intentional attitudes and beliefs. People who hold egalitarian conscious attitudes in the face of automatic White preferences may able to function in non-prejudiced fashion partly by making active efforts to prevent their automatic White preference from producing discriminatory behavior. However, when they relax these active efforts, these non-prejudiced people may be likely to show discrimination in thought or behavior. So I may be one of those people who may need to "make active efforts" to keep from behaving in a discriminatory manner.
I welcome feedback. I want to know what you think about this. Especially if you are uncomfortable or offended.

I'm putting myself out there, not because this is easy, but because I think it's important. This may not be politically correct, but I'm trying to be honest. I know I have much to learn. Much sin remains to be crucified. Much life to be regenerated.

Here's to redemption.

"So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Romans 7:21-25.



Andy said...

Research indicates that humans have a more difficult time picking up non-verbal facial cues of individuals who are of a different ethnic heritage. In general, the data suggests that we are more likely to incorrectly identify anger/aggression being expressed on the face of someone from a different ethnic heritage. Here's a link to one of the articles:

And another related link:

Take heart, Brandi. We are all born with certain innate tendencies, many of which may not be conducive to creating the peaceful, loving society that we strive to embody. Thank God for grace, and for our willingness to do our best to overcome those predispositions.

mandi said...

i was wondering if this was what your experience was, growing up knowing more white than anything else. my test results were equal black/white. i grew up in a predominantly vietnamese neighborhood. my youth group at church was predominantly black. my circle of friends in highschool were largely mexican. john was actually the only white boy i ever dated. so i agree with that idea, that we are comfortable with what we know. like in anything else- hobbies, food, cars...people. i know that i was really fortunate to grow up the way i did. surrounded by people who looked differently than i did. and now, as a parent, i make strides to ensure that my kids get the chance to have some racial diversity. that is a large part in why we chose this small neighborhood to live in, because we are surrounded by white people, black people, mexican people, asian people, old and young people.
but i know that there is more to be done. our neighbors moved and now dylin doesn't have any black playmates. and it really is important to me that she does.
i must add that i am so heartened by your honesty and courage here. thanks for putting yourself out there. it is one of the most important conversations that we can have.