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Richard de Nooy

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

How Racism Works – A 15-Point Primer

Racism is much like superstition, phobias and even religion. Bear with me as I walk you through my thinking.

Am I an expert on the topic? No, but I have a degree in social psychology and I grew up in apartheid South Africa. So there.

Racism, superstition and phobias derive from cognitive distortions, which are irrational thought patterns underlying beliefs.

If you believe that demons or pixies or werewolves exist, you will have no problem finding evidence that this is so.

If you have an irrational fear of spiders or water or open spaces, there is very little that will convince of the opposite.

Your mind is hardwired to focus on evidence supporting your irrational fear and will avoid evidence to the contrary.

Superstitions and phobias are easily transferred from parents to children, who learn from the actions of their parents.

Superstitions/beliefs become more pervasive/immutable when they are shared with others. Religion being the prime example.

Racism is perpetuated and learned in much the same way and is based on similar cognitive distortions and irrational beliefs.

Once someone holds racist beliefs, these are often as unchangeable as phobias, superstitions and religious beliefs.

One can only hope to curtail the impact of racism by enforcing strict laws protecting equality and countering prejudice.

America and Europe are currently experiencing a resurgence in racism, partly because racists are openly sharing their beliefs.

Needless to say, organised racism is potentially as dangerous for black people as shared arachnophobia is for spiders.

Rational, non-racist society must do its utmost to protect people from racism and to make it as embarrassing as arachnophobia.

Always bear in mind that shared irrational beliefs have fuelled the most grotesque atrocities ever perpetrated by humanity.

 

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