The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Archive for the tag “racism”

Why your brain hates other people

It’s been a long time since I posted anything – been a bit too occupied with running election campaigns!  Although I try to keep my political activities separate from social work, there is so much that overlap.

Living in an area where racism is rife this one particular subject has been close to the forefront of my mind.  What a treat then to find this rather long article by entitled Why Your Brain Hates Other People, by Robert Sapolsky, on the the root causes of so many different areas of prejudice, whether we call it racism or not, whether we talk of hate crimes or bullying or something else.

Fundamentally, whether we like it or not, our brains are hard-wired to “stick to our own kind”, whether that’s race, religion, politics, or class.  It’s in the amygdala. We won’t, in our lifetimes, overcome our biology, but understanding is the first step in lessening the negative impact in our own lives.

[The article references the Implicit Association Test – a brilliant way of testing your own prejudices.  Much of what Sapolsky talks about here can also be found in the work of the Human Givens Institute.  Both easily found with Google.]

I had a conversation with a political friend the other day.  I was reminiscing about being in Africa and noticing that people kept staring at me.  And then I realised I hadn’t seen another white face in three days.  I was passing through their land, albeit slowly.  I loved Africa and I hated it.  I was travelling on a shoestring, yet by virtue of my race, my colour, I was seen as rich.  And I was rich.  I had food in my belly.  I was travelling in a car.  But I knew that sooner or later I would have to face up to the fact that my travels were being increasingly funded by debt, and I would soon have to return to work to clear those debts.  Could I explain that?  No.  I was rich. I had access to debt I could hope to work to pay off.  My European passport (soon to be lost to Brexit, don’t get me started) gave me a freedom of movement not afforded to others. White privilege.

But as I reflect on Sapolsky’s article I wonder how else ‘they’ saw ‘me’?


Can white understand colour?

This US teacher gets it – and it works for social work and other caring professions too – read what she has to say HERE.


Swarms of racists

Those who know me will know I’ve been more active on Facebook recently than on the blog.  But it’s time to string a few more words together on a very important subject.


I don’t think anybody wants to see mass migration (albeit perhaps for different reasons, bear with me).  I don’t want to see a massive influx of immigrants coming to Britain or Europe. But they are. I would rather they were able to live in their own countries. Because the truth is that most of them would rather live in their own countries. And when it is safe to do so many of them return to their homelands. Because that is what they would prefer. But it’s not that simple.

We as a society, as communities and as individuals, whatever our circumstances, need to recognise that if people are uprooting their entire lives, leaving everything they know and love, for a dangerous journey to a strange place, then they are doing it for a very good reason.

Generically speaking, “we”, in the destination countries, have raped, pillaged and bombed their homelands until they are no longer safe or viable places to live. Where we’ve not done that we’ve promoted consumerism and a vicious form of capitalism that has broken down communities into individuals fighting each other for resources. If we have any compassion left in our souls we should be recognising that the plight of asylum seekers (aka immigrants) is a symptom of the global world we are creating and that we as humanity need to be responding to that to make this world a safer place for all of us to live. NIMBYism is not going to help. The back yard is getting smaller. As Niemoller is famously quoted as saying: when it comes to our turn who will be left to fight for us?

I’m far from alone in my concerns.  In one report the Guardian recently commented on a growth in Naziism related to the rising numbers of asylum seekers being accepted into the country.  (Sorry, don’t have a link for this any more.)

Laurie Penny, writing in the New Statesman, has observed the rise in racism since returning from a year of travels.

Penny likens our situation to the old legend of boiling frogs – the frog starts out in a saucepan of cold water and doesn’t notice the increasing temperature as it sits on the fire slowly being boiled alive.  She’s right. Starting with media coverage of UKIPs stance on immigration, the recent UK elections opened a floodgate of simmering racism such that there is no shame in sharing bigoted, dehumanising views in person, online, or through the media.  In one experiment adapted Nazi propaganda posted to the Daily Mail online received way more upvotes than downvotes, suggesting (blind) support for some quite worrying views.  From online (pre-moderated) comments from the public I have seen there are certainly some deeply entrenched fears that all migrants are heading for Britain (not true), that it will lead to the collapse of the country, strong disbelief in the government’s desire or ability to protect the country, a desire to close our borders, and a consistent theme that most migrants are not genuine, only coming for our generous benefits (they’re not) and NHS and all migrants should be sent back to where they came from.

I have personally had two conversations in recent days, with complete strangers who have come across as very angry in their tirades about ‘immigrants’: one harking back to the ‘coloureds in the 50s’, another picking up on David Cameron’s recent unfortunate terminology in complaining of them ‘swarming over here’.

Whilst you “can’t please all the people all the time”, and there will instead of xenophobiaalways be opposition, our leaders need to learn the advice of Ahtisaari and show true leadership.  They know the power of their ill-spoken words.  Talk of using electric fences, dogs and the army to keep swarms of migrants at bay reinforces negative images, builds fear and increases community tensions and the risk of violence.

We have to ask ourselves the question: what’s in it for them, the politicians?  By distracting public opinion and stoking strong feelings on to migration, what important and unpalatable actions are being performed by governments that could have far more reaching consequences for our local and global communities and even the world we live in?

Thankfully there are communities who are welcoming and supportive of migrants.  Although too few have their voices heard in the wider media scramble for negative news, they are not alone.

There is a crisis.  A humanitarian crisis.  Digging in the trenches and lining up the gun sights is not going to make it go away.


Confronting racism face to face from the BBC

Morals, Emotions & Politics

Reported on MNT, and originally reported in Political Psychology, researchers have shown that the emotional arousal of men after watching part Sylvester Stallone’s “Cliffhanger” led to stronger anti-immigration attitudes, compared to two control groups who watched tranquil or non-anxiety inducing videos.  The researchers were aiming to test the observation and belief that “induced anxiety could ‘carry over’ to impact political beliefs, potentially triggering prejudice toward groups such as immigrants. When anxiety levels are high voters are more likely to recall negative experiences with immigrants and interpret ambiguous information in a more negative and threatening manner.”

A lesson for us all, not just the politicians!!

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