“If your family doesn’t want your stuff when you’re alive, they sure won’t want it when you’re dead.That’s the blunt assessment of yet another self-help author from abroad who is trying to get Americans, who have an addiction to collecting and storage units, to clean up their acts.The latest volley in the decluttering business comes from Stockholm, where 80-ish artist Margareta Magnusson has just published a slim yet sage volume, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.” The book will be published in the United States in January.”
“The reason that students at Yale and places like it can “afford” to major in history is that they have the luxury of seeing college as a chance to learn about the world beyond the confines of their home towns, and to try to understand where they might fit in. That’s what history does best. It locates us and helps us understand how we got here and why things are the way they are. “History instills a sense of citizenship, and reminds you of questions to ask, especially about evidence,” Willis told me. In a follow-up e-mail after our conversation, Mikhail wrote, “A study of the past shows us that the only way to understand the present is to embrace the messiness of politics, culture, and economics. There are never easy answers to pressing questions about the world and public life.” Bruce Springsteen famously developed a profound political consciousness after happening upon Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager’s “A Pocket History of the United States,” first published in 1942. In his recent Broadway show, Springsteen explained, “I wanted to know the whole American story. . . . I felt like I needed to understand as much of it as I could in order to understand myself.”
A group of “contrabands,” between 1861-1865. A stereograph showing a group of seven African American men, former slaves, dressed in old Union uniforms standing in front of a wagon and shack. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)By Gillian Brockell September 11, 2014On a rainy night in early 1865, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton arrived in Savannah, Ga. — which the Union had captured weeks earlier — with a question: What should become of newly free black people? It was a question that many in power had been asking for some time. What was different this time was to whom the question was posed: the newly free black people themselves.It was a visit born of a massacre about a month before, and it launched a debate that continues to this day.The issue of where these people should go had dogged Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, too, as he marched through Georgia in the fall of 1864. Sherman had expected to pick up able-bodied black men to assist his troops (but not to join them; Sherman would not allow that). An unintended consequence of his scorched-earth policy was that all manner of freed slaves — including women, children and the elderly — abandoned the plantations and fell in behind him.More than 10,000 black refugees followed Sherman’s March to the Sea. That many mouths to feed would have proved challenging for a well-stocked force, but for an army that survived by foraging, it was nearly impossible. James Connolly, a 21-year-old major in the Illinois Volunteer Infantry (and future congressman), wrote that the refugee camps were so numerous that they often ringed the camps of the corps. The “contrabands,” as they were called, regularly wandered into Union camps to beg for food. And as Sherman’s force approached the sandy and less fertile Georgia coast, it became even more difficult to accommodate them.There was one corps, however, the refugees seemed to avoid: the 14th Corps, led by a brigadier general with a most unlikely name: Jefferson Davis. Davis — derisively called “General Reb” not only for having the same name as the Confederate president but also for his hatred of black people — had become notorious two years earlier when he shot dead a superior officer, Maj. Gen. William “Bull” Nelson, during an argument at a hotel. He escaped punishment only because the military couldn’t afford to lose an experienced field commander.Davis blamed the 600 or so black refugees following his unit for slowing down his 14,000 men in the closing weeks of the march. But from other accounts, it seems that the problem was the relentless winter rain. “At one time an officer counted 24 wagons sunk to their beds in mud,” writes Jim Miles in “To the Sea: A History and Tour Guide of Sherman’s March.” “He witnessed several mules sink out of sight.”Speed was vital. Davis knew that Lt. Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry was hot on their heels.For several days in early December, Davis drove the 14th Corps nearly nonstop, resting for two or three hours a night. One soldier reported falling asleep in the middle of “a fearfully hard march” and found himself in lock step upon jerking awake. Little more than coffee sustained them.On the night of Dec. 8, the corps arrived at the western bank of Ebenezer Creek. The bridge had been destroyed, in anticipation of their arrival, and the frigid waters had swollen to 10 feet deep and 165 feet wide. Scouts from Wheeler’s cavalry harassed Union troops in the rear.A pontoon bridge was in place by midnight, and Davis ordered the corps to cross the creek in silence and under the cover of darkness. According to Miles, a single Confederate cannon could have destroyed the bridge and stopped the entire corps, then only 18 miles from Savannah.But in this tenuous artery, Davis saw an opportunity.“On the pretence that there was likely to be fighting in front, the negroes were told not to go upon the pontoon-bridge until all the troops and wagons were over: a guard was detailed to enforce the order,” recalled Col. Charles Kerr of the 16th Illinois Cavalry in a speech 20 years after the incident. “As soon as we were over the creek, orders were given to the engineers to take up the pontoons and not let a negro cross. . . . I sat upon my horse then and witnessed a scene the like of which I pray my eyes may never see again.”Just before sunrise, the refugees cried out as their escape route was pulled away from them. Moments later, Wheeler’s scouts rode up from behind and opened fire. Hundreds of refugees rushed forward into the icy current. Several Union soldiers on the eastern bank tried to help, pushing logs out to the few refugees still swimming.Some of the refugees were crushed under the weight of the stampede. Most slipped under the water and drowned. Those who remained onshore were either shot or captured and re-enslaved.And when Wheeler’s men began shooting across the creek, the Union soldiers helping the black people were ordered to rej
An Open Letter to Those Who Still Give a Damn
JULY 21, 2018 / JOHN PAVLOVITZ
It’s exhausting to give a damn isn’t it?
To be a person of compassion in a time when compassion is in such great demand?
To wake up every day in days like these, and push back against predatory politicians and toxic systems and human rights atrocities and acts of treason and spiritual leadership failures and Presidential Tweet tantrums—the volume and the relentlessness of the threats can be wearying.
You may have noticed.
I think you have.
And you’re not simply carrying around these big picture, larger systemic sicknesses and political realities—but the people behind them; the names and the faces and the lives of specific human beings who are under unprecedented duress right now; people whose stories you listen to and know and are living within, people you dearly love.
And day after day, all these massive realities and these individual stories begin to accumulate upon your shoulders and in your clenched jaw and in your elevated heart rate, and in the knot in your stomach that returns every morning when you check Twitter or turn on the news or step out into your community or walk into the kitchen—and you see so many reasons for grief, places so many places compassion is so needed and yet so scarce.
And worst of all, is how many people both at distance and very close to you, just don’t seem to give a damn; how the pain of other people simply doesn’t register in them anymore.
It seems like fewer and fewer people are capable of even an entry-level empathy for the suffering around them, and you’re seriously considering joining their ranks, because of how tired you are of carrying both your own and their share of compassion for a hurting humanity.
Not long after the election I purchased a blood pressure monitor. And not one of those manual base models, either. I went high-end, top of the line; full upper arm cuff, automated pressure, digital readout—the works. I soon stopped using it though, as it was a daily reminder of how stressed I was. I don’t look at it any longer. I don’t measure my blood pressure anymore. Now I just assume it’s dangerously high.
Those of us who give a damn all have new dangers assailing our hearts these days, and it is in this time of relentless urgency and sustained trauma and prolonged fatigue and profound fracture that you and I find ourselves.
I’m not sure why you’re reading this, but it’s probably because still you’re a damn-giver; because you are a fierce lover of humanity and of the planet, and of people who don’t look or worship or sound like you. As a result you probably find yourself pissed off, disconnected, isolated, worn out, and exhausted because how few people are as moved by the need around them as you are.
Whether you’re an activist or a minister or a parent or a caregiver, or just a citizen of the planet who is moved by other people’s suffering—you likely feel the immeasurable heaviness of these days. Sure, speed and activity can mask it for a while, but if you stop long enough, the reality of the fatigue catches up to you—you can measure the toll it’s all taken on you. I want you to measure it. I want you reckon with how tired you are. I want you to hear yourself exhale with the heavy sigh of someone who feels the weight of it all.
There is a cost to compassion, a personal price tag to cultivating empathy in days when cruelty is trending. There is in your body and head and in your midst, a collateral damage to you giving a damn when others do not, and it manifests itself in many ways: in irritability, impatience, physical illness, eating emotionally, addictive behavior, the inability to be present to the people who love you, an obsession with social media, a fixation on how jacked up everything is.
Notice these things in you today, and give them your attention.
Extend some of that compassion you’re so willing to extend to the world—to yourself.
Take some time to step away from the fray and the fight. It will still be there when you return, and you’ll be better able to face it.
Friend, I know you’re exhausted. If you’re not exhausted right now your empathy is busted. But I also know that you aren’t alone.
Millions of people are as tired as you are right now.
We too, live in disbelief at how callous so many people we know and love have become.
We too, are incredulous witnessing our elected leaders and parents and neighbors and pastors and parents and favorite aunts abandon any semblance of kindness.
We too, feel the fatigue of believing we’re doing this damn-giving alone.
You are in good company, so keep going.
Fight like hell to keep your heart soft, even while so many people have become hardened.
Yes the world is upside-down right now, but we can make it right—one beautiful act of decency at a time.
Get some rest and keep going.
The world needs people like you.
Blessed are the damn-givers, for they will right-side the world.
John Pavlovitz is a writer, pastor, and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina. In the past four years his blog Stuff That Needs To Be Said has reached a diverse worldwide audience. A 20-year veteran in the trenches of local church ministry, John is committed to equality, diversity, and justice—both inside and outside faith communities. In 2017 he released his first book, A Bigger Table. His new book, Hope and Other Superpowers, arrives on November 6th.
JULY 6, 2018
It is estimated that between 5 and 8 percent of children and teens are addicted to this form of entertainment. In recent days, the World Health Organization (WHO) has categorized video game addiction as a mental health disorder, an opinion that is not shared by all experts on these games.
One of the conditions that make their use attractive for children is that they can be practiced with very few elements, unlike more traditional games. At the same time, they allow children to have an escape from the difficulties and demands of the real world.
[OUR COMMON GROUND Voice Matt Taibbi deconstructing the Madness]
There wasn’t one capable or inspiring person in the infamous “Clown Car” lineup. All 16 of the non-Trump entrants were dunces, religious zealots, wimps or tyrants, all equally out of touch with voters. Scott Walker was a lipless sadist who in centuries past would have worn a leather jerkin and thrown dogs off the castle walls for recreation. Marco Rubio was the young rake with debts. Jeb Bush was the last offering in a fast-diminishing hereditary line. Ted Cruz was the Zodiac Killer. And so on.The party spent 50 years preaching rich people bromides like “trickle-down economics” and “picking yourself up by your bootstraps” as solutions to the growing alienation and financial privation of the ordinary voter. In place of jobs, exported overseas by the millions by their financial backers, Republicans glibly offered the flag, Jesus and Willie Horton.
In recent years it all went stale. They started to run out of lines to sell the public. Things got so desperate that during the Tea Party phase, some GOP candidates began dabbling in the truth. They told voters that all Washington politicians, including their own leaders, had abandoned them and become whores for special interests. It was a slapstick routine: Throw us bums out!Republican voters ate it up and spent the whole of last primary season howling for blood as Trump shredded one party-approved hack after another. By the time the other 16 candidates finished their mass-suicide-squad routine, a tail-chasing, sewer-mouthed septuagenarian New Yorker was accepting the nomination of the Family Values Party.
Why the Alex Jones industrial complex must be dismantled
About a week ago I released a new video called “Fuck Alex Jones.” Since the track has been released I’ve been bombarded with hundreds if not thousands of angry comments from the Infowars crowd, calling me a “faget,” a sheep, and a “New World Order shill.”
I can’t lie it’s been really amusing, but it’s also a really sad statement on our culture. Why do I even care? Why would I go after Alex Jones? Because I meet too many good people who are looking for answers in this insane, confusing world and are being spoon-fed dog shit disguised as “truth” by people like him.
I went after Jones specifically because almost all of his propaganda plays into the hands of the extreme right wing in the United States. He dismisses feminism and gay rights as part of a New Word Order plot to reduce the population. He dismisses climate change as a hoax, and backs it up by giving weather reports on Mars. He attacks non-existent, nameless, faceless organizations like the Illuminati but ignores the evils being done by right-wing billionaires like the Koch Brothers.
His supporters are certified experts on the Bilderberg Group, but they seem to know nothing about the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that literally writes laws for corporations and passes them into law. Who needs the Illuminati when you have people like that? What if we just do away with the word “Illuminati” and start talking about capitalism and the state?
You will never hear conspiracy theorists talk about class war; they are far more concerned with preserving their own status in this economic system. Like missionaries and populist demagogues of the past, they prey on the young and downtrodden, give them an all-encompassing worldview, call it “truth, and and label everyone who doesn’t believe it a “sheep” who needs to “wake up.”
I attack Infowars because it is not a revolutionary movement. It is chasing a mirage. It imagines the good ol’ days of ‘merica, when white slave-owners wrote a constitution for other property owners, before they pushed west, killed multitudes of Native Americans (historical estimates range between 30-100 million) and stole their land. Those are the glory days of 1776 that the right-wing conspiracy crowd holds up as an ideal that we need to return to.
Will someone please tell them that those days never left us? It’s not the Illuminati that are sending drones to kill children in Yemen or having the NSA spy on us; it’s the logical endgame to the “spirit of 1776.”
What just played out in Bundy Ranch is instructive in this light. According to the cult of Jones, we shouldn’t worry about homeless people in cities being pushed out of the common spaces; we should worry about a white rancher in Nevada having his “liberty” trampled by the federal government. Both lay concerns of how public space should be used, but the latter believes that rights of cows to encroach on protected habitats is more important than the right of a homeless people to cover their bodies when they sleep outside in the winter.
Many criticize Jones because he uses his Prison Planet ™ store to sell things like expensive water filters and male enhancement pills, but what he is really selling is fear. His show is a never-ending litany of new things to be afraid of: FEMA camps, cities stockpiling hundreds of thousands of body bags, a government that knows everything you’re gonna do before you do. Name your fear, and Alex is selling it!
Its been said that if Alex Jones didn’t exist, the FBI would have to create him; I think it goes the other way. If the police state didn’t exist, Alex Jones would have to create it. We have yet to be corralled into giant communist style re-education camps, but the fear of your name being on a list or of impending marshall law keeps many “infowarriors” locked indoors “spreading information” instead of engaging in their communities, improving lives, and fighting the powers that seek to destroy us.
Do conspiracies exist? Of course they do. History is the greatest conspiracy of all; it is a never-ending tale of power grabs, deceit, and mass killings. Banks conspire to steal homes. The U.S. government conspired to spy on its citizens, politicians conspire to retain power and riches, and Facebook conspires to sell ads. This is your beloved “free market” working its magic. This isn’t “crony capitalism;” it’s just plain capitalism in its late stages.
So why do we need the Illuminati? The Illuminati theory simplifies things of course, but offers no means of resistance. The Illuminati has no home address, no tax records to sort through, no lobbyist to call out. There are too many real enemies out there—Suncor, Exxon, BP, Halliburton—to make up a catch-all scapegoat.
Many of the responses to my video that are attacking me say I don’t provide any facts to back up my claims. How can I prove that 9/11 was probably carried out by terrorists? If I’m wrong does it change anything about the way I should engage with the power structures I wish to dismantle? And when you are dealing with zealots, for whom the answer is always “the New World Order,” do facts even matter?
Correction: This story has been updated to clarify the discrepancy over the number of Native Americans killed following European arrival.
The Science of Your Racist Brain
Neuroscientist David Amodio on subconscious racial prejudice and why we’re still responsible for our actions.
When the audio of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling telling a female friend not to “bring black people” to his team’s games hit the internet, the condemnations were immediate. It was clear to all that Sterling was a racist, and the punishment was swift: The NBA banned him for life. It was, you might say, a pretty straightforward case.
When you take a look at the emerging science of what motivates people to behave in a racist or prejudiced way, though, matters quickly grow complicated. In fact, if there’s one cornerstone finding when it comes to the psychological underpinnings of prejudice, it’s that out-and-out or “explicit” racists—like Sterling—are just one part of the story. Perhaps far more common are cases of so-called “implicit” prejudice, where people harbor subconscious biases, of which they may not even be aware, but that come out in controlled psychology experiments.
Much of the time, these are not the sort of people whom we would normally think of as racists. “They might say they think it’s wrong to be prejudiced,” explains New York University neuroscientist David Amodio, an expert on the psychology of intergroup bias. Amodio says that white participants in his studies “might write down on a questionnaire that they are positive in their attitudes towards black people…but when you give them a behavioral measure, of how they respond to pictures of black people, compared with white people, that’s when we start to see the effects come out.” You can listen to our interview with Amodio on the Inquiring Mindspodcast below:
Welcome to the world of implicit racial biases, which research suggests are all around us, and which can be very difficult for even the most well-intentioned person to control. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about them: We can draw attention to the insidious nature of these subconscious influences, and we can work to prevent them from exerting harmful effects not only on interpersonal behavior, but also on policy, employment practices, and public life. That’s what Amodio’s research (and that of many other social psychologists and neuroscientists who study prejudice) is centrally aimed at achieving.
How do we know implicit biases exist? In a number of classic studies, research subjects are asked to complete a seemingly simple task, such as watching words pop up on a screen and quickly categorizing those words as either positive, like “happy,” or negative, like “fear.” But right before the word appears, a face, either black or white, flashes on the screen. “What we find over and over again in the literature,” explains Amodio, “is that if a black person’s face was shown really quickly, then people are quicker at categorizing negative words than positive words that follow it. Versus if a white face was shown really quickly, people are usually quicker to categorize the positive words, compared with the negative words.”
These types of biases are quite prevalent.According to a research summary by Stanford University’s Recruitment to Expand Diversity and Excellence program, “about 75% of whites and Asians demonstrated an implicit bias in favor of whites compared to blacks.” In other words, despite your best intentions, you might be a little bit racist. (Similar unconscious biases have been documented in people’s views of those of different genders, the elderly, and other groups.)
And why do these split-second negative responses exist? The underlying problem is that our brains have evolved to see patterns in things that are complex, and to categorize the world in order to simplify it. Thus, when we encounter another person, our brains rapidly and subconsciously try to figure out if he or she is friend or foe: in-group or out-group.
We make these calculations based on many factors, but if we know very little about the person, we often categorize her based on race. What tells us how to do so? The culture in which we live. According to Amodio, while a general categorizing tendency has been with us for “as long as there has been a human mind,” the specific categories that we use—Latino, black, white, Asian American, and so on—and how we feel about them, are a social phenomenon. As such, they’re heavily shaped by the strong prevalence of stereotypes in our society, stereotypes that are so common that even children pick them up at a very young age.
And thus, while our society has made progress when it comes to matters of race, subliminal categorization tendencies still permeate human behavior. This much has been demonstrated in the lab multiple times, but here are some noteworthy findings on the psychology of implicit racial bias:
1. Associating skin color with physical, rather than mental, abilities: In a 2006 study of more than 150 white college students, Amodio and his colleague Patricia Devine asked them to categorize words as either pleasant (such as “peace,” “heaven,” and “honor”) or unpleasant (“cancer,” “vomit,” “poverty”) and as either mental (“math,” “brainy,” “scientist”) or physical (“basketball,” “agile,” “dance”). Before each categorization task, the subjects were shown black or white faces. The result? These largely liberal college students were faster at categorizing unpleasant and physical words when shown a black face, and faster at categorizing pleasant and mental words when they were preceded by a white face. Once again, implicit biases shone through in the results.
2. Keeping their distance: Amodio and Devine then went a step further, seeking to identify other ways in which a subtle bias against members of a different race might manifest themselves. So in a new experiment, they told study participants that they were going to work, with a partner, to answer a variety of questions. In fact, when the subjects first arrived for the study, their name was called out along with that of their supposed partner (who had not yet arrived). The partner’s name was either “Tyrone Washington” or “Darnell Stewart.”
After this cue had been planted, the participants were then asked to decide which study tasks they would do and which their partner should do, after being informed that some of the tasks involved answering questions similar to those found in the math and verbal sections of the SATs, and others involved answering questions about sports and popular culture. Sure enough, study participants who had shown higher implicit bias were more likely to assign their (presumably black) partner to answer the questions about sports and popular culture, rather than academics.
But that was just the beginning: Then the study subjects were taken to a waiting room, and told that their partner had arrived but had just gone to the bathroom. A coat and backpack, supposedly belonging to the partner, was placed on a chair and the study participant was told to sit and wait. Once again, the unconscious bias came out: Subjects who had ranked higher on implicit biases now showed different seating choices. “They’ll sit further, in a row of chairs, away from the jacket and backpack of what they think is a black person,” says Amodio.
3. Not voting for Obama: In a very different context, these tendencies also cropped up in the 2008 presidential election, pitting a white candidate (John McCain) against a black one (Barack Obama). In a 2009 study, B. Keith Payne of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and his colleagues compared explicit and implicit bias scores for a large number of individuals with their self-reported voting behavior in the election. Not surprisingly, the conscious racists, those showing explicit anti-black bias, tended to vote against Obama and for McCain. But after controlling for explicit bias, the study found that the remaining implicit bias had a surprising effect. It didn’t push voters towards McCain, but it did take votes away from Obama, because these people either tended to favor a third-party candidate or were less likely to vote at all.
4. Racial bias at the doctor’s office: Implicit bias can also affect how white doctors treat black medical patients. In one disturbing 2007 study, 220 medical residents took an implicit association test, to detect subtle racial bias, and also read a medical history of a patient (either black or white) experiencing chest pain, with clinical details suggestive of a heart attack. The result was that among white doctors, as their implicit bias increased, their medical decision-making about black patients changed as well. In particular, their likelihood of treating a black patient with thrombolysis, a drug treatment to reduce blood clots (and prevent heart attacks), decreased. In other words, they were less likely to administer a potentially life-saving treatment.
And that’s just the beginning. Other studies have shown that doctors are more likely to recommend and perform unnecessary surgeries on racial and ethnic minority patients than on their white counterparts. They’ve also shown that Latina and Chinese women are less likely to receive hormone therapy (which decreases the risk of recurrence of breast cancer) than white women.
So what’s happening in the brain that’s causing these unconscious biases to affect behavior? It turns out that we can distinguish between brain activities that are associated with implicit racial biases, of the sort described above, and those associated with the self-regulation or cognitive control processes that kick in to prevent most of us fromconsciously behaving like bigots.
When we look at faces of individuals of a different race, a part of our brain called theamygdala often gets active. The amygdala is involved in learning and, specifically, in a type of learning called fear conditioning—tracking what kinds of things predict bad outcomes, much like a rat learning that a specific tone will lead to an electric shock. Essentially, its job is to figure out what parts of the environment are threatening and remind us to stay away from them.
The problem is that because our culture is filled with racial stereotypes, many of us “learn” inaccurate and prejudicial information about those who look different. And the amygdala operates extremely rapidly, long before our conscious thoughts have time to react. Thus, the operations of this and related brain regions, “if left unchecked, they might lead to the expression of some bias in a way that you don’t intend,” says Amodio.
Fortunately, the amygdala alone doesn’t drive all of our behavior. Our brains have evolved such that we have a large and highly-complex frontal cortex, which allows us to inhibit impulses, make complicated decisions and behave in socially appropriate ways. It’s the frontal cortex that helps most of us tamp down our gut reactions and, in our conscious behaviors, strive to treat members of all races equally. “The human mind is extremely adept at control and regulation,” Amodio says, “and the fact that we have these biases should really be seen as an opportunity for us to be aware and do something about them.”
That’s why, in the end, Amodio doesn’t think that the mere existence of implicit biases provides any excuse for the display of overt or explicit racism. After all, stereotypes are ubiquitous. We all perceive them in our culture, but we do not all act upon them. In other words, we have the ability—and the responsibility—to regulate our own behavior.
“I don’t really think humans have any good excuses for acting on their automatic biases,” says Amodio.
For the entire Inquiring Minds interview with David Amodio, you can stream below:
This episode of Inquiring Minds, a podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and best-selling author Chris Mooney, also features a discussion of how scientiststurned to a group of video gamers to help solve a complex problem involving how the human retina detects motion, and of the release of the groundbreaking National Climate Assessment.
To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes orRSS. We are also available on Stitcher and on Swell. You can follow the show on Twitter at@inquiringshow and like us on Facebook. Inquiring Minds was also recently singled out as one of the “Best of 2013” on iTunes—you can learn more here.
By Evan Apfelbaum
Companies promote diversity in the workplace as a moral imperative with “bottom line benefits.” But research on the value of diversity is mixed. Some studies have found diverse teams—meaning workgroups comprised of employees of different races, genders, and backgrounds—promote creativity, nurture critical thinking, and tend to make better, more thoughtful decisions because they consider a wider range of perspectives. Other studies indicate diverse teams fuel interpersonal conflicts, reduce cohesion, and slow the pace of learning.
The trouble with past research is it assumes only diverse settings are capable of changing how people behave, form impressions, and make decisions. The research has created a convention in which homogeneous groups are considered a “control condition.” Think, for instance, about how we talk about topics related to diversity—we ask whether diversity influences perception, decision-making, and performance. When we digest results, we focus on whether diversity helped or hurt, strengthened or weakened, increased or decreased a given outcome. On the other hand, we view the homogeneous condition as a baseline: a reference point from which we can understand how diversity has changed behavior or what type of response is “normal.”
Homogeneity, however, is not a baseline. My colleagues, Katherine Phillips at Columbia Business School and Jennifer Richeson at Northwestern University, and I recently sampled 240 research articles on group diversity. We found that while the vast majority of research pays no heed to the effects of homogeneity, it may play a profound—and at times negative—role in shaping group behavior. Studies show, for instance, that homogeneous groups tend to make oversimplified judgments that can result in over-confident, even objectively inaccurate, decisions.
Take, for instance, one study that involved giving case information—potential clues to solve a murder mystery—to individuals assigned to either a homogeneous or diverse group. In diverse groups, people’s confidence about their group’s performance corresponded with how well their group actually performed. That is, diverse groups that identified the correct murder suspect reported higher levels of confidence than diverse groups who did not. People in homogeneous groups, on the other hand, tended to report high levels of confidence irrespective of how their group performed. In other words: homogeneous groups were further, not closer, than diverse groups to an objective index of accuracy.
In a different study, participants were randomly assigned to all-white or racially diverse juries and asked to deliberate over the same trial. Results revealed that the all-white juries made more factually inaccurate statements and considered a narrower range of information when discussing a trial than did racially diverse juries.
Why may homogeneous groups be more prone to make less accurate decisions, but feel more confident about them?
One reason may be that homogeneity leads people to assume that other peoples’ behavior is more predictable than it actually is. People in homogeneous groups assume that because others look like them, they are like them in terms of having similar perspectives, knowledge, and values. This assumption of like-mindedness feels comfortable. We feel good when we think we’re around people like us. It happens in the school cafeteria, at cocktail parties, and also in hiring situations.
But that sense of comfort comes at a cost. It creates blind spots in our judgments and decision-making. People in homogeneous groups seem to underestimate the potential for seemingly similar others to have substantively different perspectives, which can lead them to make oversimplified, perhaps even objectively inaccurate, decisions. It’s as though homogeneous groups operate on cruise control. Without people who look different, there’s no “social prompt” to snap team members out of their comfort zone and remind people there may be a different way of looking at an issue. Everyone goes on blithely presuming that all others are all thinking the same thing.
It’s worth noting that the effects associated with homogeneity—lack of accuracy in processing information and an absence of objectivity in making decisions— hark back to one of the most widely-popularized phenomenon in the psychology of groups: groupthink. Groupthink scenarios traditionally are characterized as ones in which a group’s consensus-seeking tendencies detract from the quality or morality of their decisions. There is a distinct possibility that homogeneity plays an underappreciated role in producing some effects typically ascribed to groupthink.
My point isn’t that diversity has no effects on behavior. Of course it does. But homogeneity does, too. Much more work remains to be done, but it may be that the strongest business case to be made for diversity in the workplace has less to do with what diversity adds, and more to do with what homogeneity takes away.
A strong dose of soulful thought.
The Irony Behind Tim Wise and White Privilege
Last week, renowned anti-racist advocate, Tim Wise, came to UMass for a screening of his new documentary, “White Like Me,” followed by a question and answer period with the audience. I won’t go into details about the actual documentary, y’all can check that on your own time, but during the post-screening period, Wise was confronted about some online beef that occurred after a post on his blog in remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the Birmingham 16th Street Church bombing that killed 4 African-American girls on September 16th, 1963. His post not only acknowledges the tragedy, but also pays tribute to a man named Charles Morgan, Jr, a white southerner who lived in Birmingham at the time, but who opposed the bombings and was ultimately chased out of the South because of his willingness to speak out against racism.
Following the post, a stream of opposition came. In general, they criticized Wise’s emphasis on the need for white allies. After all, they said, if it wasn’t for white people making the lives so hard for Black-Americans to begin with, they wouldn’t need white partnership in the first place. Wise retaliated to the responses through his Facebook page, the status update wasn’t so friendly.
Wise admitted to the audience at UMass that he was wrong for how he reacted, saying that he is “only human,” and he can’t be perfect all the time. Once the applause ended after the apology, a man of color rose and told his own story of dealing with anger. He was a professor at Hampshire College, from the Bronx, and he explained how living in western Massachusetts is never easy for men of color. He told Wise of the discrimination he deals with on a regular basis. Despite being a college professor, it was the color of his skin that was seen first, and it would always put him in a disadvantage. Any man of color knows, he said, that we don’t get the luxury of “being only human,” because being of color, any outburst could be your last–you don’t need to read a James Baldwin novel to come to that realization.
Tim Wise, a renowned expert on white privilege, could recognize he was a product of white privilege, but he could never fully understand how it manifested itself in his own life. If I he could, then he would never have been so openly accepting of the fact that he can have angry outbursts over issues as sensitive as the Birmingham bombing, and so easily get applause over it.
It was a year ago on my college campus when I had first met Tim Wise. I had no idea how famous Tim was, I had never heard of him before. As I sat down to hear him speak to a packed auditorium, I was impressed and unimpressed all in one. I remember being amused by his delivery, you cannot deny he wouldn’t fair too badly as a stand up comedian. He has a way of fusing irony and raw facts through stating just the obvious reality. That is always refreshing to hear from someone who isn’t of color. But then that becomes the real issue: Tim Wise isn’t a person of color. What he was saying wasn’t anything new or profound, but it was the fact that he was white which was why people gave him so much praise. So to put it ironically: In the same way Tim Wise goes around raising awareness on white privilege, he also benefits from it–he is white privilege.
At the end of the lecture, a friend who helped organized the event asked if I would go with him to take Tim to the airport. I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to get some one one one with Tim Wise after hearing everything he just said. We covered a lot of ground in that 40-minute car ride. He told me about where he grew up, what he studied in college, why he does the work he does, he even told me how he met his wife. We talked about my own studies, intellectual curiosities, and some of the research I was currently working on. It was an inspirational car ride, one that influenced the direction of a lot of the research I did that semester, along with many of the things I write on this blog.
And then he did admit what I had been thinking all along: that his whiteness was the reason for his success. He knew why he was getting called to speak all over the country. He knew why he was able to get through to white people. He was aware of his whiteness, and how that created so many privileges that automatically put him ahead of blacks who were saying much of the very same things he was, and who were also working in the field of anti-racism. And for me, my criticism of Wise doesn’t come from the fact that he is a white guy discussing racism. It’s how he utilizes his whiteness. He continually makes mention of how he is a “white ally” for Black America, and then goes on to expect us to give him a gold star. As stated in the blogGroupThink:
It’s great that that guy stood up for what was right, but to try to piggy back on a very significant and painful part of AA history to sing the praises of a white guy who did the right things is… missing the point. It’s great he did that. It’s awesome, but he doesn’t get a cookie. Why is it so hard for people to understand that you don’t get applause for being a decent person?
I don’t have issues with Tim Wise wanting to stand up against racism, it’s quite commendable when anyone–white or black–stands up for racial justice. My issues are with the fact of how righteously he goes about parading his whiteness when speaking about these issues, and then expects us to view him as some kind of “white knight.”
I don’t care if he goes around speaking to large audiences, it’s the fact that he has become more than just a spokesperson on white privilege and that he feels he can also become a spokesperson for Black America, as well. I don’t have any inner-conflicts being upset when people ask Tim Wise to speak on national television over issues of race when there is a sea of well qualified black scholars who can say the same things Tim says, if not better.
My words to Tim Wise: Black-America could use a few white allies, but we don’t need white leaders attempting to claim some sort of moral medal for doing what every human being should be expected to do: the right thing.