Is racism a natural and inevitable occurence?

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Posted by Temujin at 4:10pm Oct 7 '05
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Recently, I've had a superifical look at three psychological theories regarding racism. I thought they were quite interesting, and so I'm presenting them and my thoughts to the site.

Social Cognition

This theory sees the individual as essentially a self-contained information processor of limited capacity. This means that we all think in much the same way, and our minds have limited capacity. Because of this, although we may regard close friends and family as true individuals, we bunch together others in 'folders' to ease the information burden on our minds. Such 'folders' may include racial groupings, and the negative stereotypes generated for a given grouping will be projected onto any and all members of that racial group that are met.

In short, racism is a problem because of how we think.

Social Identity Theory

This theory sees the concept of self as being bound inextricably with the groups we belong to. For example, if I am an England cricket supporter and we win the Ashes, my self-esteem will rise. If we lose, it will fall. Because of this, and because we want to feel good, we promote groups we belong to (ingroups) and denigrate those we do not belong to (outgroups).

In short, racism exists because it makes us feel better about our own ethnic group.

Both of the above theories see individuals as thinking in a universally similar way and as being naturally predisposed towards racism. Both suggest that a group that continually exhibits behaviour contradictory to the stereotype can slowly change the attitude, however, this places the onus for changing racist attitudes on the victims of racism. Theory three is rather different.

Authoritarian/Motivation Theory

Older than both previous theories and draws on a variety of sources. It has both a Freudian and a Marxist element.

Freudian element:
1) Some parents are strict and punitive
2) Their children feel hate and resentment for their parents
3) However, society teaches that we should love our parents, so they repress their negative feelings
4) They later project their feelings of hatred onto 'easy' targets, which tend to be minority groups

Marxist element:
1) In capitalist society, some groups control others (such as employer/employee)
2) This system of control promotes authoritarian parenting practices
3) These practices are passed from the children to their children, creating a chain

This theory, though older, may be stronger than the prior theories as it includes a true social element, and acknowledges that we may all think in different ways due to both our culture and our childhoods. It also promotes the view that racism is not an inherent natural state of mind that may or may not be inevitable, but is rather arrived at via a social and cultural background that are changeable.

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