I will be blunt in this post since I mainly want to get across a few concepts, even if not in the most eloquent or “scientific” way. Man handles two categories of problems with two different mental systems. In “Thinking Fast and Slow”, the author Daniel Kahneman describes these […]
Man handles two categories of problems with two different mental systems. In “Thinking Fast and Slow”, the author Daniel Kahneman describes these systems as System 1 and System 2. System 1 is fast, automatic, intuitive. System 2 is deliberate and effortful. For example, when we react to a horrific image, we process this emotionally and with System 1. In contrast, when we solve a complex math problem, we use System 2. I’ll use this model to describe social adaptation. When I use that phrase, what I mean to say is how we handle social situations, social relations like a group of friends, meeting strangers, interacting with work colleagues or even how we interact with someone we encounter in the service sector like a waiter. By adaption I mean how we calibrate our behavior towards someone based on their appearance or how others treat them (their Social Rank).
During social encounters, System 1 is constantly making automatic deductions about how we should treat other people. We treat people differently based on what we see- their attractiveness, based on their height, based on their muscle mass, their body type, their race; but also what we hear- the tone of their voice, their accent, etc. I am positive that most of these automatic judgments are split-second, automatic and we are often not consciously aware of what we’re doing. Studies are clear that we treat people better or worse based on these factors such as attractiveness.
When you get into slightly more complex deductions, these are still relatively automatic. Take popularity. We notice who is ‘liked’ more by others; who is ‘listened to’. Without even knowing it, we become more favorably inclined towards such people, give them more respect, and are less likely to defy them or even disagree strenuously with them. Such is our adherence to the invisible social hierarchy that meant life or death when mankind was primarily organized by way of “the tribe”; today, social rank still matters but perhaps less importance than it ought to today (at least in measured by consequences of disobeying it). Our exaggerated adherence to it is somewhat anachronistic, an evolutionary holdover from an earlier era. Having said that, it is still a powerful reality.
Social adapation is taking these cues and acting on them – typically for personal advantage- to be included, to be liked, to have social power yourself, to avoid social consequence. We engage in these minute & subtle calculations everyday and most of it is subconscious.
What is the connection to race? Well I will try to make this quick because the point I think will be self-evident. In a society where whites control the culture, they control the TV shows we watch, the movies which represent our waking dreams; they write the fairytales we’re exposed to as children, they are the rock stars on our music dial. In a society where Asian men are depicted as asexual and weak and undesirable. Where whites are depicted as knights and heroes. Where blacks are just undesirables meant to be caught on a show like COPS. Where whites are taught to be proud of who they are, granted in ways that are not meant to be made overt or obvious but said in code – such as the emphasis on the “West” pulling humanity out of the jungle, and similarly the diminution of the contributions of other civilizations (notably Chinese civilization including the seafaring of Zheng He whose voyages preceded Western explorers). Where minorities are taught to be embarrassed of who they are and uncertain because they don’t always know the ‘unwritten rules’ that European-Americans have enshrined into the way of life in America. When whites can act with resentment towards minorities and get away with it because they hold positions of power or are in the majority, because they can easily bond with another white person in the vicinity in shared pride of who they are; but where a minority can be ‘frozen out’ of a group by whites for a social faux pas, and the others will look the other way. In short, in an environment that strongly benefits one race and penalizes another — our social adaptation – which simply functions on cause and effect, blind to extenuating circumstances (of white pride, white racial mistreatment of minorities, minority self-hatred, minority displacement of resentment on other minorities) and how they impact social interactions & group interactions – will draw errant conclusions. And because social adaption functions in System 1- and is automatic, often evading our conscious awareness, even our knowledge of subtle social racism may not impact the conclusions that System 1 draws when it sees a white male receiving more ‘liking’ from other people – if those other people are whites who have in-group racial favoritism and minorities who are ‘eager to please’ to whites. Nor will it correct when it sees an Asian male getting interrupted in a conversation for example, or an Asian male getting more looks of disdain- even if the person doing it, let’s say, is a white female who routinely shows contempt for men of color, and because of her privileged status (and white in-group cohesion) has gotten away with it.
In other words, the automatic mechanism of social adaption was NOT designed to work in a multi-racial environment with systemic social bias. It makes an implicit assumption that you have Inputs and Outputs and makes a deterministic relationship between the two; and then acts on those conclusions. “So and so is popular; I should befriend him”. “The group does not like that black male; I should keep him at arms’ length….unless the group shows him favor”. “That boy is well liked; maybe I should get to know him”. “Others looked away when that Asian male spoke; don’t be associated with him”. All of this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; in other words, the existing social racism in society feeds on itself through the atomized, individual social adaptation mechanism which sees whites treated favorably and minorities less so. What is needed in this environment is for Racially Aware Minorities to Arrest the automatic behavior of System 1 in making social deductions and to replace this mechanistic process with a dose of idealism and reality. That is – how do we want to act? If we are on auto-pilot, the social deductions we make and act upon will REFLECT the racism of our environment. Is that what we want?? To fulfill an ideal where people are treated equally regardless of race, individuals need to overrule their automatic social judgment and instead determine social worth and individual worth based on objective factors such as: who is decent, who is honest, who is friendly – and DISCOUNT the automatic acceptance of social cues such as he who is most worthy is he who is mistreated least by the others.
Over the last 50 years, official racism has receded, “Unofficial” social racism is with us and has barely changed because there are virtually NO organizations to fight it; there is hardly any awareness, analysis of social racism EVEN in minority communities except in some vague and often unhelpful way such as “white privilege” which dwells FAR too much on the criminal justice system and economics as opposed to social dimensions.
Our social compass has guided man through millennia. It is hardwired. We want to draw close to popular people, towards people who are “respected”; we tend to ‘dislike’ those who are stepped on. But to not calibrate our social compass for the morally wrong and ultimately corrupt ‘racial social hierarchy’ in America is to ENDORSE it. See, the thing is: we all want to make social decisions which are adaptive, which give us benefit, which make us popular or at least acceptable; which avoid social pain and consequence. We don’t see each social interaction as our opportunity to introduce meritocracy, fairness, and equality into the social realm. But we should. In fact, we must – if the world is to change.
So I will lay out two phrases:
- Unguided Social Compass: a person who draws social conclusions automatically; and then accepts those conclusions as valid, regardless of underlying factors. Example: Jane (an Asian woman) thinks of Henry and Jason (Asian men) as losers because some number of whites they interact with look down on them. She sees Ben (white male) as desirable and “cool” because he doesn’t endure that same disrespect.
- Guided Social Compass: a person who injects their idealism into their navigation of the social environment; their acknowledgement that certain people may be treated better or worse, with more respect or less, not due to who they are, but based on WHAT they are (what race, but also what gender, etc.) and accounts for that in their perception. Accounting for these dimensions before deciding how to treat people, who to befriend, who to disregard, etc.Racial minorities are not exempt from this work to correct social instincts. In fact, legions of Asian Uncle Toms, Hispanic Uncle Toms, etc. are essential to maintaining the skewed racial social hierarchy; their willingness to accept the corrupted social verdicts and then act on them (ie: treat other minorities or even their own minority type as “less than” and get that big smile and eagerness to converse when a white person shows up) cements the hierarchy. With their being on auto-pilot to social deductions as to who matters and who doesn’t, the system receives a minority ‘stamp of approval’ and becomes normalized and acceptable to all else. After all, by accepting the warped ‘rules’ and acting on them, it is no longer a social injustice being “perpetrated” on anyone- but simply a ‘fact of life’ that people of all races embrace.
Ideally, all of society, including White America, will acknowledge the inequities caused by social racism – but as a starting point, minorities, especially minority women, need to acknowledge and be aware of how we set ourselves back when we internalize and even unwittingly endorse the corrupt racial social hierarchy. Automatic judgments are the ENEMY. A lack of introspection and derailing the conversation by invoking gender, by gaslighting, by making any excuse to follow one’s instinctual impulses stand in the way of progress. As politically incorrect as it may be to say, women are more likely to make these automatic judgments and more unwilling to examine their instinctual social conclusions. This is understandable as adherence to the social hierarchy carried with it greater consequences to women in yesteryear when our neural circuitry and social impulses formed. Therefore I say without question, it is even more vital for Women of Color to examine how they may award and withhold “social points” other people based on observed ‘popularity’ and preference by others that may actually be the result of the skewed racial hierarchy.
Whichever racial minority opportunistically puts their own social outcomes- their own popularity- their own social protection – their own social “getting ahead’ ahead of making fair, independents social assessments based on the reality of another’s character (not their skewed social rank as influenced by social racism) is an enemy of the growing minority coalition. It is a selfishness which needs to be called out and castigated. The fact is: it is EASY to play the game and accept the game’s corrupt rules. It is stress-free and perhaps beneficial. Thus, minorities must create equal and opposite consequences for minorities who are dismissive towards other minorities but eager to please with whites. Ultimately, solving this problem means being Aware of it; making social assessments a System 2 activity — and then acting in a way that is idealistic first (before self-interested social opportunism).