Carrying his son’s bones in a bag clutched to his chest, Standing Bear
and twenty-seven others began their return in the dead of winter. Word
spread of the group’s travel as they approached the Omaha Indian
reservation, midway through their journey. The Omahas welcomed them with
open arms, but U.S. officials welcomed them with open handcuffs.
General George Crook was ordered by government officials to return the
beleaguered Poncas to the Indian Territory.
Crook couldn’t bear
the thought. “I’ve been forced many times by orders from Washington to
do most inhuman things in dealings with the Indians,” he said, “but now
I’m ordered to do a more cruel thing than ever before.” Crook was an
honorable man who could no more disobey direct orders than he could fly,
so instead he stalled, encouraging a newspaper editor from Omaha to
enlist lawyers who would then sue General Crook (as the U.S.
government’s representative) on Standing Bear’s behalf. The suit? To
have the U.S. government recognize Standing Bear as a person, as a human being...
Standing Bear was a man intelligent enough to lead his tribe along a
six-hundred-mile journey in the dead of winter and back again, a man who
felt love so deeply that he carried his son’s bones around his neck to
fulfill a promise. Yet he found himself pleading with people from
far-off places who had failed almost completely to see his mind and
instead viewed him as a piece of mindless property. Facing those unable
to recognize a sentient mind before their eyes, Standing Bear had been
forced to show his to them.
Salon's feature on Mindwise has
accomplished its goal: I want to buy the book because it appears to be a
compelling and important text that offers readers some keen insights on
the worst aspects of human nature.
However, the Psychology of Hate does not contain any of the following words: racism, race, ethnocentrism, whiteness, or white supremacy. Racism is a modern invention which legitimated Colonialism and Imperialism while providing the philosophical, ethical, moral, religious, economic, political, and social framework for the various types of "othering" which Nicholas Epley's excerpted piece describes with such skill.
Thus, Psychology of Hate's omission of such a basic concept as "racism" is glaring and odd.
Many things change from the draft to the final work. And the final book most likely contains a thorough working through of how race and racism are central to how arbitrary categories of human difference based on skin color or other perceived differences are made salient and real by society and individuals.
Nevertheless, we are left to engage the work as offered on Salon for what it is. One of the major challenges in talking about race in the post civil rights era is how many white folks, and some people of color, have internalized a color blind racial frame that limits and blinds our ability to deal with white supremacy as one of the dominant social facts in American life. We talk around race but do not explicitly engage it. In the most absurd examples, identifying and challenging white racism and white supremacy is taken to be more offensive than the moral and ethically unjust outcomes and processes that such ideologies sustain. Psychology of Hate contains several moments where the omission of race is distracting.
But perhaps that is a function which results from the particular challenge of writing about the psychology of hate in a post racial age, a moment when the consensus bargain is one where all human beings must be equally implicated--as opposed to risking how a mention of white racism as a specific and real fact may cause upset for some white readers.
Some examples from Psychology of Hate.
doctors—those whose business is to treat others humanely— can remain
disengaged from the minds of their patients, particularly when those
patients are easily seen as different from the doctors themselves. Until
the early 1990s, for instance, it was routine practice for infants to
undergo surgery without anesthesia. Why? Because at the time, doctors
did not believe that infants were able to experience pain, a fundamental
capacity of the human mind. “How often we used to be reassured by more
senior physicians that newborn infants cannot feel pain,” Dr. Mary Ellen
Avery writes in the opening of “Pain in Neonates".
videos showed people getting poked in the foot, others in the hand, and
others in the lips. These are painful to watch, I promise, at least if
you’re not a physician. Nonphysicians who watched these videos had the
same reaction I do, with the neural regions that are active when
actually experiencing physical pain first-hand also being active when
watching other people experiencing pain. It quite literally hurts to
watch someone else being hurt. The physicians, however, showed virtually
no response in these physical pain regions at all. Instead, the
physicians showed activity in a very different part of the brain, most
notably a relatively small spot in their medial prefrontal cortex
(MPFC). This spot is located about one inch above and behind the inside
part of your eyebrows, on each side of your brain. For the good of your
social life, try not to get injured there.
neural activity is important because it tells us something critical
about how people think about one another. Those who are close to us are
considered mindful human beings, “like me.” As people become more and
more different from us, or more distant from our immediate social
networks, they become less and less likely to engage our MPFC. When we
don’t engage this region, others appear relatively mindless, something
less than fully human.
You don’t need to look deep into a person’s brain to see the
consequences of failing to engage your MPFC. You can hear it in the
impressions people share about the minds of others. In calling for
welfare reform in 2010, for instance, South Carolina’s lieutenant
governor, André Bauer, likened the poor to “stray animals” whose
government assistance should be curtailed. “You know why?” he said.
“Because they breed. . . . They will reproduce, especially ones who
don’t think much further than that. . . . They don’t know any better.”
Bauer’s sixth sense appears to have been disengaged, as is true for many
people when they think about the poor, the homeless, the most
disadvantaged and distant of social groups. Distance—a sense of
dissimilarity, of difference, of otherness—can keep your MPFC
uninvolved, leaving you to think about other human beings as something
less than fully human.
Race and gender are central to how the poverty discourse in the post civil rights era has been framed by conservatives and the mainstream news media. In the present, the Right-wing's effort to enlist the support of the white working class to kill the "useless eaters" is almost wholly dependent on White identity politics and a belief--contrary to the facts--that people of color are siphoning off the "(white) American community's resources."
disadvantaged and distant of social groups is not an empty category. It has a history which is dominated by the color line. Racism and white supremacy are central to Epley's claims in the Psychology of Hate. One of the biggest white lies in post racial America--and its accompanying Age of Austerity--is that we no longer need to discuss how racism and white supremacy structure life chances. This limits the public discourse for fear of hurting white folks' feelings and providing an easy target for protest and upset by the white conservatives. Racism, hate, bigotry, and prejudice are acts committed by one group of people towards another where individuals are impacted--often lethally--by their perceived membership in, or distance from, a given community.
In the United States and the West hate was not universal. Nor, were the crimes legitimated by it.
White on black and brown racial violence has been the norm for the modern age.
True progress will come from owning that fact as opposed to hiding from it because of some facile logic which suggests that "racism" is a universal human sin.