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Bigotry and racism are still with us. Never mind that we have a black president. Part of the world breathed a huge sigh of relief when Barack Hussein Obama became president. The other part didn't. The KKK has gone underground; the Neo-Nazis have no following; both are dormant. Racism, in particular, is alive and well.

Why is this? Hillary Clinton proved her presidential timber by very nearly winning the Democratic nomination. And as Secretary of State she is further honing her skill and becoming wiser by the day shepherding our foreign policy out of its "America First"/"Us vs Them" swamp. Does that mean sexism is on the wane? Not on your life.

Nevertheless, both racism and sexism have lost tremendous amounts of ground-- when looked at over the centuries. What that means, of course, it that these social issues ease only as rapidly as their opponents die out. As Trent Lott so famously said, we are indeed children of our time and place. It may be hereditary that we fear the outside world (what we don't know can hurt us). Children raised in a cave soon learn that the tigers outside are waiting to eat them. These lessons are hard to forget, especially when they are timeless, as in the jungle and on the savannah.

We live in different times. And being thinking beings, we can observe for ourselves the truth of the above. Eliminate the metaphor of the tiger for danger in the above and what do you have? Eden? Is there such a place? Yes, but not any more. One example among many is an archipelago nearly on the equator, the Galapagos. Species native to these islands are singularly free of fear of humans. This is in stark contrast with species that have "learned" that humans and/or other species are dangerous. The fearless survive as well as the fearing; the latter, being useless either died out or never arose. There is only one predator native to the islands, a hawk. He is evidently a late comer. Given time, that situation will change for humans have introduced dogs which now prey on other species.

In other words, humanity is messing up the works of mother nature. At this point we quote a very wise woman,who happens to be black, a social observer and commentator on the way of things as they are today in the USA: Raina Kelly, Newsweek, 13 July 2009 issue.

  • "I do not think we are a nation of people yearning to scream racial epithets and reinstate Jim Crow. I think we are a nation of people deeply influenced by the stereotypes endlessly perpetuated in our culture. The sassy Black hairdresser, the Asian computer geek, the dorky white guy, and the cool black best friend--each of whom are stock characters in our culture."
  • "I thought Obama's election would create some flexibility in our culture's rigid adherence to stereotype, but it has been slow in coming. Perhaps that's because we spend most of our lives surrounded by people who look and act just like us. That guarantees that we will continue to see Difference without making any effort to understand it." [This feature is now called Implicit Association, more on that below.]
  • "My Caucasian husband, who teaches school in a neighborhood that is nearly all black and Hispanic, endures the same suspicion and fear that I do in some all-white neighborhoods."

So far this is all anecdotal. Now for some social science. With all its faults, social science is nevertheless far far better than guess work. It is serious science because it is testable and falsifiable. Since it deals with subjective matter, social science has an inherent background of noise arising from unconscious and/or deliberate falsification by the subjects dealt with.

As it happens, the Implicit Association Test, IAT, was designed to test for unconscious bias. See: IAT for how it works. We took the gender tests as we know our biases. The IAT found what we already knew. Since our culture tends to favor males in science and engineering, females in the fine and liberal arts, we do too, knowing that that is in part at least, a cultural effect. In our careers, we have not been able to see any discernible difference in basic female/male talents. We do see cultural differences. America and Asia differ in how the genders are treated and in what opportunities each has.

A final word from Raina Kelly:

"To move forward, we have to challenge our impression of what people can do with their lives. You know, like imagining an Ivy League-educated community activist from Hawaii who becomes the first black president."

We have lived just this experience. Originally from bigoted and racist stock, we were able to throw off most of these attitudes to the point where our family now comprises all three major "races" and a variety of belief systems. All that happened in the last half century. Kelly's prescription works.

Hillary, Michelle, Nancy, Ruth, and Sarah, each in their own way, are tackling the other great bias.


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