Within our minds, we have built tenuous fortresses to block us from our individuality and to impede us from experiencing others’ humanity. It is time for a change.

Human beings have the resilience and the courage to overcome the most vile and pernicious beliefs. Nature has endowed us with the capacity to reconsider, relearn, and reform. We, however, continue to indulge ourselves in falsehoods, thereby allowing bad habits to linger on. To be sure, we reconsider, but we, often, get stuck in ‘relearn’, and at times never quite make to ‘reform.’ When it comes to ‘race’, ‘racism’, and ‘racial’ thinking, we are at the second phase and have been there for some time.

Our shortcomings in this regard have to do, in large measure, with our mental conditioning. We have erected around our thoughts mental ghettos and cloistered ourselves within their illusive barriers. Today, one of the greatest perils facing humanity is the residual and insidious ‘racial’ mode of thought, thoughtlessly passed on from generation to generation and consumed without much scrutiny.

In the United States, children are raised on a strange principle: everyone is equal, but there are different racial identities. Beautiful as this sentiment appears, it is nonetheless nonsensical. Racial identities exist precisely to justify unequal treatment, and in practice they have achieve exactly that.  Even worse is that children are conditioned from an early age to categorize themselves into color-coded racial categories. This absurdity is not lost on anyone familiar with how ‘race’ has, historically, served as an instrument of oppression.

In Canada, a nation praised for its tolerance and diversity, we readily see racial modes of thinking. Notwithstanding the country’s predominantly Eurocentric rural areas, even within large cities, people continue to label themselves and others in terms of color, nationality (often that of their ancestry), or ethnicity. Here again, people willingly adopt vague and imaginary identities that perpetuate the myth of racial difference and ultimately oppression.

Through tacit and thoughtless assent, not only do we fail to rid racism; we, instead, legitimize it. We strip away individuality only to promote blind conformity.

What is racial thinking? How can we overcome it? To think racially is to perceive others in terms of their affiliation or membership to particular ‘races’. The concept of race itself can be best understood as a historical phenomenon. The modern notion of race harkens back to the colonial period; that is when Europeans ‘discovered’ the new world and, subsequently, came into contact with her inhabitants. They used ‘race’, first, as a way to describe physical variations between themselves and indigenous populations and, second, to exert political, and moral authority over them. Regrettably, their actions, in many cases, resulted in economic exploitation, slavery, racial segregation, and genocide of different populations.

Gradually, with advances in science, ‘race’—as a category with a biological basis—lost traction within the scientific community and many intellectuals who argued against the vileness and inhumanity of it. Today, there is, appreciably, a general consensus that ‘race’ is a social construct used to classify populations on superficial grounds including physical characteristics and social qualities.

Unfortunately, however, old-fashioned racial thought continues to persist in various countries. To be sure, race is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we often automatically classify ourselves, or other human beings. I am sure we are all guilty of classifying some friend, acquaintance, or coworker a member of a synthetic racial, national, or ethnic category. This, however, is fixable. Through a series of steps, which surely takes time, but eventually yield dividends, we can become more open to judging people as they are—as individuals. In short, it will reduce, and hopefully obliterate, our impulse to stereotype and dehumanize others and ourselves.

First, we should recognize that race is superimposed upon us to determine our identity. In Canada, for instance, one is advised to usually select an ethnic/racial category. In this way, the ideology of race is reified, or rather turned into an objective reality. It, then, permeates language of the laws, the vernacular of the people, the cultural output of the arts, and so on. Our identities, in this way, are superimposed upon us without us having a say in the matter. We, nevertheless, are pressured to accept the negative implications of our assigned racial identities.

Second, we ought to analyze racial thinking from the vantage point of developmental psychology. From birth, the interaction between experiences and genes”[1] shape the architecture of our brains. As we develop, our parents play an important role in framing how we perceive the world. Parents who raise their children to think in terms of ‘race’ hamper their ability and willingness to engage with others. Imposing of such beliefs upon a child may result in “lifelong problems in learning, behavior, and both physical and mental health.”[2] Also, these children will be “robbed of opportunities for emotional and intellectual growth” necessary to “experience or accept humanity.”[3] The task of parent is then to teach their children that everyone, precluding physical differences, is essentially one and the same; sharing the same fate, the same struggles, and the same capacity for compassion and love.

To correct our biases, we must look within ourselves. The truth remains that, despite the myth of color-blindness, many of us have subconscious biases against ‘races’. This impacts how we interact with them in social, business, and other situations.[4] Many “people aren’t (always) rational. Sometimes they have biases that they don’t even realize…subconscious biases against a certain group of people or a certain race of people that, in turn, affects how they interact with them.”[5] We should also acknowledge that, given a culture of political correctness, many of us aren’t always honest about how we feel about other ‘races.’[6] We must, therefore, train our brains to correct our subconscious racial biases. We must acknowledge the extent to which our upbringing, culture, and the media influence our views on ‘race.’

It is no secret that socioeconomic conditions of certain racialized people strengthens racial stereotypes. We must, therefore, press our governments to pursue, as a priority, measures that address this disparity. Crime, underemployment, and health problems all stem from a culture of neglect—a culture that ignores the problem in the hope that it will just disappear. When not much is being done to improve the quality of life in impoverished neighborhoods, where many racialized communities reside, it is no wonder then that negative racial stereotypes persist. What is urgently needed is investment within racialized communities: in education, in health care, in policing, in community services, and in business.[7]

Lurking within, there is a desire to break through these illusive walls of ‘race’—a need to reclaim our individuality. That is how we may, hopefully, move beyond racial thinking. What we need, more than ever, is to engage in honest conversation and debate about ‘race’, bring the next generations to perceive others as individuals and not as races, acknowledge our own perceptual biases, and not ignore the issue of racial thinking hoping that it will simply go away.

After all, every act of racial discrimination, and each utterance of a racial slur, and all stereotypical depictions of ‘races’ start within our minds. We must, therefore, reconsider, relearn, and reform. The task of breaking the walls of our mental ghettos is both individual and communal, both necessary and beneficial, both required and overdue.


[1] “The Science of Early Child Development: Closing the Gaps Between What we Know and What We Do,” Center on the Developing Child – Harvard University, 2nd Ed. Nov. 2007, 1-12

[2] Ibid

[3] Lousie Derman-Sparks, Carol Tanaka Higa, and Bill Sparks, “Children, Race and Racism: How Race Awareness Develops,” Teaching For Change, retrieved January 26, 2015, http://www.teachingforchange.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/ec_childrenraceracism_english.pdf

[4]  Nesbit, Jeff, “America, Racial Bias Does Exist,” US News and World Report, published January 13, 2015, retrieved January 24, 2015, http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/at-the-edge/2015/01/13/america-racial-bias-does-exist

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Lawrence D. Bobo and Cybelle Fox, “Race, Racism, and Discrimination: Bridging Problems, Methods, and Theory in Social Psychological Research,” Social Psychology Quarterly, 2003, Vol. 66, No. 4, 319-332