[From my series: Broad, Sweeping Generalizations Based On Little or No Knowledge]

The only book I recall reading on the sociology of racism is Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin (1961) but I’ve been thinking about racism and I have some assumptions and some questions.

Assumption: Forming opinions about someone based on the color of their skin is learned behavior. Someone (a parent, other children) has to “teach” a child that black people are lazy or red people are drunks or asians are good a math. (Is there any evidence that racism is hereditary?)

Q: Is racism a disease? (Or disease like) Is it a condition over which the person has no control? Like autism? Treatable but incurable. I don’t recall ever meeting someone who admitted to once having been racists in their thoughts and actions but changed. I would expect the “cure rate” to be on par with ebola. A few people do survive it.

Q: If one lives in a country where a significant number of people hold strong, negative opinions about their fellow countrymen based on the color of their skin, what do you do about that? Education? If you’re talking about educating young people, yeah, sure, that’s a good idea but if they’re getting a constant diet of “nigger” and “spic” from family and friends, I’m not sure education can have much effect. As for educating (re-educating?) adults? I’m skeptical.

Thought experiment: Let’s say someone develops a vaccine for racism. One injection that modifies a few neurons in the medulla whatchamacallit, eliminating the tendency to judge people based on color. Who would take this vaccine? Nobody. Our beliefs define us. A core part of identity. (All Buddhists may leave the room) We don’t want to change how we think and feel about things and people. Because we don’t think there is anything wrong with those thoughts and beliefs. You can keep your vaccine, thanks.

To further belabor my disease analogy, will racism only die when racists die, like a cholera epidemic? In the meantime we inoculate as many as we can?