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Racism Does Huge Damage in Many Settings and it’s too Often an Instinct-Linked Behavior

black and white stick figures depicting racism

July 8, 2023

Some of our most damaging behavior in our country comes from racist behavior.

We distrust, dislike, and even damage people from other groups for what are clearly racist reasons, and too often we don’t even recognize the source of our thoughts and behaviors.

We’re all creatures of instincts. Our instincts affect our thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and behaviors — and they shape our lives and our communities every day.

We have instincts to be territorial, hierarchical, and mutually protective and supportive, as well as clearly tribal and divisive. Those instincts structure our communities, our behaviors, and our emotional interactions at multiple levels every day of our lives.

We have very strong hierarchical instincts, and every setting we’re in has a culture that identifies the hierarchy — often at multiple levels — for that set of people.

We have very strong cultural instincts. We tend to believe in the behaviors, values, expectations, beliefs, and rule sets of each culture. People standing in line at an airport create a culture for the line that gives everyone the expected behaviors for the line, and we can become quickly enraged at what we feel is a very legitimate and justifiable level if someone in the line violates those expectations for that line.

We create cultures for every setting at both conscious and subconscious levels, and we’re emotionally linked to what those cultures tell us is the right thing to do for each setting. We’re extremely territorial and we have a strong sense of what territory rightfully belongs to our group. We have family territory, community territory, and various levels of group-related territory — and we’re willing to enlist in the military and to feel noble, heroic, and entirely legitimate defending our territory as members of our military against whomever we perceive to be threatening our territory and our turf.

We have days of celebration every year for the people who make those choices to defend our turf.

Those are all instinctive behaviors.

Our instinctive behaviors can make us loyal to our group. They can also support and guide us in our interactions with each other.

Maternal instincts are extremely powerful. Those maternal instincts give us wonderful bonds of love, affection, alignment, and shared interests with our children in ways that are obviously good for our future and for our group, because we want our children to be supported and loved, and we feel good when our instinct-triggered behaviors make that happen for our children.

No one challenges the existence of maternal instincts or the major impact they have on our cultures, our emotions, our interactions, our values, our belief systems, or our lives.

We also have strong paternal instincts and strong family support, and even some clan and extended family support instincts as well, and they give us behaviors, values, emotions, and alignments that are very good for our families, our communities, and our groups. And we feel very right having them shape and define our lives.

We support, feed, protect, nourish, educate, and defend the people we include in those sets of instincts. We’re all blessed and fortunate when we have people with those instincts activated who are using them in various ways on our behalf and include us in the process.

We Instinctively Divide Into Us and Them

We have very strong instincts to divide the world into Us and Them. We aren’t unlike other instinct-activated groups like wolves and lions, who also have a very strong sense of who is Us in their family or group, and who is not Us or who is actually some category of Them — for their group.

We see direct conflict happen with whomever the lions and the wolves define to be Them to their group in each setting. It’s clear that those instincts tend to create both emotional and perceptual barriers and sets of behaviors against Them that feel right to their pride, pack, or family group.

We humans do almost the exact same thing for some of those sets of issues. We have more than 125 instinct-activated ethnic and inter-tribal wars and conflicts going on in our settings today across the planet.

Syria clearly has four sets of tribes who have hated each other and damaged each other for centuries. Most of the people in our media, and in too many policy settings who are looking at that country, totally miss, ignore, or try to avoid those issues. It’s clear that anyone who looks clearly at that country needs to understand what is actually happening there, or they can’t see what is happening in those settings.

It’s fairly clear when you look at what is actually happening there to see what is going on. The Alawites, Shia, Sunni, and Kurds are all killing each other in Syria and they’re doing it as tribal conflicts. Anyone who says that that bloodshed in Syria is based on current events or situational occurrences in that country should not be allowed to evaluate other similar events elsewhere, because they’re missing the point in Syria so badly. It’s a universal set of intergroup issues being activated in that country in the context of those tribes.

We see similar divisions in multiple settings and the patterns are so obvious that they can be predicted for generations once you see what they are.

Kurds are at war with the local majority tribes in five countries. That conflict will continue as long as people are born into that group in each of those settings.

China has some obviously and completely tribal conflicts — and the people who think that either the Tibetan tribal group or the Uyghur tribe and ethnic group will somehow be peacefully assimilated into China using political and ideological persuasion and rule sets clearly don’t have any sense of how those sets of human instincts work when people have separate languages, cultures, and both clear group identities and centuries of group history.

The majority Han tribal group in China tends to perceive the minority tribes in each setting to be a Them. The leaders of the Han too often suspend conscience and overpower ethical behavior in those interactions. The majority groups have no chance of ending those conflicts without recognizing that the issues with those levels of cultural and religious differences can’t be resolved by somehow getting someone to adopt a different political ideology or belief for their future responses to one another.

Even Ukraine looks slightly different when you look at who speaks the language as a tribal majority group in each of the territories that are being invaded there, and when you see what their history is at the ethnic group and tribal levels instead of at a somewhat artificial national identify level that ignores that history and sense of group identity.

Those are universal instincts that create Us-Them conflicts in every multigroup setting, because we all feel that we’re doing the right things when our instincts reinforce our behavior.

We all have the total package of instincts. We need to deal with that reality to create Peace in America.

We need to understand at an intellectual level which of those instincts need to be addressed if we’re going to have a future as a country that is at Peace with itself and that will give our grandchildren safety, prosperity, and a chance to thrive and survive into future generations in a world of continuous improvement, rather than constant anger and threat.

We can and should make the collective decision now to make America as great as it can be. Then we need to do the things that need to be done to make that happen.

We need to rise above the highest risk and the most threatening instincts now as a country, because we have an extremely enlightened country at some levels and the world is a better place in important ways because we’re here and we should build on that foundation as our gift to the world we live in, and as our gift to ourselves and our descendants.

That path can happen — but we have some serious issues to address and understand if we’re going to create a nation at Peace with itself.

We Have a Painful History of InterGroup Damage and Evil

We need to look at our history with clear eyes and honest perceptions, and then decide that we want to overcome the bad things that have happened, because the future is in front of all of us and we all need to pull together as a nation and a group to give our grandchildren the safe and successful world we want them to live in.

The cold, sad, and painful truth is that we actually have a long and painful history of doing some important things very badly, and we need to understand what they were, make sure that we build on the enlightened part of our history, and rise above those worst and most damaging behaviors to build the future our grandchildren deserve to have.

In our country, we need to know and understand that we’ve done extremely negative things to people in a couple of our own groups for a very long time. We did actual and very intentional ethnic cleansing for some of our people. We took the land we live on away from roughly 10–20 million Native American tribespeople who we know (from archeological evidence and our clear and evident history) had lived in each of those areas for 10,000 years or more before they were exiled and expelled from that land.

That ethnic cleansing done against those people was helped by significant epidemics that killed many millions of the local tribespeople and wiped-out entire populations in many settings. The resistance to the invaders was reduced significantly in multiple settings where the majority of the local population were either sick or dead.

The Native American museum that opened a few years ago next to our capital building in Washington D.C. has great exhibits which tell that story. The loss of that territory to the invaders from Europe was also helped by the fact that the tribes who lived here were all very clearly and directly owners of their own turf, and each tribe also tended to be in perpetual, and at least mild conflict for very long periods of time with the next tribe in each direction.

The tribes all tended to have heroes in their cultures who were often warriors for their group in those historical conflicts.

Ten million is a much smaller number as a resource when you can only count the people in your own tribe as being your ally and friend when facing a common enemy like the invaders from Europe.

We’ve discriminated badly at multiple levels against our Native American people, and we’re beginning to make improvements in those behaviors at this point in our history after centuries of very bad and unfortunate behavior that was functionally genocidal at several points in our history.

The genocide committed against the Native Americans was then compounded by setting up slavery as a major component of our culture and economy for major parts of the country.

Slavery Happened for a Very Long and Painful Time

Slavery was the most egregious intergroup sin in our country against the people who lived here during those years, and it defined behavior and relationships for a couple of centuries in major parts of our country. We had hundreds of years of slavery. That slavery was targeted almost entirely at the people who were captured in Africa by various sources there, and then sold here as slaves.

Slavery fully activated the most evil and cruel components of our Us-Them instinctive intergroup behaviors.

Slavery existed everywhere in the world when it started here. The Bible makes references to slaves who existed in Rome and in Israel. So, from a purely historical scientific perspective, we all have slave ancestors if we have Europe or the Middle East in our genetic background.

In this country, we made owning slaves an actual and intentional intergroup sin for a very long time. One group enslaved another and made it the functional status of many settings.

The great crime and a major sadness here for our history was that we had people who had economic and political power in some parts of the country who strongly wanted slavery to exist, and they managed to keep it in place over the objections of the other people in the country who opposed and even hated it, and that success lasted until the Civil War.

Many people died in that war.

We had the largest shedding of American blood that we have ever had in that war. It was a grim price that needed to be paid to end that practice for us as a country, because every political process to end it had failed.

That particular approach to slavery clearly did not have an intellectual underpinning and basis, even when it was in place. The hypocrisy and the intellectual and logical inconsistency of the rule set for slavery was amazingly and obviously clear — because the law allowed anyone who somehow became a freed slave and who was given a document that freed them, to personally own property and to even buy other slaves with no sense of being somehow diminished in that authority in any inherent way by their own race.

That status of being a slave was clearly an accident of history for that person and not a legitimate status based on who they inherently were. The ethics and moral standards that can come from Us-Them instinctive thinking made what was a clearly unethical process continue to function, because we suspend conscience and we erase major components of ethics when we have those instincts activated, because the ethics often don’t apply in that paradigm to anyone we perceive to be Them.

We do that suspension of ethics as a normal way of thinking on multiple levels when those instincts are activated — and that’s why we need to be so careful not to be activating them now in this country at this point in our history.

The law set that created the country also set up the rules for who was elected to Congress and included the enslaved people in that count. The constitution of the country itself said that the slave population counted as two-thirds of a person when doing the census to determine the size of the Congress.

After slavery ended, we had years of very discriminatory and negative laws set up to take power away from anyone who wasn’t part of that white male majority group. We set up laws in any settings that discriminated very directly against anyone from any other group who lived in each area.

Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and every kind of group that had visual and physical differences that caused them to be obviously not white males had laws created to restrict their ability to vote, to own property, and to function as full citizens in each setting.

A series of very negative and restrictive laws that were labelled as Jim Crow laws were particularly targeted at our Afro-American population. There were many Jim Crow laws and they were paralleled with and echoed by equivalent negative laws and rules for other groups that damaged and constrained our various citizens who weren’t from the majority white group.

Going over that painful history in detail now doesn’t add a lot of value other than to help create context for the next sets of laws and behaviors, and to give us a chance and opportunity to look at the fact that we’ve been doing some very good work in many of those spaces for our country for the last few decades, and even for the last century, that we need to continue and build on as a country.

We should take this opportunity to do various important things that relate to racist behavior intentionally and well.

We Are at a Best Place Now on Both Gender and Racial Issues

We’ve had a significant civil rights movement that was fiercely resisted, but not destroyed, and we’ve made major improvements in a number of human rights issues over the past century because we’ve had some people with pure hearts and clear intentions and significant courage who have helped us get to some good places for many of those issues.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was resisted and even murdered for leading us to a peaceful rollout of those issues, and we now have an official national holiday in his name. The speeches given on his holiday tend to echo the directions he tried to lead us — and we’re far from perfect, but we’re definitely directionally correct in some very important ways.

We’re probably at the best place we’ve ever been on most of those issues.

We now have the most enlightened sets of laws we’ve ever had on both racial- and gender-related issues as a country. We’re enhancing those laws, and the combination of energy from the ‘Me Too’ movement and from the Black Lives Matter perceptions, beliefs, and expectations have made us far more enlightened on entire areas of behaviors that we’ve ever been.

We can build on where we are now if we do the right things to build the right things and do them the right way.

We have massive wealth gaps and some significant health gaps as a country, but we’ve made progress in some areas that we need to build on for our future in order to close those gaps.

We Need to Put Our Children First

We absolutely need to put our children first.

We need to look at the genetic and epigenetic issues we have for our children, and we need to make the commitment to have every child from every group get the right start for their lives, and to make up for some of the major deficits we’ve had in both learning and pre-learning for far too many of our children.

It’s entirely possible to do that because we know the science and we know the logistics, and we need to commit to making them happen for every child.

We know which groups have been damaged and we need to react now by getting the right resources to every child from every group.

We clearly need to help every child from every group in the first three years of life when our DNA and our RNA have programmed several extremely important epigenetic behaviors that help the neurons connect in the brain of every child from every group.

We need to get books to every family and every child as part of that process.

The books aren’t distributed fairly or equitably now. The non-Medicaid and more prosperous families in most communities now average more than 20 books per child, and those children with all those books have the great joy of reading and interacting with their readers in ways that literally build neuron connections by the billions and even trillions for those children.

But the sad and painful truth is that half of the births in America this year will be in Medicaid families with no books. We know that more than half of the Medicaid homes don’t even have one single book.

Not one book.

That’s just not fair for those children.

Each book and the interactions it created builds billions of neuron connections that happen easily for each child when that process happens. We owe it to every child to have that resource in place from their first month of life in their home and sleeping places to give those children a chance to read when they get to school.

When we know that getting books to children in the first months and first years of life can and do build neuron connections by the billions for the children, then having 20 books per child in most of the homes with no Medicaid births, and then actually having over half of the Medicaid homes without one single book is criminal, incompetent, dysfunctional, damaging, and stupid for us as a country.

We need to help every child.

We have massive wealth gaps and huge earning gaps in our country that we will obviously not close if 60 percent of the children in the lowest earning gap families can’t read.

We owe joy to every child.

We know that children from every group experience great joy when they’re doing that learning. We owe that sense of joy to every child from every group, and we should make it happen.

We also should take advantage of the very best approaches we have for improving the quality and availability of our care — and decide to make care better and more accessible to everyone. We just crossed the line where we spend more than a trillion dollars on care. We buy most of that care entirely by the piece and reward too many of the care sites who deliver bad care with more money, because bad care too often costs more.

Some of our most needy people are getting too much wrong care now. We have a number of people who are eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare because of their high care needs, and we actually now also have a program called Special Needs Plans that is more than 70 percent African American and 80 percent Hispanic. And those patients are getting some of the best care in their lives, because that care is so well designed and well delivered.

We should build on those programs for everyone, and we should set it up as the template for continuously improving and less expensive care for everyone.

We Should Rise Above Racism in Intentional Ways as Well

We also need to decide collectively to rise above racist instincts and behaviors in all our communities, and then do the right things to reduce the damage done by those behaviors in the future.

We still feel racism in too many settings and do too many things that clearly have racist roots, and there is no reason for us not to address that issue very explicitly and directly now and change some beliefs and behaviors.

The instinctive behavior that we need to all deal with and address at this point in our history is pure and powerful racism as a mental model, an emotion, a paradigm, and a set of beliefs and values.

We’re not alone.

We have racist behavior everywhere on the planet. We have people who look at others and perceive them to be a Them at an instinctive level because of their race or ethnicity, and who then behave in negative and often damaging ways towards those people.

We see racism in multiple settings on the planet and it damages people wherever it exists.

It feels very right to too many people who do negative things or think negative thoughts about other people because of their race, and then do not do the right sets of things with those people because of those racist thoughts.

We all need to understand how slippery the slope is to disliking or not trusting or aligning or interacting with someone who triggers racist thoughts in our own brains.

We should know that those thoughts are likely to happen, and we should take steps to lower their damage level in all our settings.

We need to make friends.

We should make the commitment at this point in the history of our increasingly diverse country for us to make friends with people from other groups.

We should make those friendly relationships a goal. We should look into our own lives for opportunities to at least interact with people from other groups and to set the goal of becoming friends with people from those groups and settings.

We can’t stop the perceptual triggers that set up a sense of other group identity for those people in our lives, but we can set up actual and intentional and functional interactions with those people that let us see them as fellow human beings and fully supportive and enlightened members of the new American Us.

We can conclude that we’ll feel those feelings and have those negative perceptions, and then we can each make the personal commitment to rise above the racism and to accept others as people, and not just as some alignment with Them.

We need to see people as people. We need not to have black friends. We need, instead, to have friends who are black.

We need to have friends who are black and friends who are from each other’s group and see them as people and not stereotypes or symbols and token connections with other groups.

We need to make the friend connection with other people at a gentle level first, and then we can learn about all the fascinating life experiences that made our friend who they are as we talk about our lives and our activities in each setting.

We need to forgive each other for unintended insults in the communications process because none of us have enough life experience to say everything in the most politically correct way all the time. So we need to learn correctness from each other.

When your new friend says something that’s accidentally insulting, flag it and say: “You just accidentally insulted me. I know you didn’t mean to say something hostile or insulting, but you just did, and I want to be your friend, but I don’t want you to say that again.”

Most people learn.

None of us are perfect and none of us will always be correct, but we can expect that all of us and each of us will take that feedback from the other person seriously and will stop saying or doing the insulting thing once we understand what it is.

If the conversation hits too many bumps, just be forgiving and move on to someone else who might be an easier set of connections.

This can be a very enjoyable and sometimes amusing set of learning opportunities. When we hear what our new friends find as important or interesting or growth provoking things, that can be some of the most enjoyable things we can learn.

We should be the greatest and safest and most positively interactive set of people on the planet. We should now appreciate the music and food and entertainment and personal and direct interactions that give us joy and positive interactions, and that allow us to build trust and comfort that the people we’re interacting with actually are legitimately and directly Us to Us.

We need people to be very honest about their sense of distrust for people from other groups, and then set up conversations and interactions that create the opportunity to create some level of intergroup trust that’s based on experience and actual interactions.

We need to default to trust in those relationships.

We need to not default to anger or judgement when someone does something we’re not happy with, and we need to teach the other person what

it’s about the conversation that we find both challenging and problematic.

The easiest way of getting those conversations to work is to either do a team behavior or a project of tasks that involves aligned activity. Many people enjoy team things so much that their team activities are the high points of their days.

Shared goals are very unifying. Let’s have shared goals and team behaviors, and let’s do it because we trust that we all want them to be our future and our reality today.

It can be a slippery slope to not trusting when the person is from another group, and we need to decide to give people multiple chances to get to the right behavior and understanding, rather than just judging the first (or even second) experiences for our interactions and stopping there.

We’re all far better off with a future of Peace and having that be a personal thing can be very successful.

Our grandchildren need us to go down that path to Peace, because they will live in anger, fear, anxiety, and even danger if we let ourselves tribalize and then do bad tribal things to each other.

If we have people in our lives who hate — let’s not have their hatred define us.

Faith Can Lead to Peace and Not to Conflict or Division

This proposal and set of thoughts aren’t a religious approach for channeling our instincts in intentional ways into optimal behaviors — but if we have faith and religious beliefs, let’s tie that to love, acceptance, and ethical and honest behavior. And let’s not have it divide us.

Our best faith leaders want us to do the right things for ourselves and for each other. Inviting them to pray for Peace and to work for Peace in loving and accepting ways that are either with us or about us is not a bad way of creating that alignment with those leaders.

We need to set up great and continuously improving health care for everyone, and we need to set up great brain development for every child. Then we should do what America does best and enjoy our diversity at many levels.

Most of the world looks at our music, our art, our creativity, and our extreme variety of good food and envies what our diversity has created. Let’s celebrate that whole package ourselves and build on it, because it can even get better from here if we enjoy the ride.

Avoiding racism should be a source of energy to help us build layers of intergroup acceptance and positive interactions that will strengthen and reinforce the Peace processes for everyone. That will give us all the future we should have for ourselves and our children.

Let’s Build a Golden Age Starting Now

Let’s build a golden age for helping every child get the right start and let’s build a golden age for having the health care agenda of the country build on the best science and the best care in approaches like the ones we are using now for all the people on Medicare and Medicaid who deserve the best care, and who can get it if we steer down the right paths as a nation and make that our commitment, goal, strategy, and basic competency as a nation and a care system for everyone.

We should provide the right supports for our care and for our children and we should all learn to reach out as friends to other Americans to create the future that we all should want to create.


In our time.

Let’s make it happen!