Psychological Parasites

Credit: Scientific and Philosophical Perspectives in Neuroethics (2010; Cover Image)

The world is full of hierarchies, organized in distinct categories with distinct characteristics. Hierarchies have a sense of superiority and inferiority between the things being ordered, such as movie ratings. Movies can be rated in different categories, but there is a sense of one movie being better than the other movie, and then better than the next.

This can also happen with people. Some experts, such as Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow) say that the hierarchy of people in America happened as soon as the first settlers set foot on American land and kidnapped Africans to build their nation for them. The European colonists also forced Native Americans out of their land that was rightfully theirs. It was through these actions that the White Europeans slowly created the hierarchy of people in America. By the time it was too late for people to notice and change the growing divide, the White race was the superior one, and everyone else who were different according to skin color was inferior. Thus, racism was cultivated in the Americas, right from the very start of this nation.

Racism is everywhere – some people may even say it is in the air as something we cannot see. It is in the media, advertisements, television shows and movies, and can be observed in day-to-day interactions between people whether explicitly or implicitly. One important place that social inequality is shown is in academic institutions. Jonathan Lassiter wrote an article, “Whiteness in the Psychological Imagination,” which focuses on the phenomenon of whiteness in fields such as psychology and what that means for both White people and people of color.

Lassiter goes on to discuss Toni Morrison’s idea that whiteness “is parasitical, nourishing itself on the imagined oppositeness of blackness. Whiteness is made superior by the supposed inferiority of blackness.” To me, a word synonymous to “parasitical” is “cyclical.” The underlying idea is that ideas and knowledge feed on themselves and perpetuate notions of what is right and what is wrong, what is accepted and what is unacceptable. In this case, White is linked to words such as right and accepted, and Black is linked to words such as wrong and unacceptable. Lassiter recounts how his white peers would refer to clients of color as “angry” or “hard to talk to,” but what really is driving the clients to be emotional or cold? One of the explanations sometimes overlooked is the self-fulfilling prophecy. The professionals could go into the situation thinking that the client will be angry or hard to talk to, will act toward them in a different way, thus having the clients react in ways that the professionals thought they would. It is an insidious cycle that has such a strong hold on the human way of thinking that it is getting more difficult to break out of.

What are some little ways that we can break this cycle of racial inequality and thinking? How can we change a narrative that has been so ingrained in our heads?

1 thought on “Psychological Parasites”

  1. The way that the racist history of America has been so embedded into macro and micro institutions is very troubling, and thinking about changing the way that race relations are in this country is a daunting task. In my opinion, the most important way to change these patterns is to start with your own self. When discussing Alexander’s first chapter in The New Jim Crow in class, we talked about the way that White people sat back and accepted the horrible torturing of Black people during slavery. However, the same thing happens today in a different form; Black people are brutally mistreated by police, locked behind bars, and killed every single day. The truths of American history should not be so hidden, but the White people at the top of the American hierarchy that are aware of these truths have a responsibility to make changes in their own lives and go on to educate others. I believe that the culmination of positive individual actions is what has the power to break the cycle.

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