How to defy our racist brains

How to defy our racist brains

Some people seem wired to stick within their own tribe, select ‘like’ types to work with and socialise with, and may even dislike ‘outsiders’ or feel threatened by them. Maybe they fear change.

Yet, we live in such a diverse world it’s critical we develop an open caring approach to diversity.

It takes education and awareness to overcome an inbuilt innate racial bias.

Some US research using brain imaging has explored the mind’s ‘circuitry’ that comes into play for race-based emotions and decision-making.

It found that the areas in the human brain that “detect ethnicity and those controlling emotion are tightly connected, with fear often the overwhelming thought” – a strong argument for a human predisposition to racism.

Psychologist and neuroscientist Elizabeth Phelps of NYU, who led the research team, believes that people can learn to manage their unconscious racist behaviour.

In the workplace and at schools the best way to reduce and eliminate racism is to create awareness, run training sessions and discussion groups – and above all – set up rules and standards for everyone to follow. These rules should work for internal relationships as well as customer and supplier relationships.

Draw the line – there must be a zero tolerance for unacceptable behaviour and actions.


Some key rules for your workplace!


Don’t discriminate. INSTEAD: Be open to everyone.

Don’t make disrespectful remarks. INSTEAD: Think before you speak.

Don’t focus on differences. INSTEAD: Appreciate other cultures.

Don’t assume limitations. INSTEAD:  Make everyone feel welcome.

Don’t be superficial in your judgments. INSTEAD: Take time to learn what people bring by way of background.

Don’t shortcut and stick to ‘like me’ types. INSTEAD: Seek hidden depths and wisdom in those with different backgrounds to you.

Don’t privilege one generation over another. INSTEAD: Seek balance and variety.

Don’t get drawn into trivia and gossip INSTEAD: Keep focus on goals and bigger perspective.

 There’s a big lesson in this for team leaders and recruiters.  Value what people of different ages, backgrounds and levels of experience bring to the table. 

If you really want to get your office balance right, take the time to understand how various combinations and rejigging processes meld to create special qualities. You are likely to generate new opportunities and be far more successful.

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.



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