At the time of writing (June 2020), America has been forced to face itself, to sit and watch a white police officer calmly kill George Floyd while fellow police officers watched, and have him taken away without any attempts at resuscitation for maybe spending a dud $20 note in a shop where he’s a regular.
I’m a marketer, I know something about how our brains work, so here’s what I’ve got. Also, I’m a white guy, so what the hell do I know about it? Listen to black people, not me. But I’m not seeing what I’ve written here anywhere, and I do have my skills so here we go, I hope it helps.
Conscious thought is hard work. It depletes our blood sugar, it’s effortful, it makes us tired and need a rest.
Subconscious thought just happens. It’s more intelligent than we give it credit for (it can do maths, for instance).
The way it informs us is with hunches, feelings & desires. We want this car not that one. We don’t know why, we just do.
These are heuristics. When we see a group of people coming along the path, we have feelings about them depending on who we are, the time of day, the place, and who they are.
We can consciously override those feelings if we want to, but it’s effortful.
So for me, this whole business about policing our language, making sure we are not being racist or sexist or whatever in our everyday conversations and actions, it’s not going to work. People won’t keep it up. Sure we should always be kind and mindful, but to live in a cage of being frightened of saying the wrong thing, white guys are not used to that. It feels terrible. We need to fix it at a deeper level.
Step one is to realise that we are all racist and sexist and everything else all the time and it’s never going to be any different. What are New Yorker’s like? What are Germans like? What are the Japanese like? What are football fans like? What are girls like? What are nurses like? All of those feelings are heuristics. It’s just how the brain works. Would you like to come to a chess players party? A muslim party? A gay party? A tory/republican fundraiser? A party in Manchester? A beach party? Yes, no? Heuristics.
It’s kinda OK, because it’s inescapable anyway, what are we going to do, hate our biology? What colour eyes do you find attractive? Probably the same as your parents’ if you had a nice upbringing. It’s all about association. Heuristics are created when you have an experience. Do I like blonde haired people? Depends. What experiences have I had with them? You don’t have to dredge up all your memories and build a spreadsheet every time, your subconscious has already done the work and gives you a feeling to summarise.
If you live with a cat, you can see this work. Cats and dogs don’t have much in the way of consciousness, so everything is subconscious. The cat sits here. And then gets a hunch that it might be better over there. Why? The sun just came out and made a sunspot. Or the dog arrived and that usually spells trouble. Whatever, it’s all just subconscious heuristics and you can watch it at play.
Here’s the problem. We haven’t evolved but the media has. Widescreen, retina displays, sub-bass, global connectivity bringing us visceral imagery all day every day. Newspaper headlines, professionally crafted to rile. Relentless social media, optimised by AI to goad you into action.
Our subconscious takes these media experiences and adds them to our real-life ones. It can’t really tell the difference.
Actually it kinda can, because real life is ordinary. Media is extraordinary and so has high leverage in our subconscious.
My go-to is Starsky & Hutch and Huggy Bear. I’m old, OK? But these were two white cops in a 70s TV series, and Huggy Bear was their street snitch, he was black, obviously, and knew about all the derring do in the city which the white guys would clean up. It was a long time ago, granted, and we’ve had Black Panther since then but is it still the case that if a crew beam down on a new planet and there’s one black member, there’s no point even learning their name because they are obviously going to get slaughtered?
So my Step Two is this. Police the media that you consume. Put your effort into that.
Make a stop list of artists that aren’t right .. film directors, whatever. Actually better, make a list of black/women/disabled/LGBT artists you want to explore. Get some balance in your viewpoint, see things in 360. And if you like lists like I do, maybe see if you can balance things up. An easy one would be .. if you watch films a lot, check how many of the last few films you watched were by women directors. Should be 50% at least. Do you know about the Bechdel Test?
The crux is .. police your media. Stop pouring racist content into your brain. If you are white and you want to sort out your racism, seek out media by black people. Read books by black people. Pour those experiences into your subconscious.
Then when you are next out and about, your subconscious will reward you with different feelings. And you won’t have to police what you say so much, or what you do, because you will naturally do the right thing most of the time (we all make mistakes, that’s OK, just admit to it and learn from it).
So that’s it. Stop accepting shit media from old white male billionaires with agendas that don’t serve you. Pour good stuff into your brain starting now. Try this BLM reading list from Teen Vogue.