The Professor of Evolutionary Ecology and Director of the Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, Rob Brooks, published an insightful article on the origins of racism on The Conversation in July 2012. He finds evidence that racism and other prejudices have evolved along with humanity, but he also finds that such attitudes can be overcome.
Professor Brooks says that “modern evolutionary biology is making enormous contributions to our understanding of how our ideas of race, racism, gender and sexism arise.” And he summarises the argument between those proposing that racism is a consequence of human evolution versus those who claim that biological understanding of human behaviour and society would be used to justify racism, sexism and various other forms of prejudice.
He discusses an article on the Roots of Racism by Elizabeth Culotta which isolates two important themes that are gathering support.
First, racism is one of many expressions of our evolved capacity to live and work in groups. The very human tendency to identify with an “us” defines the broader “them”. Religious bigotry, ethnic mistrust and other prejudices arise from our tendency to form coalitions and allegiances.
Second, antipathy toward members of other groups gains much of its traction through fear, particularly of males. The snap judgments people make about others may be part of a sensitive alarm system that evolved when the people most likely to present a violent threat were strange males.
But prejudice and bigotry can be overcome, he says. “Over the last century, researchers studying race have found a dramatic drop in racist attitudes and stereotypes. There is strong neuroscience evidence for what we have long known – that becoming familiar with individuals from other races as well as a conscious desire to transcend our prejudices can erode racism and other forms of bigotry.
“The brain – far from being hard-wired – is good at learning about race and triggering biases, but is also capable of transcending those biases. And that’s a good thing, in evolutionary terms, because the groups we belong to shift and change over time. Our ability to change is an important facet of our humanity.”
To read more see https://theconversation.com/the-origins-of-racism-8321