March 16, 2012

fighting racism one pill at a time.

Perhaps you noticed New Scientist or Yahoo recently touting a "new pill fights racism." If not, here's the skinny, ripped from The Daily Beast:
Writing in the medical journal Psychopharmacology, British investigators found that a veteran heart and blood pressure pill, propranolol, which acts to lower our fight-or-flight response to anything by dialing down adrenaline production, reduced “implicit racial bias” significantly. They ran their study in 36 white 22-year-old volunteers and distinguished implicit associations from explicit racial prejudice. The implicit kind—seeing something that makes you uncomfortable and reacting with a quickened pulse—was the type “improved” while good, old-fashioned explicit racial prejudice was unchanged. In other words, the drug didn’t make you more tolerant, just less physiologically perturbed about the whole thing.
So the last line pretty much nails it, but I can't help but think that the headlines the study generated all seem pitched in an inherently white way. (Western?) I say this because of the way racism is identified as an individual problem. The study and subsequent headlines suggest racism is rooted in a blood pressure spike, a limbic issue, instead of a greater systematic power of racial oppression both subtle and overt. The question is framed in a manner consistent with white individualism. I would much prefer to work with a person whose blood pressure spikes, ...and then repents, than someone who claims "I am not a racist" while taking propranolol. It's not a pill that cures racism, it just makes you politically correct!

(Interesting thought experiment: if the government started putting the stuff in our drinking water, might it create a great polite society that never reacts to one another, but still can't see injustice in its midst? -except for all the wealthy homeowners who filter the drug out with their under counter reverse osmosis filters, creating a wealthy prejudiced ruling elite in our country who keep the masses placated by the drug, further enabling their privilege?!

..oh...)

Where does "racism" or prejudice happen?. If a pill were to fix it, does it mean biology was the problem? And if so, does that absolve one of responsibility? Clearly not or we wouldn't desire the pill in the first place. Beyond the sensationalism of the headlines, it is really an atomistic viewpoint.

Oh well. The irony of this post is that I'm all loaded up with antibiotics, steriods and painkillers right now. Science - a principality that God has redeemed for my sinuses.

2 comments :

  1. Hi Pastor Erin, I just started attending Epic church last week with my family and was thrilled to hear your sermon on systemic racism. As for this article, a student of mine actually brought it to my attention. My problem with this idea of a pill solution is that it relegates racism to the individual level. As you preached last Sunday, the inequalities that exist between races is largely reproduced at the institutional and societal levels. Consequently, the problem does not end with eradicating individual racism (even if it were possible). My two cents. --Nancy Wang Yuen

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  2. Thanks for the kind words! I quite agree with you and lament both the dominant culture in America and the Evangelical world's unwillingness to deal with systemic racism.

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