A Psychologist’s Explanation Of Why Racism Persists In America

Pricilla Dass-Brailsford

The tragic shooting took place in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, last month — and the following spate of burnings of black churches — have thrust questions of racial injustice back into the center of our national dialogue.

Many Americans have been left wondering what causes racism to persist in our society, and what sort of psychological toll acts of hatred like the Charleston shooting take on members of the black community.

For answers to these and other questions, HuffPost Science spoke to Dr. Priscilla Dass-Brailsford, a psychologist at Georgetown University and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology who specializes in ethnocultural and community violence, about the science of racial injustice. Here’s what she had to say.

Dr. Pricilla Dass – Brailsford

What types of psychological factors give rise to racist beliefs and behaviors?

Racism has to do with thinking of oneself as being different from other people. Racists see others as being less than, and think of themselves as being superior. Just as you would have attitudes about anything — about poor people, for example, or immigrants — you have to think about where those attitudes began and how they developed. Was it environmental? Was it upbringing? Was the person born that way? So, there’s the age-old debate about nature versus nurture here.

Can you elaborate on some of the ways that a community or society can foster and perpetuate racism?

If you grow up in an environment where people think white people are superior to people of color, you begin to believe in it. And when your whole system around you is constructed in a way that supports that belief, you will begin to think that you are superior.

South Africa is a classic example: When you —> Read More