Behavior Modification: Let’s Make Racism Bad Again

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the millions of Americans who voted for Trump.

This was a candidate who had at least 26 women come forward and accuse him of sexual assault. He also admitted to sexual assault in an interview, on the record. This was a candidate who refused to denounce white supremacists on national television. This was a candidate who incited violence and spread conspiracy theories. The list is long. Too long. This doesn’t even begin to cover it.

As a person with a psychology degree and a mental health counseling degree, I aim to try and understand other people’s worldview. I am fascinated by how people think and what motivates their behavior.

One of my (many) pet peeves is when people dismiss others’ behavior by saying, “I just don’t understand.” A flipside of that is to oversimplify or label a person’s behavior, also in an attempt to dismiss it: “Oh, he’s just a monster.” “She snapped.” “She’s crazy.”

In instances of flippant labeling like that, there’s no curiosity, no desire to actually seek to understand or find out the real, nuanced answer.

And so I ask myself, why did people vote for 45? Did they:

  • Agree with his policies and morals?
  • Benefit from those policies?
  • Or perhaps, they just disagreed with Biden’s policies (or perceived policies)?
  • If they didn’t agree or benefit, did they somehow justify 45’s actions/words enough to feel okay voting for him?
  • Vote Republican out of habit? Or because their friends and family do?
  • They consume Fox News/Breitbart/etc.?
  • Some other explanation I haven’t thought of?

I ask myself these questions because, ultimately, I am interested in how sociopolitical change happens on a macro level. Namely, how do we get people who voted for a racist, misogynist, white supremacist to change their voting habits? How do we make racism bad again (or ever)?

I studied behavior modification briefly in grad school, and I find it fascinating. Getting people to vote and get vaccinated and wear masks and use car seats are examples of behavior modification on a mass scale, as is getting people to buy Gap jeans or the new iPhone.

This reminds me of the massive anti-drug campaigns I was exposed to growing up. “This is your brain on drugs…any questions?” Really stuck with me, as that ad was so compelling and wonderfully quotable.

My guess is that the answer to my question involves attacking the issue from all sides meaning, on both a micro and macro level. I read a quote somewhere from a BLM leader, and I’m paraphrasing: what will help to end racism more is for white people to call out the racist tendencies of their white friends, and not necessarily just befriending black people. Which means we’re going to fight racism little by little, interaction by microaggression.

I keep coming back to the question of how to whittle away harmful, fear-based beliefs of a massive group of people who are no doubt feeling all kinds of feelings after the election. Worse yet, it’s a group of people who have been taught to demonize truth and facts, and many are doubling down with the emergence of platforms like Parler. …How do you reach people who don’t wanna be woke? Again, I’m guessing the answer is: slowly and deliberately and on all fronts. With equal representation, by changing social norms, by calling out microaggressions, and probably much more that I am forgetting or am unaware of.

It makes me profoundly uncomfortable to know that such a large portion of the American population actively participates in an ignorant, fearful, hateful worldview or is at least accepting of them. My hope (maybe fantasy?) is that there is a team of psychologists out there somewhere, brainstorming a massive campaign to combat racism, misogyny, xenophobia, white supremacy, etc.

Where do I sign up?

Day 9


7 responses

  1. Thinking about this is exhausting and yet we can’t give up. I do find that there are many who don’t want to be woke by facts and science. The thing that frustrates me the most is that Biden’s policies work for these people even if they don’t want to see it. I have had conversations with people who would not have healthcare save for the ACA that despise it and yet they benefit from it. It’s confounding to say the least. 45 lied to them and doesn’t care about them and yet they revere him. I have been so disheartened to become aware of just how much racism and misogyny and hatred is still alive and well in our country. I too, want to understand why? Yesterday we had a power outage. Someone either hit a transformer or it blew up. We heard a loud noise and then no power. I was talking to a neighbor next door when another neighbor from across the way came out to query if we were all without power. I said I thought someone hit the transformer or it malfunctioned. He a young man in his twenties said and I quote, “Thanks Joe Biden”. I looked at him with my WTF face and he didn’t say anything further to that end and soon left. We live on the opposite side of the U.S. from D.C but this is the mentality that we’re up against. There was no logical even plausible explanation for how he could possibly attribute blame for our power going out due to an accident or malfunction on Joe Biden and yet that’s the immediate conclusion his little mind came to. I think a lot of the problem is education. Of course that can’t explain all of it. It’s absolutely mind boggling, and yet we have to figure it out. :(

    • My guess is that he attributed a negative outcome (the power going out) to a person in power who he views as negative (Biden), which makes sense to me. People will bend over backwards to cram information to fit into their preconceived worldview, even if the explanation isn’t based in reality.
      Knowing this, I struggle with how to move forward, especially when people have no motivation to change.

  2. I DO hope there are people with a plan to combat this. And boatloads more patience than I have for dealing with folks who’ve bought into the other side’s talking points.

    I do think a big part of it is the fox/breitbart/blaze/oan thing- there’s so much misinformation out there. And search algorithms on google and facebook tend to enhance those silos by serving content that reinforces those beliefs. If you don’t seek out the other side’s viewpoint, it’s easy to find only voices that reinforce what you already think.

    • Definitely, but it’s clearly not the only part as that junk doesn’t work on someone like me, who wasn’t born into a conservative, religious culture/family/region.
      The more I think about this, the more my language around it sounds cultish. 😬

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