Here is something I hate to admit. I used to feel resistance or maybe even slight repulsion to Indian men. Not that I personally had reason to, but through media I’d gotten bad news from India and many of my friends (whom, of course, never been there themselves) would warn me about going. The information on Indian men stored in my brain was mainly negative. This suspicious feeling about a certain group or look (yeah, also known as racism) is something we all have. It is something we are programmed to by feeding our brain with certain associations, most of the time by actively or passively consuming media. The more we see a certain group, such as people with darker skin, related to something bad the more our brains will automatically relate people looking like that to bad traits.
This does not mean that we actively have those unfair values about darker people, it’s actually more often the opposite. No matter how openminded and equal-thinking and anti- racist we are, we can not stop this programming from happening and from controlling our brains if we keep on consuming the biased media we are surrounded by. Studies show that even people with darker skin feel more suspicion and fear when seeing darker people compared to light skinned ones. The sad fact is that as a result of the terrible bias in media; movies, series, commercials, news etc. the same programming is going on in all of us, and it does not matter how wrong or heavily biased this image is, it doesn’t even matter if the media we consume is fictional, associating a certain look to certain traits even when it’s obviously fictional and made up creates this programming of our brains and this is how we become racists – maybe you could call it the early stages. This means that most people in the modern world are ”light” racists, at least. But it is not our fault. However, it is our responsibility to be aware of how this works and work against it. The only way to change this is to feed our brain with more positive information/associations to dark skinned people than negative ones (this of course works the same for any group/look, but in this case I am using skin color as an example). And we need to get first hand information – experiential based. The deeper level of experience (thus memory thus information in the computer that is our brain) that is created when e.g. spending time and becoming friends with people of a certain look allows it to overrun the previous programming faster than for example just reading about it. But it will not happen unless you actively work on re-learning, creating new automatic associations in your brain.
Having explained this, let’s go back to me traveling to India. Despite knowing that I was wrong, having read and studied the phenomenon described above (it is called priming – read about it in the super interesting book Blink), I had this hidden feeling of fear and suspicion when it came to Indian men that was barely on the surface of my awareness. Like I said, I hate to admit it, and wasn’t it because I knew of this phenomenon I would probably have neglected it. After all, it is not very easy to realise that despite trying so hard to have an open heart and mind, despite having traveled a lot, despite knowing and loving people with all kinds of skin colors and looks, there was still this shameful, groundless racist in me.
What happened then? This year started in India, I came here in december 2016 and celebrated New Years Eve with a bunch of Indian students. In the middle of January I went on to Tasmania, Australia, and spent a couple of months down under followed by Singapore and Malaysia. During my travels India kept calling, kept reminding me of its’ existence. The first guy I couch surfed with in Australia was Indian, so was my teacher at Vipassana and I shared dorm rooms with great guys from India almost all the time. So many kind faces, so many caring smiles. They all gave me their best advice on India, they were all fun, sweet and openminded. I mean why wouldn’t they be? All in all I felt like India was sending me a message. I needed to go back. On the flight from Singapore to Mumbai, I couldn’t stop smiling. All those Indian faces, they smiled back at me. I felt surrounded by love, kindness, harmony. Instead of being suspicious, I expected kindness from them. Being back amongst Indian people made me feel calm and happy. And what is really amazing about this change of expectations is that I could feel it happen. The shift. My brain was finally re-programmed. The automatic response to typical Indian features that my brain would send me in milliseconds was positive. Don’t get me wrong here, I am not naive and I know that there are bad people here, just like everywhere. But that is not the point. The point is that unless you do something about it, you are probably a ”light racist” and you definitely have unfair, stereotypical ideas of certain groups because of the way you are programmed. It is how it is, this is brain science. It is not because of who you are, it is not in your personality or values, it is biology. Now – do something about it! Prove yourself wrong! Get out there, get to know ”them”. And if within your power, change the media stream as well now that you’re on it.
Let’s do our best!