Opinion: Racism, Dogs, and Our Primitive Brains

We can be better.

I love this article RunPee Dan wrote about how bigotry used to have an evolutionary advantage for early man. This discussion was sparked by The Hate U Give,  a movie out just this week, delving into the timely topics of race, bigotry, and prejudice in our culture. Racism has been a frequent topic in film for many long years, and unfortunately, it’s still something society grapples with.  

I was talking to the RunPee family yesterday about just this: something a lot of people don’t know is that we’re not the only racist animals. Dogs and chimps have demonstrated this too, and even more ancient creatures. Watch any school of fish, or what happens in your own aquarium. There’s safely among one’s own kind.

When I worked with dogs, I noticed in person something I’d read about previously — that in a group/pack situation, dogs will seek out firstly others of their breed, and, failing that, will seek out dogs of its own color. So a black lab would look for other labs, or at least other black dogs. Eventually a dog would make its own ‘friends’ outside those boundaries, but those friendships still come with unassailable hierarchical positions. Dogs respect hierarchy above all else (the reason they obey us — if they do — is because they see us as higher in the pack scale as their Alpha, hopefully).

We see different as scary. We feel uneasy in a very primitive part of the brain when confronted with other. Fear and anxiety – and decision-making — are controlled in the amigdala, and that’s buried deeply in the brain’s cortex. Our primal limbic system tries to protect us with knee-jerk responses to a variety of potentially dangerous stimuli. Run! Fight! Hide! Bark! This worked for a long time and got us where we are today, with cities, surplus food for most, and even leisure time to pursue learning, creative endeavors, and the pursuit of happiness.

Hopefully, we’ve had enough cultural evolution by now to think mindfully instead of reactively to every new encounter. This kind of mindfulness is a major reason I treasure Star Trek so much. Star Trek shows an enlightened society where greed, racism, hunger, and war-like qualities are mostly eradicated, replaced with a Humanist outlook on life. Look at someone like Captain Jean-Luc Picard for the finest example of a Renaissance-level human ever in entertainment. The reason so many fans are pumped he has a  new Picard show in development is so we can watch our role model again, and feel inspired to be BETTER. (Also, Sir Patrick Stewart can read recipes out loud and make them sound like epic literature. ) So, yes, Star Trek FTW: I love this kind of positive outlook on the future. Not all entertainment has to be dark and gritty to be good.

I think my favorite part of Dan’s opinion article is about taking our racist brain parts out for a walk — to pet them, to tell them “different is okay”, and to let go of old, outmoded, instinctive fears. Yes, avoiding different was once a source of support and longevity. We in H. sapiens have had enough cycles of comfort and prosperity by now that we can TEACH ourselves to be more tolerant, less judgmental. (Which includes being tolerant of ourselves when we make the inevitable mistakes. There’s a learning curve.)

This is my hope. And, right, we have to work at it.  It does get easier, with practice. Constant vigilance! I believe we’ll get there in time, before the inevitable alien invasion arrives to MAKE us play well together.  😉

Through the Wormhole – Are We All Bigots?

Movie Review – The Hate U Give

Movie Review – BlacKkKlansman

Jill Florio

Co-Creator of RunPee, Chief of Operations, Content Director, and Managing Editor. RunPee Jilly likes galaxy-spanning sci fi, superhero sagas, fantasy films, YA dystopians, action thrillers, chick flicks, and zany comedies, in that order…and possesses an inspiringly small bladder. In fact, that little bladder sparked the creation of RunPee. (Good thing she’s learned to hold it.)

2 Replies to “Opinion: Racism, Dogs, and Our Primitive Brains”

  1. I’m a geek, and as such I find comfort around other geeks. If there are no other geeks around I can get along with “some” non-geeks, but it’s an effort. Most of the time I just tolerate non-geeks, while silently judging them. 🙂

  2. Ha! I have to admit I’m the same way. I do prefer geek company above all else. Sometimes I feel like I’m part of an endangered species. I know we are out there…I like having a sense of my own tribe about me. So, I guess I’m not as enlightened as I would hope.

    I guess there’s an element of hypocrisy here, since I DO prefer people like me, and only reach out to other kinds of groups when I have no choice.

    It really is a thing to work on overcoming. If everyone only hung out with their type of people, we’d be missing out on learning new ways of being and interacting.

    One thing at a time. We can most easily work on equality between genders, skin color, racial background, sexual orientation, weight, and mental/physical disability. I think that’s a worthy start.

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