Now there’s a pill that can cure racism?

By Pat Watson Sunday March 18 2012 in Opinion
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So many of the answers to life’s health concerns come in the form of a pill these days that it’s beginning to look like we can find a cure for everything just by popping the right pill. Maybe you’ve heard of Propranolol, a beta-blocker drug used to treat high blood pressure. It’s also used in the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders.



This drug is of particular interest today because scientists at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom took a leap of logic regarding the effects of Propranolol and concluded that the pill can calm a fearful mind and therefore mitigate “subconscious” racism.



My favourite headline on this report comes from the South African newspaper Times Live: “Drug that gets to the very heart of racism”.



Lead researcher in the study, Sylvia Terbeck, explains it this way: “Propranolol reduces blood pressure, but we also know it works an area of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for emotions and fear. That’s why people not only use it for heart conditions they also use it for anxiety and performance anxiety.”



Volunteers were either given small doses of Propranolol or a placebo and were given two questionnaires. One asked only two questions: ‘Do you like Black people?’ and ‘Do you like White people?’



They were also given the Implicit Association Test (IAT). This test places Black and White faces next to positive and negative words and asks people to quickly make choices to put the good words and the faces into categories.



In his 2005 book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell, who is Black, describes taking the test and finding even he had some “unconscious” negative responses to Black faces, which just goes to show how much anti-Black messages seep into the general psyche. We certainly have a long way to go.



Instead of suppressing fear and anxiety about Black people, we can make a much greater effort to change the terrible messages that are broadcasted daily into the general mind of society about people of colour. But I digress.



In any case, the scientists’ findings were that the volunteers who were given Propranolol showed significantly less racism on the IAT than the group that was given the placebo.



So, from this we can understand that scientists see racism at some level as a fear response. However, that leads to a whole range of other questions about racism such as, what fear, if any at all, did Portuguese slave traders have going into Africa to remove millions of indigenous people. Or did racism not play a part in that atrocious enterprise? Furthermore, is this a drug that only White people need to take? Or should we all be taking daily doses to inhibit our fear of other so-called races? Will it have an effect on attitudes towards other religions as well?



It boggles the mind that a drug could put an end to one of the great social problems of our civilization. If we can solve all of life’s problems by using some pharmaceutical, then we should all be buying stock in Big Pharma.



What I would also like those clever scientists to come up with is a pill to cure rampant capitalism and free market decimation of our global economy. And while they are at it, a pill to end poverty, one to end chronic unemployment, one to stop the abuse of the natural environment and one that produces politicians who are humane and have integrity.



And maybe one to fix the TTC.



A note on what passes for reasonable debate…



Viewing Question Period in the House of Commons can be an arduous, mind boggling business and one is constantly reminded of the old saw that it is called ‘Question Period not ‘Answer Period’. Sadly, the exchange of statements shows either a lack of respect for the Canadian public or the presumption that Canadians are just a nation of dolts.



The so-called voter suppression question now dominating the back and forth between politicians and the ‘I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I’ schoolyard exchange passing for debate is nothing short of frustrating. The tactic being used by all sides in the House can be best defined as confuse, complicate and obfuscate. One is tempted to say Canadians deserve better than this, but the fact is Canadians voters put these people in positions of responsibility. At least, those whose votes weren’t allegedly suppressed.

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