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“I’m not a racist but…”

Any time you hear that opening (and unfortunately, I have) you can be assured that person is a racist. No one admits to it. Not the tea party people with their hateful signs, not the elected officials who send out racial slurs in emails and call them harmless jokes. And many of those are the same people who justify the senseless death of Trayvon Martin. “I’m not a racist, but when someone goes walking around late at night wearing a hoodie, looking suspicious…”

No matter how it is denied, racism is alive and well, and in fact, it is thriving in the lizard-brain.

Let me explain what I mean by lizard brain. The basal ganglia, termed “the Reptilian Complex” by American neuroscientist Paul Mc Lean, is the most base and simplistic part of our brain. This structure is shared by reptiles and birds, and was probably all we had before we evolved. Mc Lean theorized it was  “responsible for species typical instinctual behaviors involved in aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritual displays”. We are all capable of operating from this lowest functioning part of our brains. We are also capable of functioning higher.

In our lizard brain, we are fearful and territorial. Advertisers know this. Media knows this. The Pharma industry knows this. Politicians know this. They push the fear button to keep us following them like zombies.

In our lizard brain, we are tribal. We attack people at sporting events. We fear people of other races, religions, socioeconomic standing. We move away to gated societies to keep “the others” out. 

In the military, they train soldiers to kill by making the enemy subhuman – “the other”…the “one you should fear”. It’s how Hitler was able to convince German citizens to look the other way while he committed genocide.

The vitriolic right-wing has done a bang-up job of making our President “the other” – “the one you should fear”. They appeal to uneducated, unworldly people, and go straight for the lizard brain. He is a Muslim. He is a Kenyan. His birth certificate is fake. He pals around with terrorists. I mean, really, when has any other president been subjected to such nonsense? Being called a LIAR in Congress? Having a congresswoman angrily point a finger in your face?

Let’s call it what it is. He is BLACK. And the vitriolic right wingers are sending the message: Watch out white people, for President Obama is “the other”. Its this kind of racism, directed even toward our President- the most powerful leader in the free world– that filters down to a young kid like Trayvon, walking home with some Skittles in his pocket.

Its no wonder that citizens who watch FEAR news all day long are feeling threatened. Their lizard brains are conditioned to fear the other, to protect themselves. I wonder what cable news Zimmerman follows. I think I can make an educated guess…

The only way to free ourselves from this hateful way of being, the only way to stop more innocent children from being senselessly shot down in the street, is to evolve. We must open our minds and listen. We must educate ourselves and others, to move our thinking to a higher place.

The next time you get one of those hateful, bigoted emails from your weird uncle, just remember, he’s coming from his lizard brain. The best thing we can do for Lizard-brain is not to engage with him or get angry (that’s where lizard brain thrives) but instead to expose him to something different (beauty, culture, love) that can only be processed in a different part of his brain.

When he makes a hateful post on your facebook page, post a picture like this on his:

It’s up to us to rise above our lizard brains. We have to be the ones who educate. Be the ones who encourage tolerance. Be the ones who put positive, enlightening information into the world every day.

And whatever we do, we can’t make lizard-brains our “other” – the ones we should fear, because then we are operating from our own lizard brains.

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  1. Anonymous

    Thank you!! I finished reading this and went "YES! MORE!!" and felt my heart lighten a bit. This is something we ALL NEED to DO!!

  2. Rita Arens

    There are so many reptilian instincts we have to consciously overcome — the desire to consume as much fat and salt as possible, the desire to bash people over the head with a stick, the desire to have sex whenever we get the urge. Fortunately, we have this HUGE FRONTAL LOBE that we can use now. 🙂 Good points.

  3. Hollye Dexter

    And thank YOU! For reading, for sharing, and for evolving above lizard brain and into your heart!

  4. Unknown

    LOVE this post!!

  5. Julie

    Amen, Hollye. What a thoughtful analysis of a seemingly permanent problem…

    Sadly, it's not just with race, is it? Also gender, sexual orientation, religion, size, disability.

    We seem programmed to be threatened by (and therefore reject) anything new or different or even innovative.

    On a totally superficial/silly/technological level, think about all the uproar when a change is made on Facebook. It's a simple thing and yet people protest. Then a week later, these same people forget there was ever a "before" they get so used to the "after".

    Instagram has been purchased? People automatically cry, Oh no! And I say, Who cares?

    Newness and change and different-ness is unsettling. And then we evolve.

    I only wish everyone were so quick to evolve and shift their thinking outside the realm of technology. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone had adjusted to the idea of a president of color already. Or a different religion. Or gender. Or sexual orientation. Not likely anytime soon, right?

    Thanks for this thoughtful piece, Hollye. It is wonderful.

  6. Hollye Dexter

    And thank you for your thoughtful response, Julie. I always find so much food for thought and inspiration in your writing, as well.

    Yes, change is hard for people. I don't love it, either, but I do my best to embrace it. I've never had a problem with people being different than me- never. And for that I guess I'll have to thank my frontal lobe. : )

  7. Allie

    Holly, thank you.

  8. Hollye Dexter

    You're welcome Allie! And thank you for reading.

  9. Kathy Lookout

    You speak the truth! I had a strong emotional reaction to your positive interpretation. More please! I hold that half of the nation is trying desperately to hold on to the past. They are fearful of the future of the United States. It is true that the collective minority is now the majority and it is never going back. Some people need to begin to let go and embrace the future of acceptance and inclusiveness. They are kicking and screaming as they have lost their hold……YAY

  10. Hollye Dexter

    This whole case is about fear. And unfortunately, the jury decided that Zimmerman's fear was justified — which it definitely was NOT.

    Some days I feel so positive that we are evolving…(marriage equality, healthcare for all) and then others…not so much.

    Thanks for commenting – and thanks for being evolved.
    mush love.


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