“You personally are a racist responsible for the death of small children”

The Spinoff: Even the super-woke can be secret and subconscious racists.

All of us have a host of different, sometimes conflicting social identities crowding around inside our minds. I’m white, a male, middle-aged, married, a New Zealander, a father, middle-class, a writer, and so on. We switch between which affiliation feels most salient given the circumstances, primarily identifying with whichever ingroup awards us the higher status. Politicians and other actors are increasingly adept at activating these different identities, manipulating us into defining ourselves in a way that strengthens our connection to them and makes us believe they personally champion our ingroup – which is always the victim of some sinister outgroup.

We think of outgroup discrimination – especially around race – as something very obvious and aggressive (“Go back to where you came from”), or as an ideological justification for that behaviour (“This is our country!” “The white race is the genetically superior master race!”) and there’s often controversy whenever people talk or behave like that, because, well, it’s racist. But what the research into implicit bias shows is that even without that kind of behaviour and rhetoric, even among populations that strongly disapprove of racism you still see ingroup favouritism and outgroup discrimination.

Essentialist thinking – attributing some essential quality or trait to all members of a group – “Māori are violent; Asians can’t drive; women are bad at maths” – increases negative bias. Seeing people as individuals rather than members of an outgroup reduces negative bias. Seeing them as members of the same ingroup (“We’re all New Zealanders!”) massively reduces negative bias.

I find it depressingly easy to get invested in these conflicts. I spent a lot more time last year thinking about whether Don Brash should have been deplatformed, or who should march in the Pride Parade and what clothes they should be allowed to wear, than I did thinking about perinatal infant mortality. I’ll probably do the same this year: these conflicts are ubiquitous in the media and they light up the ingroup-outgroup circuitry of my brain like an ECG machine.

And they’re also, I suspect, a convenient distraction: an entertaining way to forget that inequality and discrimination afflict the most powerless – those who have no voice in politics or the media, by definition – the most profoundly. That the choices we make as we go about our day can echo through lives we’re only peripherally aware of; that we can make things better for those who have the least in our society at very little cost to ourselves, just by being aware that we can; and to guard against our lack of awareness because it is the not knowing, the indifference, that makes things worse.


Leave a comment


  1. Gezza

     /  11th February 2019

    It strikes me after reading that, while quite a bit of it may be true, it essentially doesn’t tell me anything I don’t already know & that being aware of these things is what often governs how I respond to issues because I do try to see things from others’ perspectives as often as possible & can change my views despite fitting into one category or another. But that doesn’t mean I have to accept every other point of view or someone else’s solution to the problems of the world, because they’re always part of some other group as well who see whichever one I’m currently aligning with as the problem, & vice versa.

    • Gezza

       /  11th February 2019

      In other words, & more simply, so what?

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  11th February 2019

        It assumes that one does nothing to help these children, and I do. All that I can do is donate, and I do that.

    • High Flying Duck

       /  11th February 2019

      The results are apparently “variable” and it is difficult to replicate. In other words, the study may have its own bias issues.

  2. Corky

     /  11th February 2019

    Middleclass angst. Someone wake me up when they find a punchline..

  3. Blazer

     /  11th February 2019

    show me someone who claims to be without prejudice..and I will show you a…liar.

  4. Finbaar Rustle

     /  11th February 2019

    We are all suckers for sales pitch and click bait.
    I remember back in the early ’70’some one told me that Americans are always
    promoting themselves, looking to sell some new products to make a quick buck.
    Today Kiwis are right into the selling, networking self promoting play book.
    Relationships, weight loss, get rich schemes, feel good, new house
    new car new philosophy all a phone call or two clicks away …for a small fee of course.
    Every day some pundit publishes a must read article vital for our life essence
    with out which we will surely die or fail to fulfill our potential.
    By days end this new saviour of all life forms has been forgotten
    and tomorrow will be replaced by the next guru of spin
    Fox, CBS, BBC youtube, FB, Shortland Street, Ted talks, floggerbloggers,
    and the local Gore mid week rag bring us these genius visions.
    I wonder if any of these masters of mind warping are any wiser
    than the taxi driver, the joker serving at Bunnings or Sponge Bob?
    1st Sponge Bob, 2nd Bunnings 3rd Taxi drivers.
    Most of the rest are just money grabbing self promoting shysters.

  5. PartisanZ

     /  11th February 2019

    Uber …… Life ………

  6. david in aus

     /  11th February 2019

    The “SuperWoke” are inherently racist and prejudiced, they just don’t see it.

    They seem to think that being a member of a group gives you the qualities of that group. If you are Maori, you are likely to have the socio-economic outcomes of that group. If you are “privileged” racially and in term of gender, your voice has less validity.

    Group identity trumps the individual. Can you get more racist than that?

    If you try to treat everybody as individuals you are less likely to succumb to your worse impulses. Generalization is how people make sense of the world, schema, or rules of thumb; we should encourage ways of thinking that tries to minimize this. Identity politics is definitely is not the answer and exacerbates this tendency.

    One hundred years ago, you were likely categorized by your identity: “Women belong in the home”, Bureaucrats must from certain backgrounds (Private Schools/families) etc. Meritocracy was a way against this.

    The Left has returned to the ways of 100 years ago, it is just that their preferred groups are different.

    • david in aus

       /  11th February 2019

      “we should encourage ways of thinking” should be “we should not be encouraging these ways of thinking”.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  11th February 2019

        Women had careers 100 years ago; ever heard of Marie Curie ? There were women doctors in the 1859s and women university lecturers in the c.19, as well as women journalists and other career women, including business women. The literature of the time featured independent working women

        The typewriter was a marvellous invention. JM Barrie wrote a play called The Twelve Pound Look, about a woman who saved 12 pounds (the cost of a typewriter) and left her husband to make her own living. The play ends with the husband’s new wife (the first wife has come to the house, not realising that the now Sir whatever his name is is her ex) admiring the ex and asking casually how much one of those machines costs…..

  7. Mother

     /  11th February 2019

    This essay simply says that we are distracted. No solutions are offered. No ideas.

    I agree that – “Seeing people as individuals rather than members of an outgroup reduces negative bias.”

    I strongly disagree with – “Seeing them as members of the same ingroup (“We’re all New Zealanders!”) massively reduces negative bias.”

    Seeing each individual as members of the same ingroup creates bias and will lead to anarchy. It is childish to focus on ingroups and outgroups.

    My idea for a possible solution is twofold –
    – to ask individuals to consider the role of Christianity in their personal lives.
    – to ask professing Christians to seek a maturity.


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