Thinkers know better than to be racist. It's generallyunderstood that racists are, well, not thinkers. It'snot that racists are necessarily stupid--it's that theyare ignorant.

We like to think that racists are choosing to hang onto their bias because they don't know any better. Thoseof us who are educated--or who think--can overcome anybias through information and intention. Right?

Tell that to our brains.

A recent study done at Dartmouth College presents someinteresting ideas about racism and the brain. Accordingto the widely published results of this research,racism can actually cause stupidity. Even professorsfrom esteemed universities like Stanford are quoted assaying such things as "Racism really does make peoplestupid."

Well, that makes for an interesting sound bite, butit's a bit misleading.

Here's what happened: white test subjects with a biasagainst black faces performed poorly on a cognitiveskills test after being interviewed by an AfricanAmerican person. The more biased the subjects were(based on their scores on the Harvard implicitassociation test), the worse they did.

What's fascinating about this study is that it is thefirst to show through magnetic resonance imaging thatthere is a particular area of the brain associated withefforts to say or do the right thing.

This "executive control" portion of the brain showedincreased activity during both the implicit associationtest and the interview. Those who had scores indicating a greater bias showed the most activity in their brains in this area as they struggled to refrain from making racist choices or offensive remarks. As this poor little section of the brain was overloaded, subjects were temporarily unable to perform thinking tasks.

So, really, the compelling notion here isn't simplythat racism makes you stupid. It's that the presence ofsomeone about whom we feel a bias affects our abilityto think. If you live in a fairly homogenous community,your bias--and the "executive control" part of yourbrain--isn't really tested. However, if on a dailybasis you interact with people toward whom you have aracial bias, your thinking becomes impaired, at leasttemporarily.

What does this mean long term? Are racist individualsin integrated communities "dumbed down" because theirovertaxed brains can't cope? Is there a cumulativeeffect? A whole lot more research needs to be done tolearn more about this.

No intelligent person wants to acknowledge that theymay have a bias in terms of race. We know in our mindsthat it is unfair, unwarranted, and detrimental to havea negative view of someone on the basis of race. Wealso know it's politically incorrect. We like to thinkwe're smart enough to outwit any insidious form ofracism that may be lurking in the back of our brains.

Well, our brains don't know that. These tests measurewhat's going on in our brains, not what we want to havegoing on. The results can be quite shocking. I guess the good news is that there's a part of ourbrains that is trying to behave properly!

This study was done with educated, intelligent, fairlyprogressive white students at Dartmouth College. Thoughit isn't mentioned in the report, it's reasonable to assume that these students didn't consider themselves racist. Whathappens if the same study is conducted with those whoreadily admit their prejudice?

If we know better, and we want to avoid being racist,how do we go about doing so? We assume that morecontact with individuals of other races will help usovercome our prejudices, but that sometimes backfires.Integrated communities are rarely racism-free. Contact doesn't eliminate racism--greater understandingand positive relationships do.

Think about your brain and your own bias regardingrace. The first step is to be honest: virtually everysingle person on the planet has a racial bias of somekind. The next step is to take a test to find out foryourself where you stand.

And then? What next?

We learn racism. We know enough about the brain and howit works to recognize that whatever we learn we canalso unlearn. Absorb everything you can about otherethnicities and cultures. Read, travel, see movies,listen to music, try new foods--do everything possibleto develop a voracious curiosity and robust enthusiasmfor people of all races.

Stimulate your brain in an effort to render that"executive control" area irrelevant. Train your mindwhile building relationships with individuals of otherraces. Outsmart your brain's racism by becomingcolorblind.

Thinkers know better than to be racist. The challengeis to free our brains of lingering doubts. Immerseyourself in the richness of the world. It'll make yousmarter--and more excellent--in every way.

Author's Bio: 

Maya Talisman Frost is a mind masseuse. Her work has inspired thinkers in over 70 countries around the world. She serves up a satisfying blend of clarity, comfort and comic relief in her free weekly ezine, the Friday Mind Massage. To subscribe, visit http://www.massageyourmind.com.