Could Prejudice be as Simple as an Aversion to Broken Patterns

I’m having an ocular migraine, and will probably have to take a break soon.  Ocular migraines may or may not be followed by a headache – mine aren’t – but they are still a problem.

Mine are fairly typical.  I get what I describe as a neon caterpillar that moves from the lower left of my vision in both eyes migrating across the center and exiting off of the upper right field of vision.  For about 30-45 minutes I will be unable to do anything requiring vision like reading, writing or – in the past – driving.  They aren’t considered a worrisome condition; just a nuisance.  In the past, most of my auras were triggered by sudden bright light; the sun reflecting off of white sand, switching my microscope from oil immersion to low power or looking into the flash of a camera.  Before lost most of my sight I had 2-3 a week at times.  Now I may go months without one, and I am sure that the images arise in the brain rather than in the eye because the neon caterpillar appears in areas that are now blind.

This morning’s migraine was caused by Halle Berry.

I clicked on the MS Edge browser which displays the weather and top news headlines and read, “Berry answers questions about sexual harassment.”  I wondered, “Halle or Marion” and opened the link.  Halle Berry’s face is enough to cause visual disturbances by itself, but I think the screen was just really bright for some reason.


I’m back and the aura, like Elvis, has left the room.  What I really wanted to talk about is an article I started reading yesterday about the root cause of prejudice.  I say, started, because I put my tablet down and when I reopened the article it was gone, replaced by some other stories.

Briefly, a group of psychologists looking at prejudice wondered whether it might just be the result of an innate dislike for “broken patterns.”  People, in general, don’t like things that break a pattern.  On seeing a row of pencils all lined up in a row with one pencil slightly askew, many people will move the odd pencil to fit. 

I’ve been known, in a stranger’s living room, once that person had left the room for a minute, get up and straighten a picture that was not plumb.

Some people have this compulsion much more than others.  The question was, “Are prejudiced people bothered by the broken pattern of a black person in their otherwise white neighborhood, and why do they create a story about what is fundamentally wrong with the person who breaks the pattern?  Could charges that all Muslims are terrorists, or all black people steal, or homosexuals are a threat to family values be simply a justification for the social equivalent of straightening a picture?

It wasn’t hard to find the story on the web.  It was summarized in the Daily Mail, and on CNN

A part of the study involved creating an imaginary group of people called Flurps.  From the beginning of time Flurps had lived in blue houses.  And then one day a Flurp painted his house green.  Conservatives – those who needed order – reacted as strongly toward the imaginary Flurp deviant as they did to what they viewed as social deviants and crooked pictures.  They described being made anxious and disturbed, and used the same words like “weird” for social deviants and pencils out of line.

The question raised by these studies is whether socially deviant groups are described as dangerous because they break a pattern and that loss of pattern causes distress in conservatives rather than a fear of the group causing prejudice?  Conservatives tend to deny it, but in various tests they express fear about various things three times a often as non-conservatives.

This study found that it could be that simple.  Negative reactions occurred in those needing an orderly picture to not only social groups that were seen as breaking the pattern like LGBTQ individuals, Muslims and racial minorities, but also to highly competent individuals who were seen as cold and aloof.  How many people voted for George W. Bush because he seemed like someone they could have a beer with, while Al Gore was seen as wooden and egg headed?

A separate study reported in 2016 from Queensland, Australia found similar results.

And that brings me around to Halle Berry and Barack Obama.  Halle Berry’s features are a mix of white and black characteristics, her skin is in between, and she is physically attractive to men who are not more attracted to other men.

Barack Obama, likewise, is an in-between in features. 

Obama’s success both as a candidate and as a president is not simply a matter of looks.  He is a powerful speaker and his message of “hope and change” resonated.  Yet, Barack stirred up hatred among white men in a way that Halle never did. And Michelle Obama was vilified by conservatives as well. That difference is not just a matter of pattern deviancy. 

I wonder about how the choices that mixed race individuals have to make as children influence the way they are accepted by majority and minority groups.  Halle Berry seems to move easily into white or black society.  Alicia Keyes, on the other hand, made a decision, encouraged by her white mother, to choose, "which group will treat you better", and chose black.  She is arguably as pretty and as in-between in features as Halle.

An image taken on a subway between Astoria and Manhattan was posted on Instagram and went viral.  It was part of the article in the Daily Mail.

It was seen by liberals as a symbol of what could be, and it was seen by conservatives as deeply disturbing.

Views: 987

Comment by koshersalaami on February 6, 2018 at 10:51am

Actually, I normally would have left this thread alone lately, but I looked at the post, looked at the thread, and decided they were attacking Rodney over weird crap, he’s not normally attacked here, and so I got involved on his behalf. He reported on some research, made a lighthearted comment about how looking at Halle Berry was an intense enough experience to trigger a migraine (not really, and because he finds her really attractive) and suddenly the knives came out. Anna said something interesting about how racism is often just one layer of rejection of the Other, but that was pretty much it.

In terms of my conversations with Ron, they’re a two way street. He tells me it’s my responsibility to sell, I tell him I can’t accomplish anything if he tries to act as sales manager, and away we go for the forty-fifth time. Of course we’re not going to get anywhere. I just have to remember to stop with the Waiting For Godot already. Or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Heads. 

Comment by Rodney Roe on February 6, 2018 at 10:52am

My transmitter stays in "send" mode too much, too.

I've been reading for the last 3-4 pages.

Anna and Green Heron, it is way too cold in my pottery studio, but that's what I think about all of the time. I can't wait to get in and start making stuff. If anything is good I'll share. I enjoy looking at all of the artists' work. I rarely comment because what I see is "as through a glass darkly" but it's fun and inspirational.

No Instagram account. I hang out on a group on Facebook - Pottery Heads - the potters share photos, some commenting on how, but mainly just admiration. Mostly beginners and "hobby" potters. Someone did a poll recently of location and it is everywhere from New England to New Zealand. Not everyone speaks English as a first language which causes a few "whuuut" moments.  What i like is that there is no one saying, "Your stuff sucks."

Comment by Rob Wittmann on February 6, 2018 at 10:54am

I remember reading about a study where they looked at prejudice and bias and discrimination among toddlers. Not surprisingly, the toddlers, who had not been socialized yet, displayed not one trace of racism or ethnic bigotry or prejudice. A white baby made no distinction between Asian, Black or Hispanic babies. They did find, though, that babies had a very deeply programed tendency to identify with people who had the same preferences.

Here's how the experiment went:a baby was asked who it liked more, the person doing something bad, or the person doing something nice (they displayed these actions before the baby). The baby always chose the nice person, regardless of race, ethnicity, etc...

Then they went to preferences, and this is where it got interesting. A baby was given a piece of candy he/she liked. Then they showed a person who liked the candy, and then a person who hated the candy.

Then, they went forward and showed that same person doing something "bad" or something "good" in front of the baby. The baby always sided with the person who had their same candy preferences. Candy preferences overrode the moral preferences of the baby.

The study showed that humans, on a basic level, are oblivious to racial differences. They exist, because they are a man-made construct and we make them exist, in much the same way that a subway is a manmade construct, but still exists. But as a manmade construct, it can be altered.

What was ingrained, though, was the fact that humans have a tribal need to divide humanity into groups who have "their own preferences," and those who "don't have our preferences." This is where the idea of culture comes into play, I believe. We basically use "preferences" as a proxy for knowing who is "safe" and who is "dangerous" or bad. On a basic level, we can see this in university rivalries, sports rivalries, city rivalries and the like. At the biggest extent, it is apparent in national/cultural rivalries. "The Soviets are not like us, because they eat puppies and shoot heroin," was a bit on an old Saturday Night Live cartoon satire of ex-Presidents.

Historically, Europeans created an ideological form of racism (its not the only ideology of racism that's come about, but it's certainly been the most widespread and destructive) in order to justify their economic, power and colonial/imperial system. They dehumanized those from different regions, made up a story about how they were inherently different, had different preferences, belonged to different races, etc....And by doing this, it became more easy for basic human beings to oppress, hurt and murder their fellow humans.

Historically, this ideology sought to link race with "preferences," so to speak, such that we wrongly ascribed "different values" to different races. And this served to legitimize oppression and discrimination. I once heard Michael Eric Dyson, on NPR, talk about how important it is to show folks how similar whites and blacks are, and that many of the differences we imagine are superficial or non-existent. That there's more differences among and between white people, than we have with a Black neighbor of similar socio-economic background.

Culture does exist and its always existed. Marx once discussed how poverty creates different cultural beliefs and mores, and by extension, preferences. I have family that lives in a trailer park in the Poconos. Their preferences are, in some ways, very alien to me. We share the same race, but we are very, very different. I cannot discuss history, economics or politics with them in the same way that I can with Koshersalaami (who's Jewish) or Ron Powell (who's Black).  I have more in common with Kosh and Ron Powell, based on education, political preferences and the like, than I do with many members of my own family.

Now, what I think is interesting, is how the concept of micro-niche demographics in marketing can translate over into race relations and democratic community. We are starting to see a major form of cultural fragmentation, and its not fragmenting on the basis of race, but consumer-driven culture. This phenomenon is not big enough to have any meaningful impact on politics, yet. But its growing. For example, I see young people divided not so much by race, but by these things. You have nerds who like Magic Cards. You have music lovers who like showtunes and musical theatre. You have foodies. You have people who love Brazilian food. You have people who love Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Yoga. The market reinforces these differences, caters to these different preferences, exacerbates them, until the point comes where these small micro-groups think of themselves as "different" and unique from the general population, in much the same way that enlisted folks see themselves as different from the general civilian population.

My belief is that even as these groups fragment and decentralize at an ever-increasing rate, that traditional notions of gender, race, ethnicity and discrimination will continue to exist. For example, there is a large group of young-adult and teenage males who are obsessed with massive multiplayer online gaming, whether of the military, scifi or fantasy types. There is a fair degree of racism and sexism in a small portion of these groups. The whole gamergate phenom, and this groups cultural diffusion into 4-Chan message boards has been discussed time and again, as well as the ability of the micro-culture to create a self-referential feedback loop and impact general culture and politics. 

Historically, the major ways people have overcome this sort of tension have been limited. That said, they are so frequent and universal as to be a guarantee that in 500 years, our descendants may not have the same issues we have. If we look at Britain, the major cultural conflict of 2,000 years ago was Roman vs. Celt. This was replaced by Celt vs. Saxon. Later, Saxon v. Norman. Now, "traditional" England is a hybridized society masquerading as a homogeneous one. Mixing creates new equilibrium and realities. The more interracial and mixed we become as a people, the more people, I hope, will drop these things. Tiger Woods is 1/2 Asian and 1/2 Black. He often says that he has equal love for both sides of his family tree. That's how you overcome this. 

Another things is if we're invaded by Space Aliens. I think that would unite the earth.

I don't think global warming will unite us. Weather makes a horrible "them" for boogeyman purposes. Rather, it will probably exacerbate ethnic tensions in countless regions.

Comment by Rodney Roe on February 6, 2018 at 11:09am

Rob, we would pull together if Space Aliens showed up, but as soon as we drove them off we would go right back to our old behavior.  I've seen that kind of cooperation after living through a hurricane.  We were all out with chainsaws clearing drives and the street, pooled out food and cooked for the whole neighborhood on a barbecue grill, but after a month or two we were all divided into our groups.  Saw the same behavior at my wife's high school reunion.  first night everyone was socializing.  The next night they were all divided into the same cliques they were in 20 years before.

We want to be around the people who like the same candy we do, I guess.  What is sad is that we apparently feel the need to vilify the folks who like something else.  That study is disturbing.  Lord of the Flies in the nursery.

Comment by alsoknownas on February 6, 2018 at 11:47am

The Space Alien invasion that would unite us all is interesting to me. I was going to mention the same thing but haven't the wherewithal to surround it in as much brainy stuff as Rob, although I have thought it a long time.

All one need do is remember a few of those 50's and 60's sci-fi movies. The kind where the invaders look like robots or have skin of ground glass, or one big eye is what I'm talking about.

The lesson was right there. All of those movies portrayed the invaders as being from some particular galaxy, and one planet. Let's call it Xenon. None of those movies said the invaders were from the southern isle on planet Xenon where they basked in the sunlight of two suns and had darker skin than the Xenonians on the northern continent where the axis tilted and sunlight didn't hit them most of the time.

Nothing like that.

We knew as kids watching those movies that the creatures from Xenon were one. All the same. The damn Xenonians were here to eat us.

As kids we felt is was true of our planet also. Xenonians did not prefer anyone of us over another. We were one.

We fought back, zapping their space ships and eliminating the peril.

Then, we became adults, long time exposed to the cultural biases and constructs that have led us to believe that we are different from one another.

My guess is we all taste the same.

Comment by J.P. Hart on February 6, 2018 at 12:17pm

Somedays the cadre of scribes on Our Sailon do for WWW what Issac Asimov did for sci-fi. As an aside: it should be interesting to see what Disney does with the mind-warping purchase of the Murdoch entertainment catalog. And there's that Eric Schmidt quote about how every three days 'information' quantifies equaling 'known time' prior.

I think we're alone now. I.N.D.E.E.D!

I don't think that 'information' includes pixels nor recorded speaking. Only the 'stuff' put down in what we define as written language.

As the mind boggles, that pendulum toggles!

Comment by Safe Bet's Amy on February 6, 2018 at 12:23pm

and BTW...I've been said to be ABG by the same person who says Maui Surfer is ABG. It's muddle headed nonsense.

Yup...  and out of the wild blue yonder comes a Space Asshole, from the a planet I'd call Fuckwad, to take the obligatory cheap shot about something he was never involved in.  It makes me want to zap his anus shaped piehole ship with my boot and eliminate the annoyance.

Comment by Safe Bet's Amy on February 6, 2018 at 12:29pm

...some of us taste better.  

Welcome to the Dark Side, Siztah!  BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

Related image

Comment by Ron Powell on February 6, 2018 at 12:54pm

Monkey has it right. White people would expend a great deal of time, energy, and resources to convince the aliens that people of color tasted better and had greater nutritional value than white people...

They would help the aliens round up all of the black, brown, beige, red, and yellow people on the planet in exchange for being eaten last and keeping the whole thing hush hush and highly classified.

Here's what a final scene might look like...Please note, there are no people of color left only white people:

Just sayin' why white folks can't be trusted...

Comment by alsoknownas on February 6, 2018 at 1:01pm


You're delusional to think I would have an extended conversation with you.

I'm as involved in this conversation as much as anyone else. That I edit myself to shorter comments is my prerogative. You have said such before and it just points out my contention that you are a muddleheaded misfit, bitter for its own sake and devoid of critical thinking or reading skills.

I won't compliment you for your occasional shows of insight like others do. The bulk of your contributions are meant to belittle anyone who doesn't kowtow to your forceful and self aggrandizing persona.


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