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Few people, black or white, default to hatred

In 1962, I spent the summer with my grandmother in Harrisburg, Ill., which is about an hour’s drive from Kentucky. Harrisburg was a mostly white town with an all-black neighborhood. My grandmother’s home was located between the black section and downtown Harrisburg.

When black residents passed to and from downtown, they and the white residents often waved to each other. In the racially charged 1960s, I would describe the relationship between local blacks and whites as civil coexistence leaning toward cordial. Both sides, despite not having much in common, seemed to share a genuine desire for harmony.

Studies have shown that 3-month-old infants demonstrate a noticeable preference for faces of their own ethnic group. And in a 2015 interview, John Dovidio, Ph.D. and Yale psychology professor, explains that, while people still have negative racial thoughts, “Instead of feelings of hatred, it’s more like feelings of avoidance and discomfort.”

In the wake of the George Floyd and other tragedies, it may seem fool-hardy to suggest that we’ve made progress, but do most of us, black or white, really default to hatred?

A psychologist friend of mine notes that a pendulum effect exists after such events when overcorrecting emotional swings implicate innocent people.

Maybe silent majority attitudes have trended from hostile to a more avoidance/discomfort posture over time, as Dr. Dovidio suggests. If so, could extreme pendulum swings make us seem more hateful than we are?

Jim Newton | Itasca, Ill.