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What’s up Dog?

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It’s not just African Americans that are the target of this new wave of racism. Mel Gibson and Halle Berry both made disparaging comments about Jews — Gibson in an alcoholic rage, Berry on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno — and will be associated with those comments for a long, long time. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, an amazing spokesperson for the poor and disenfranchised in America, will never be fully accepted by the mainstream after once referring to New York as “Hymietown” way back in 1984.

These are just a few recent examples of racism and bigotry in the 21 st century; shining examples of how far we haven’t come. Decades of political correctness don’t appear to have made us any more politically correct.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody, because political correctness is ultimately about monitoring the way we speak — not saying offensive things and using the correct terminology when referring to people. It has nothing to do with changing the way we think, letting people keep their racist thoughts, stereotypes and bigotry to themselves. Or in Dog’s case, within his all-white, crime-fighting posse.

The thing is, those racist tendencies tend to come out eventually, whether it’s during an alcoholic binge like Mel Gibson, or in a moment of stress like Michael Richards.

There’s a perfectly good reason why racism persists through all the progress we’ve made. It’s the same reason why there’s conflict between Shiites and Sunnis, Hutus and Tutsis, Croats and Serbs, Irish Catholic and Irish Protestant, Tastes Great and Less Filling, Springfield and Shelbyville. Studies have shown that we’re biologically hard-wired to be tribal, nationalistic, cabalistic, sectarian, chauvinist, partisan, and generally inclined to think in terms of us and them.

Back in1961 a psychologist named Harvey Sherif took a group of white, middle-class 11-year-old kids who never met each other before and put them into a summer camp where they were divided into two groups, the Eagles and Rattlers. As expected, the two groups started off with name calling, progressed to sabotage, and wound up fighting. Then, researchers put them in a situation where they had to work together to solve a problem, and they rose to the occasion and formed a single tribe that questioned why they were separated and even rebelled against the researchers.

That’s the good news for all of us: We are capable of going beyond political correctness and genuinely putting aside our prejudices and our inclination to divide and conquer — something that the Dog refused to do. Bad Dog.

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