During his years of fieldwork in Africa, anthropologist Henry Harpending learned about African ways of thinking about witchcraft, which is conceived of very much like the now fashionable menaces of “systemic racism” and “implicit bias.” It can harm its victims even without malign or merely conscious intent on the part of the perpetrators.
That evening we had something like a seminar with our employees and neighbors about witchcraft. Everyone except the Americans agreed that witchcraft was a terrible problem, that there was danger all around, and that it was vitally important to maintain amicable relations with others and to reject feelings of anger or jealousy in oneself. The way it works is like this: perhaps Greg falls and hurts himself, he knows it must be witchcraft, he discovers that I am seething with jealousy of his facility with words, so it was my witchcraft that made him fall. What is surprising is that I was completely unaware of having witched him so he bears me no ill will. I feel bad about his misfortune and do my best to get rid of my bad feelings because with them I am a danger to friends and family. Among Herero there is no such thing as an accident, there is no such thing as a natural death, witchcraft in some form is behind all of it. Did you have a gastrointestinal upset this morning? Clearly someone slipped some pink potion in the milk. Except for a few atheists there was no disagreement about this. Emotions get projected over vast distances so beware.
Even more interesting to us was the universal understanding that white people were not vulnerable to witchcraft and could neither feel it nor understand it. White people literally lack a crucial sense, or part of the brain. An upside, I was told, was that we did not face the dangers that locals faced. On the other hand our bad feelings could be projected so as good citizens we had to monitor carefull our own “hearts”.
Unsurprisingly, in an era when black women point out they are more intersectional than thou and thus deserve to have their intuitions validated by society, traditional African conceptions of witchcraft are starting to influence Establishment ideas here in the U.S.
A colleague pointed out a few weeks ago, after hearing this story, that if it is nearly pan-African then perhaps some of it came to the New World. Prominent and not so prominent talkers from the American Black population come out with similar theories of vague and invisible forces that are oppressing people, like ‘institutional racism’ and ‘white privilege’.”
For example, from the New York Times news section:
A new statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics looks at the effects of racism on children’s development, starting in the womb.
By Perri Klass, M.D., Aug. 12, 2019
This month the American Academy of Pediatrics put out its first policy statement on how racism affects the health and development of children and adolescents.
“Racism is a significant social determinant of health clearly prevalent in our society now,” said Dr. Maria Trent, a professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who was one of the co-authors of the statement.
Racism has an impact on children and families who are targeted, she said, but also on those who witness it. “We call it a socially transmitted disease: It’s taught, it’s passed down, but the impacts on children and families are significant from a health perspective,” said Dr. Trent, who is the chairwoman of the A.A.P. section on adolescent health. Social transmission makes sense here, because race itself is a social construct, she said: “Genetically, we’re very much the same.”
Science Has Spoken!
So don’t even think about inquiring about scientific research into racial differences in gestation …
But the impact of bias on children’s health starts even before they’re born, Dr. Trent said. Persistent racial disparities in birth weight and maternal mortality in the United States today may in part reflect the deprivations of poverty, with less availability of good prenatal care, and poorer medical care in general for minority families, sometimes shaped by unacknowledged biases on the part of medical personnel. High rates of heart disease and hypertension also persist among African-Americans.
Do NOT, however, ask about Mexican-Americans’ health statistics. We don’t talk about that.
(If you are a bad person, however, according to the federal Office of Minority Health, Mexican-Americans suffer slightly less infant mortality than do non-Hispanic white Americans:
That would seem to punch a hole in the Racism Theory, so shut up about it.) Back to the NYT:
There is also increasing attention to the ongoing stress of living with discrimination and racism, and the toll that takes on body and mind throughout life.
Therefore, we are indoctrinating blacks into being hyperaware of Racist Microaggressions … for the good of their health, of course.
That kind of chronic stress can lead to hormonal changes and inflammation, which set people up for chronic disease. Studies show that mothers who report experiencing discrimination are more likely to have infants with low birth weight.
Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, an attending physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, was the lead author of a 2017 review of research studies looking at the impact of racism on children’s health. Too often, she said, studies control for race without considering what experiences are structured into society by race.
The experiences that shape parents also resonate in their children’s lives, Dr. Trent said;
For example, if parents stretch their necks to eat leaves higher up on trees, then their descendants will have longer necks.
parents and caregivers who reported they had been treated unfairly were more likely to have children with behavioral issues such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In another study, African-American boys from 10 to 15 who had experiences with racism were more likely to have behavior problems like aggression.
The Arrow of Causality couldn’t possibly point in the opposite direction.
During childhood, she said, stress can create hypervigilance in children who sense that they are living in a threatening world.
Look at Ta-Nehisi Coates: the poor nerdy lad was forced to be exposed to all the white racists on his block in Baltimore and so he grew up to be hyper-racist against the people who bullied him. Or something, I can’t recall the actual details.
And though the A.A.P. has been preparing the statement for almost two years, it comes at a moment when discussions of racism are often in the news, and children may need extra support and care. “While I think society has made tremendous leaps, the reality is we’re seeing a bump in these issues right now,” Dr. Trent said.
The statement directs pediatricians to consider their own practices from this perspective. “It’s not just the academy telling other people what to do, but examining ourselves,” Dr. Trent said. Pediatricians and others involved in children’s health need to be aware of the effects of racism on children’s development, starting in the womb, she said.
Pediatric clinical settings need to make everyone feel explicitly welcome, with images of diverse families up on the wall …
One problem with Harpending’s theory is that the causal mechanisms by which African conceptions of witchcraft influence modern American conceptions of racism is that the causal mechanisms are vague. Presumably, ways of thought are passed down from black woman to black woman (e.g., grandmother to granddaughter) for hundreds of years, but how exactly has never been studied, as far as I know.
Yet, while Racism Research is funded lavishly these days, even greater vagueness about the means of transmission from the Bad Thoughts in the heads of white people to life outcomes for black people exists.