Fear is the oldest and most basic of all emotions. It turns us all back into the reptiles we once were. But like the mighty crocodile, it hides…it doesn’t always manifest as the emotion of fear itself. And, according to one study from Australia, fear might manifest equally as both racism and firearms ownership. We all know that feeling of creeping dread when walking down a dark road, checking over our shoulders with a lighter or flashlight. We know that drop in the pit of our stomachs when we swing into the left lane at 70 mph only to find that traffic is stopped in the road dead ahead. We know what it’s like to fear for the lives of loved ones, or see those blue lights come on in the rear-view mirror.
But acute expressions of fear like those are far less insidious than chronic fear. The creeping suspicion that you might not measure up as much as you thought, that your success in the world is little more than a tenuous construct of a society that (for now, at least) favors you. Chronic fear is almost manic. It’s the dark thrill of hate, the joy of harnessing the power to kill, using economic power to purchase greater weapons with which to do so.
In this study from an Australian Monash University research team, led by Dr. Kerry O’Brien, American participants were asked a series of questions to determine their leanings toward racist beliefs. They weren’t as simple as “Are you racist,” for reasons explained further on. The researchers chose to measure “symbolic racism,” or “racial resentment.” Racial resentment is much more subtle, and easier to cloak in benign-sounding opinion questions. Here’s a quote from the study, supporting its use of racial resentment as a measure:
“Symbolic racism is a belief structure underpinned by both anti-black affect and traditional values. The anti-black affect (racism) component of symbolic racism is said to be established in pre-adult years through exposure to negative black stereotypes (e.g. blacks as dangerous, blacks are lazy), to the point that phenomena such as crime and physical violence have become typified as black phenomena.
“Psychometric work shows that while symbolic racism has a small relationship with old-fashioned or blatant racism and stereotypes, only symbolic racism is associated with policy preferences related to race after controlling for conservative and political ideology and demographic characteristics.
The anti-black affect is not necessarily conscious or deliberative, but may be felt as fear, anger, unease, and hostility towards blacks.”
That last part isn’t just talk, either. In the study, they found that almost nobody who displayed racial resentment would express any of that good old-fashioned, blatant/overt racism that we’ve come to associate with the Klan and the South. Nor would they classify themselves as racist…almost nobody surveyed did. The researchers conclude that racial resentment (the more subtle form which affects broad policy rather than individuals) all but replaced overt racism after hippies made racism uncool.
In Short: The most racist people in the country express their racism through passive-aggressive support of racist policies, and they also very likely DON’T EVEN KNOW THEY’RE RACIST.
All of that’s interesting, and almost an article in itself. But the real crux of the research paper had to do with gun ownership. The research team says it best:
“Symbolic racism was related to having a gun in the home and opposition to gun control policies in US whites. The findings help explain US whites’ paradoxical attitudes towards gun ownership and gun control. Such attitudes may adversely influence US gun control policy debates and decisions.
After accounting for all explanatory variables, logistic regressions found that for each 1 point increase in symbolic racism there was a 50% increase in the odds of having a gun at home. After also accounting for having a gun in the home, there was still a 28% increase in support for permits to carry concealed handguns, for each one point increase in symbolic racism.”
So, if you’re racist, you’re about 50% more likely to own a gun. If you’re white, racist AND conservative, you’re all but guaranteed to own at least one. And you’re also one of the last people on Earth who knows or admits that you’re racist, because you don’t want to be uncool. And because supporting racist policies gives you some political ideology to hide behind.
What I find notable here is that nobody asked about the NUMBER of guns in a given home. About 50% of Americans own a gun, including plenty of liberals, Democrats and people of all races and beliefs. It makes sense in Second-AmendmentLand. I’d be interested to see how many of those who displayed racial resentment owned MULTIPLE guns, which to my mind is the final arbiter of fear-based thought and lifestyle. I’d bet my cat that there would be an almost 100% correlation between racism and ownership of three or more firearms. Or one AR-15. Whatever.
Fear does funny things. This most basic of all emotions awakens the medulla oblongata, turning all who fall victim to it into two-legged crocodiles. The human mind: a crocodile, fighting an ape, with homo sapiens caught in the middle.
No wonder we’re freaking terrified.