3 The Power of Memory and the Adoption of an Anti-Racist Mode of Being

Asher Fairbanks and Marisa Dixon

As we get closer to the end of 2020, many people’s memories are focused on the strange and novel events that have taken place over the last twelve months. The epiphenomenon of memory has gifted us with a sense of respite through perseverance but also feeling dread due to the state of our world and country. Here in America, we continue to contend with the widespread virus that is COVID-19, and though this virus has put a hold on many stabilizing factors of our social lives, there is still one virus that will not be stuffed out by a vaccine or rigorous contact tracing, and that is the virus of racism. For many people, including myself and my fellow author, this is a time of reflection on how Americans got to where we are today. It is prudent to spend this time considering how our memory system promotes or extinguishes racist attitudes towards marginalized members of our “great” American society. Imagine if the United States government cared as much about racism as they do COVID-19. This is not to say that we shouldn’t be doing everything in our power to rid our world of the coronavirus, but a call to action to see that once this virus has been dealt with, we must continue to rid our society of other sickening social phenomena (i.e racism, sexism, ableism, prejudice, discrimination, in-group/out-group tension, and so on).

What then is our vaccine for racism? Though it isn’t as easily administered as a normal vaccine, through the science of memory, researchers and academics alike have identified possible pressure points for the adoption or extinguishment of racist beliefs and attitudes. Our memory systems are built to engage us in mental time travel that can gear us towards a desirable future or help us reminisce on a nostalgic past. In these writings we tackle the scope of the human memory systems and its general purpose, the work of memory and its dynamic types, and the scope of the autobiographical memory system. As previously mentioned, the virus of racism is continuing to run rampant in the minds of many Americans, while creating this paper, our writing team also aims tie in the science of our memory systems and suggestions on how to adoption of a anti-racist mode of being. We also propose ways in which to update one’s memory system in order to act out the anti-racist perspective in our cognition and relative social spheres.

Essay 1: “How’d that get in my head?”

The human memory system has been afforded through millions of years of evolution. It is with our memory, we create and edit our self-concept and with self-concept, we foster an aspirational self or identity. There is; however, a balancing act our memory systems must act in to be effective in aiding our survival. The human brain has a limited amount of metabolic fuel that can fuel its dynamic operations (Baddeley et al. (2020). Memory serves both a physiological function and a psychological function. Sensation, perception, and emotion are all captured within the memory system to allow adaptive reactions to our physical environments.

“Memory seems to encompass basic cognitive and neurological processes that transcend social context and culture. To be consciously remembered, information has to be noticed and encoded in memory, and that is presumably true whether a person lives in Beijing, Bombay, or Boston” (Wang and Ross, 2007).

As we can see, humans do have universals in their memory systems. First, external stimulus is captured by our bodies receptors, to then be processed and “stored.” This simplistic flow of memory is in accordance with one of the foundations for cognitive science; Information Processing Theory. Before considering how culture can affect memory, scientists were trying to understand the underlying mechanisms of memory itself. Early cognitive researchers theorized the brain’s memory processing took place in multiple stages, with each stage representing one individual aspect of cognition or memory. This “Modal Model” proposed that information from the environment moves statically through sensory storage, to short term memory, and into long term memory (Baddeley et al. (2020). While this theory was initially fruitful in operationalizing the flow of information within the brain, it was too rigid in regards to how information spans across areas of the cortex. In truth, the flow of information in the brain is not unidirectional but an interplay between integral parts of our cortical and subcortical regions within and across the cortex.

Unlike information processing theory, the true power of our memory systems are not unidirectional. The flow of neuronal information travels between areas of the brain associated with different types of memories and experience (e.g. hippocampus, medial prefrontal cortex) Instead of short-term working memory only flowing into long term storage, both LTM and ST/WM send information between each other.  For example, the brain’s center for memory consolidation and “storage,” is that of the hippocampus. This seahorse-shaped subcortical structure is responsible for, “…as an integrative hub for the binding of disparate neocortical representations of event features into unified memories.” (As cited in van Kesteren et al. 2016).

Memory Storage

Through the hard science from modern day cognitive and neuroscientists, these researchers have handled that memory “storage” is actually a misnomer. The storage of memory is not a lockbox opening up every time we need to retrieve stored information.  Our underlying neurological structures are foundational assets that create long-term declarative memory, compiled with episodic and semantic elements, explicit or implicit memory. All of which have dedicated cortical structures to make our memories seamless and flexible. The flow across our cortex between systems of memories is what creates the storage of memory. It is through careful research at different levels of analysis (e.g. behavioral, cognitive, neurological), that researchers have been able to diverge from information processing in place of harder science and fruitful predictions. Moreover, when using neuroscience, we must remember one careful consideration. Drawing information on the biological underpinnings of the brain is not as simple reductionism. We scientists can correlate individual areas of the cortex with a specific memory function, though it is not enough to create a full picture and explanation of operationalized constructs. These findings can only be an additional point of evidence towards a hypothesis or theory (Baddeley et al. (2020).

Memory, Culture, and Racism

After decades of strong research in neuroscience, information processing theory, and kinds of memory, modern-day cognitive scientists are asking more critical questions about how memory is influenced and changed by experience. They are curious about how culture, narrative, and socialization actualize our underlying biological systems. In the search for knowledge about the brain and the human experience, it is to the detriment of progress to include the advent of what makes humans more unique than any other species on the planet; What does Bruner mean by this? He is asserting that it is not through a mathematical transmission that scientists will understand the dynamic nature of our cognition.

Though it has taken a while to arrive at this key point, it was prudent to give you, the reader, a better insight into the memory of each person. We finally beg the question, of “how is it that people first develop racist ideals? And, what types of interventions that can alter or even extinguish these beliefs? What is happening at the neurological level that can give researchers insights into the study of racism? The interplay of our plastic brains and influential culture are the two pressure points where racism can emerge and where it can perhaps be extinguished. It is no shock to state that, in America today, racism is still alive and thriving. Why is this though? First, it could be the stories we share with our children to shift their cultural experience to be blinded by ignorance. The plague of racism has been afforded by lazy meta-cognitive action by many irresponsible Americans. They are not irresponsible in paying bills or being on time, they are irresponsible because they have willfully blinded themselves to the reality surging around them. While their memories might not be filled with the remembrance of discrimination, the same cannot be said for most Black Americans.

Essay 2: “What is it, that’s in my head?”

Memory is the lifeblood of experience and it is through memory that we plan our futures, anticipate the grand events of our lives, set goals, and accomplish them. Without the advent of dynamic memory, the human species might have not evolved into the advanced species we are in the current year of 2020. From the moment we are born, and technically even before, humans are faced with the vastness of a chaotic and ever-changing world. An infant must rapidly develop its perception and language to engage in cognitive mechanisms of memory. Through the rapid development of an infant’s central nervous system, exposure to stimuli from the environment, and nurture of a caretaker, a child will begin to absorb the cultural relativities to develop and engage in their social worlds. How is it though that our brains contend with our complex worlds? Once the human is developed and nurture has given the child a chance to survive into adulthood, individuals must continue to integrate new knowledge into their already structured belief systems. It must be noted that the content of one’s character seems to be synonymous with the depth of experience they’ve had in their early life. Perhaps this is a non-parsimonious observation of the human condition, but there is evidence for this effect. Moreover, the content of our memories and markers of our life experience contains narratives of racism or anti-racism. In continuing the pursuit of bringing an anti-racist perspective to cognitive science, we need to look at: 1) how the human brain organizes memory systems, 2) the types of memories, 3) the schematizing of memories, and 4) the expression of an anti-racist perspective.

The Work of Memory

The different aspects of cognition are organized in such a way that enables our central nervous system to be the bridge between the internal and the external world. As asserted by Peter Doolittle in his TedTalk, “How your Working Memory makes sense of the world”, “working memory is that part of our consciousness that we are aware of at any given time of day”. In the early years of cognitive psychology, researchers believed that memory was organized linearly, now we know the work of memory is a dynamic process between multiple systems and subsystems. As proposed by Baddeley and Hitch, the Working Memory Model is an explanatory system that illustrates the brain’s combination of temporary storage and executive processing to use and manipulate information relevant to our physical, mental, and social environments. Within this model, four working components interact with each other to give a feeling of phenomenological awareness in our daily lives: the phonological loop, the visual-spatial sketchpad, the episodic buffer, and the central executive (Kleinknecht, 2020).

The most studied aspect of the working memory model is the phonological loop. This part of the model contends with verbal and semantic meaning, as it relates to our relative language and overarching culture. As proposed by Baddeley (2020) the phonological loop is responsible for the acquisition and comprehension of language, and partially enactive to task switching. Through activation of the frontal and temporal lobes, the semantic network of the WM Model can adapt, build, and use noetic consciousness to operate in complex environments (Kleinknecht, 2020). Next, we have the visual-spatial sketch pad where mental energy is allocated for the storage and manipulation of visual and spatial information. The existence of this construct was demonstrated in an experiment by Shepard and Feng (1972). During this research, study participants were tasked with imagining pieces of papers that had arrows on them. They then had to imagine folding the edges of the squares to match up the arrows.  Subsequent findings shown that the time it took for participants to solve this problem was associated to the number of folds one would have to make to match these arrows in vivo. T. When an individual is using their visual-spatial sketchpad, or abbreviated as VSSP, we can see activations across the cortex in the frontal, occipital, and temporal regions. The use of the VSSP is also synonymous with recall episodic memories, thus, during our waking hours, VSSP is partially responsible for auto-noetic consciousness.

The final two constructs within the working memory model are currently under scrutiny due to their unknown features within the multicomponent model. Firstly, the central executive is more or less a placeholder for the part of our WM that initializes task switching, attentional control, and mental capacity (Kleinknecht, 2020). As proposed by Norman and Shallice , the central executive flows between two modes of control, one is automatic and the other is regulated by situational and attention-based needs of the operation (1986). One major characteristic of the central executive is that of Norman and Shallice’s Supervisory Attentional System (SAS). The SAS controls attention as it pertains to mental or physical activity. Moreover, the central executive is a powerful self-monitoring tool and when we behave in social spheres it is the central executive’s job to monitor our behavior following social norms, individual beliefs, and biological needs. Patients with severe damage to their frontal lobe are seen to engage in inexplicable behavior or that of confabulation, “recollection of something that did not happen” (Baddeley et al. 2020). This intensive aspect of working memory ensures the correct energy allocation of our cognitive mechanisms (Kleinknecht, 2020). The central executive is synonymous with capacity and storage of chunks of information . However, this construct system is not perfect and does falter under extreme conditions due to the sheer input from our environments. As argued by Cowan, the work of memory can only hold four chunks of information at a time, as opposed to Miller’s 7+/-2 (Baddeley, 2020). Regardless of what the actual holding span for chunks is, we understand that many of the cognitive flaws involving social biases arise from the brain’s lack of information capacity and tendency to be efficient as opposed to being accurate (Kleinknecht, 2020).

The final piece of the working memory puzzle is the episodic buffer.  Such is the nature of working memory that allows the recollection of experiences that are stored in our long term memory. It is within our LTM that we store schemes of how the world is organized and without the episodic buffer connected to LTM,  the Working Memory Model would not account for the interplay between STM/WM and LTM. The episodic buffer binds different episodic elements of memory that include visual, verbal, and semantic information. Initially, the episodic buffer was thought to be mainly controlled by the central executive, but now through experiments of the binding of visual and verbal information, researchers conclude that the PL and the VSSP can also access the buffer (Baddeley et al. 2020).

Declarative Memory and Schematization

Declarative memory is a component of long-term memory system that was proposed after the case study of Henry Molaison in which more than half of his hippocampal structure was removed. The case study of H.M. concluded that he did not completely lose his memories, which suggested that there were two systems within long-term memory one of them being declarative or explicit memory. Declarative memory gives us the ability to recollect personal events through our episodic memory and facts within our semantic memory. Thus, episodic memories are essentially the ability of mental time travel through a sensory perception and are stored in our JLTM, or long-term memory. The interactions between our occipital cortex and temporal cortex makeup episodic memory that gives us a feeling of reliving something. Our feeling of knowing derives from our semantic memory that is created from the interactions between our temporal cortex and frontal cortex giving us a sense of familiarity (Kleinknecht, 2020). As we repeatedly experience certain episodes, cell assemblies smooth out and form schemas, concepts, and webs of knowledge within our LTM system.

As cited in Baddley (2020), Bartlett indicates the importance of schemas as being “superordinate knowledge structures that reflect abstracted commonalities across multiple experiences” ( 2020). Schemas reflect the socio-cultural patterns of interaction, perception, and emotion implicating that they have a strong impact in our thoughts and behaviors. During the process of consolidation of new information, schemas act as a foundation and increase the likelihood or the effectiveness of the replay of corresponding information. Our initial acquisition of information is highly subjective to schemas. They consist of four necessary features that enable them to be sufficient: an associative structure, basis in multiple episodes, lack of unit detail, and adaptability. Firstly, they consist of interconnected units and integrated information that is based on numerous related instances. Any schema is formed from the variability of those instances and changes and adapts as they are given new information. Schemas work to help prevent our cognitive minds from overloading as well as providing information when trying to recognize an object. They also have the ability to adapt to altering environmental conditions due to its flexibility, which enables them to change to be able to incorporate additional information to the pre-existing schematic structure or through the modification of the structure itself.

Essay 3: “How do I control what’s in my head?”

The Self-Memory System and Autobiographical  Memory

To promote an anti-racist perspective we must understand how people stack up their lived experiences into a cohesive life-story, how people’s sense of self fluctuates across time, how our memory is for action and not accuracy, and what this means about being anti-racist. Autobiographical memory (AM) is a psychologically stabilizing memory system that grounds each person to their past, present, and prospective future. Without the advent of this complex memory system, the “personal life story” we have would not exist. The hierarchical nature of autobiographical memory spreads across levels of meaning, experience, and emotion. As proposed by Conway (2014), the autobiographical memory system is encompassed by what his research coined as, “the Self-Memory System.” Within this system, lies our episodic experiences, our autobiographical memories, and our working self. These three “areas” of the model shape themselves in a top-down manner with our episodic elements at the bottom and our working Self at the top (Conway, 2014). As previously mentioned, episodic memory is an element of the mind that allows for mental time travel. The building blocks of this mental time travel is made possible by episodic elements that pertain to a setting and visual imagery from experience. As these EEs stack up into full episodic memories, we develop cues for the formation and retrieval of general life events (Conway, 2014).

There are nine properties that create episodic elements. The first property consists of the summary records of sensory-perceptual-conceptual-affective processing followed by the ability to retain patterns of activation/inhibition over long periods of time. Episodic memories are a mere representation of our experiences and are not to be taken in a literal sense. The activation/inhibition pattern seen within a single episodic memory determines what episodic details are accessed while inhibiting elements that are not necessarily needed for constructed memory. These memories are typically shown in the form of visual images and always have a perspective, either a field or observer perspective. This field perspective is thought to preserve one’s original view or something relatively similar to that perspective whereas the observer perspective is where one can visually see themselves in their own memory. These types of memories are represented on a temporal dimension shortly in the order in which they occurred and are subject to rapid forgetting. They are retrospectively experienced when accessed; meaning, these visual representations can be essentially visualized within our minds when we remember certain events to achieve a short-term goal (Conway, 2008).

Why is it that we need this type of memory? What role does it serve in our planning for the future and reminiscence of the past? The first major role of AM is its directive functions or the functions that enable the remembrance of steps to complete present goals or complex problems. This is the personal use of autobiographical memory, in that it usually pertains to the self and the self’s motivations during certain lifetime periods. Next, our AM plays an important role in creating and maintaining a sense of self-representation. Through the phenomena of autonoetic consciousness, we can relive past moments that are either a part of our cohesive story, or that contend with our self-representations. The next piece of autobiographical memory has to do with emotional regulation. The story that we tell ourselves or the memories we have integrated from our lived experiences help regulate positive emotions in the face of adversity throughout our lifespan. According to temporal self-appraisal theory, people use their AM system to construct one’s life story into an entity that helps them feel positive about their lives (Ross & Wang, 2010). The final and arguably the most important aspect of our autobiographical memories is that we use this system in a social context to serve social functions for maintaining cultural values and beliefs. We use this when we tell stories about cultural abstractions or when we reminisce with friends and family about shared past experiences.

Encompassing the autobiographical memory system is that of the working self. This part of our memory is populated by content relative to our conceptual self, which includes self-images, life stories, and beliefs, attitudes, or values (Conway, 2014). Also, tied into the working self are our goals, plans for the future, and current projects. It is through the working self that we can engage in a top-down retrieval of who we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going in the future. Due to the hierarchical structure that is our self-memory system, our direct experiences change the content of autobiographical memory which then, in turn, change the content of our working self and its directive goals. It is within this framework that researchers and clinicians can understand that the self-fluctuates across time relative to our lived experiences and what semantic or episodic details we extract from these experiences. Another way of looking at these memory systems is from the perspective of schemes. Our schemes, or knowledge structures, dictate what we focus on, and how we act within different social contexts (Baddeley et al., 2020; Kleinknecht, 2020).

Fallibility of Schemas and the Self-Memory System

It’s important to be aware of the fact that our brains were not designed for complete memory accuracy and will never be able to completely fully retain memories as when they were first encoded. As stated by Conway and Loveday, “all memories are to some degree false in the sense that they do not represent experience literally.” Recognizing that memory is extremely malleable and we can even forget things over time is of vital importance. Forgetting can happen when something is properly encoded and remembered almost immediately. Absentmindedness is most likely the cause for everyday forgetfulness whereas blocking is not being able to access the desired memory temporarily (Schacter, D. L., 1999). Another important thing to realize is that since our minds are so flexible causing us to be more open to suggestibility; meaning that we can be easily influenced by others which then affects our memory. This can also lead to false memories in which one remembers something that didn’t necessarily happen (Loftus, 2013). It is also important to understand that even though we can improve our memories we cannot make it foolproof as everything has flaws especially when it comes to remembering. So in terms of what we should strive for, it is not necessarily memory accuracy, but memory improvement.

By simply being aware of the fact that our memories were not built to be perfect and can be easily influenced will help individuals in becoming more objective and accepting overall. Despite the brain’s limitations, we can improve overall memory accuracy and broaden our knowledge networks.The brain itself cannot remove schemas. Such a thing could only happen due to neurological damage to detrimental memory structures. What can happen though is false elements can become embedded within these schemas. Once a knowledge structure has been established, there is only room room either memory error, or changing the content of these schemas.

First, retrieval and rehearsal have both been proven to be beneficial when it comes to retaining information. In the article by Schacter, he discusses the importance of the phonological loop within long-term memory and specifically that performance on working memory tasks that involve the phonological loop is related to long-term language acquisition. Putting certain ideas and thoughts into the same categories as a way of organization has also been shown to be effective in remembering. Also, basic-level categories have been shown to provide the best balance between informativeness and distinctiveness. More brain regions were evident in the studies of the spreading-activation theory during the processing of basic-level concepts as opposed to subordinate ones. Basic-level concepts have advantages over subordinate ones so in terms of organizing concepts it would be of more advantage to utilize basic-level concepts to be able to retain information better (Baddeley, Eysenck, & Anderson, 2020, p. 216). It’s also been observed that language influences our accessibility of autobiographical knowledge through the activation of cultural beliefs and views. Learning another language aside from your native language can be beneficial in this as well as broadening knowledge networks (Ross & Wang, 2010, p. 406).

An important note for updating one’s schemas to be more inclusive, and anti-racist. At the neurological level, we see an interplay of two key subcortical structures, the hippocampus and the medial prefrontal cortex in schema formation and schematic alternation. Through research using multi-voxel pattern analysis, a scan that creates visual representations of the brain divided into small areas called voxels, we can conclude a few things about the integration of knowledge into our schematic processing (Baddeley et al. 2020; see also van Kesteren et al. 2016). 1. Multiple systems of cortical structures play a part in knowledge building. 2. When the mPFC detects the flow of new information, it inhibits the hippocampus to integrate new knowledge into schemas 3. When these subcortical structures integrate new information, the schema itself is exposed to fallible memories. Although memory is malleable, usually the defining moments that shift knowledge structures are shocking to the memory system, and in turn, our self-concept. When we have a well-established schema or knowledge structures, our perceptual systems are guided by what we know and are familiar with. In a way, the mind can elicit a sort of tunnel vision that only allows us to focus on what feeds into the bias of our knowledge structures. It can be said that the memories we have to inform our knowledge of the social and natural world, and in turn fuel what we attend most to in these relative environments (van Kesteren et al., 2012).

Take for example a simple experiment based on research on schemas and perception. Someone is shown a mundane picture of an office. In this office are typical items that would be used by an office worker, pens and paper, books, a computer, a printer, shelves, etc. If the person looking at this photograph is familiar with an office space, which most Westerners are, then they scan over the photograph with ease noting nothing of importance and asserting nothing look out of place. They have a well-established schema for such settings as an office. During a second viewing of the photo, someone points out there’s a toaster in the corner. Not completely abnormal for an office, but not common. Why is it that this person completely overlooked this out of place item? Studies like these have asserted this would happen because of our schema related tunnel vision. Just because the person didn’t see the toaster, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. This analogy can be said about the phenomenon of racism in our country. Just because you can’t see, especially if you’re white, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. If one wants to become anti-racist, one must essentially update their preconceived knowledge structures. There are many routes to update a schema, but there are two essential components to all of these “interventions”. Our current knowledge must be scrutinized and we must be open to change.

Why do we remember what we remember? The short answer is a combination of exogenous and endogenous forces. We remember what we remember because we attend to our sensory modalities to certain content. As we continuously direct our attention inwards towards this content, brain cells that fire together wire together. Nature sets the stage for our memory, but nurture and culture write the script that is our personal memories. Humans create a culture and then, in turn, culture continuously creates us or our internal thought processes. As external forces change, such as political climates, economic climates, and even scientific paradigms, this change flows into our schemes, which in turn helps alter our self-concepts. These assertions tell us that memory is extremely flexible and is always adapting to our socio-cultural climates. When considering how to change our internal self, it is prudent to recognize how much culture is feeding the continuation of a self-concept (Ross & Wang, 2010). How we think and live in the present dictates how we use and think about our past stories and semantic information. Cognition doesn’t happen within the vacuum of the brain; what we think translates into what we perceive which then translates into how we behave. This process is extremely sensitive and must be considered when creating our life stories. With this being said, our memory system is extremely complex and useful for social flourishment and environmental survival, but it is not without fallibility in the case of memory accuracy, cohesion, and memory correspondence.

An important note to be made about the self-memory system is that the nature of being is ever-changing. The rapid expression of our external environment through neuronal connections is at constant flux. Our self memory system is then constantly updating itself per our temporal existence through the lifespan. The places we go, the people we interact with, and the internal dialogues we have all continuously stack up into a dynamic flow of consciousness. The person you were ten years ago has ten years less experience and interpersonal interactions. This is both a sobering and exciting notion of the possibility our memory systems have. For example, if one is living through a limbo of racist ambivalence in the year 2020, they have the opportunity to grow through lived experience as long as they apply their hearts and minds just a tenth of a percent harder each subsequent day. The stack-up of this mode of being can then merge into a member of society that pursues justice and equality, not hatred and intolerance. In plain words, this task seems simple, but it is anything but. The process of being more anti-racist is a life-long journey that is riddled with missteps and pitfalls at every corner. However, this is the usual journey for anything worth achieving in lifetimes.

Conclusion 

The first step to updating one’s racist memory is to acknowledge the contents of one’s memory that contain bias and hatred. Though the human psyche is plagued with unconsciousness or implicit bias, there are still areas where everyone can improve their outlook on diversity. Once the individual has made the overt effort to acknowledge their own biases, they can then begin to form a competing scheme based on their newfound knowledge. Next, in order to establish a new scheme, there must be an active usage of the established, justice related, scheme. New knowledge doesn’t just find a home in the mind. It is through activation of establishing knowledge systems over and over again. We propose that in the development of an anti-racist perspective that you engage in your community as an ally to the disenfranchised and marginalized members within. After continued engagement, and a stack up of real experience as it pertains to diverse groups of people, we propose that education be made a number one priority as well as continue to build new founded knowledge structures of equality and justice through the education of systemic racism, the psychology of bias, and the affect of racism.

From the theories of the Self-Memory system and the subsequent empirical research arising from this theory, it can be asserted that through an expansion of new experience, especially that regarding diverse peoples or cultures, one’s knowledge structures that were either harmful or ambivalent regarding racial inequality can subsequently change. Yes, one seemingly simple way to adopt a more anti-racist framework is to expose one’s self to the reality of prevalent racism in our country. It must be noted that a White person will not experience this racism directly, but through education and the willingness to open one’s eyes, stark reality begins to emerge for those not living the reality of racial discrimination. Education, patience, careful self-reflection, and openness for change will be some of the greatest tools in adopting an anti-racist perspective. If we change our direct experiences with the external world, especially with social spheres, we will begin to stack up experiences that eventually evolve into a different autobiographical sense of self. Memories contrived or stored within the self memory system are direct links for behavioral action with other people. Within this self-memory system lay entities of racist beliefs, but also the potential to supersede these harmful narratives through our memory systems natural tendency to update. Listen to podcasts, read books, listen to stories from marginalized members, actively seek out and educate. Don’t wait for education. Seek out and become your agent change.

How is it then that we directly challenge a racist to a meta-cognitive reflection of their ideals? The sharing of conflicting information on their established beliefs. “Deep canvassing,” a technique developed by David Fleischer, the director of the Leadership LAB of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, entails going door to door to talk to registered voters about upcoming issues that pertain to social justice. These conversations usually last between only 10 and 20 minutes where the deep canvasser will challenge the voter to think outside of their schema by sharing interpersonal stories of adversity, struggle, and discrimination. “The canvassers don’t try to build rational arguments for why someone should think one way or another. The goal is to share personal stories about times when the voter and the canvasser felt attacked or discriminated against” (as cited in Adichie, 2013). Before canvassers arrived at people’s homes, the research team sent surveys to ask about transgender rights and opinions. After the canvassing takes place, participants were asked to fill out the survey again. Remarkably the study found that after the canvassing, on average participant’s scores out of 100 on positive or negative attributions towards transgender people increased by 10 points (Adichie, 2013). While a 10 point increase in positive attitudes might not seem like a lot, psychologist Elizabeth Paluck asserts, “they were very transparent about all the statistics,” she says. “It was a really ingenious test of the change. If the change was at all fragile, we should have seen people change their minds back [after three months].” There are very few tests of prejudice reduction methods” (As cited in Adichie, 2013). This emerging research is a great starting point in trying to edit people’s opinions and beliefs on not just transgender rights, but also social justice for all discriminated groups.

In Daniel Kahneman’s TedTalk, “The Riddle of Experience versus Remembering,” he explains, “We don’t only tell stories when we set out to tell stories. Our memory tells us stories, that is, what we get to keep from our experiences is a story.” What culture tells us is an important streamline into the way we will actualize ourselves in the social world. It is through our memory that we create our social realities. What our memories tell us creates the experience of being a cultural entity, but we must be careful in listening to these memories. If they are memories that involve hate and malevolence, then we must alter them to be just. It is up to us to critically evaluate the content of the memories we hold, in doing so, we might just hit a pressure point for change, and for the racist in America, it is to the detriment of all that they begin to question the memories of what they’ve been taught. They must open their ears and hearts to the reality that people around them are suffering. Instead of relying on old memories of hate, perhaps they can create new memories of love and acceptance.

In order to operationalize the former advice given for becoming anti racist. We will propose a checklist that you as a reader can engage with.

  1. Through active reflection of one’s thoughts, or what cognitive researchers call, “meta-cognition” examines the contents of your beliefs as they pertain to systematically marginalized groups in America. If you are unsure which groups to think about, use relevant sources on the internet. In your favorite search engine type in “systemic racism in America.” Black Americans, Arab/Muslim Americans, And Lantinx are some of the groups experiencing prejudice to this day.
  2. While continuing to reflect on one’s beliefs, remember that when trying to become anti-racist, one must be patient with themselves. Even the most engaged allies to anti-racism aren’t perfect in their attemps to be anti-racist. Such is the power of our learned knowledge structures that we must be always working to better understand ourselves and the racist aspects of our culture.
  3. Educate, educate educate, Watch movies that center around race disparities. Read books that highlight America’s History with racism. Support Black art! Support and enjoy Lantinx art. Directors of movies who are themselves Black, watch their films. Read their books. Ibram X. Kendi’s, “How to Be an Anti-Racist” is a great first option. Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race are also books that can begin the path to be anti-racist. Layla F. Saad’s” Me and White Supremacy”, Robin DiAngelo and Michael Eric Dyson’s “White Fragility,  Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” as well as Michelle Alexander’s “New Jim Crow.”
  4. While reading these books, or watching these films and/or documentaries, when something stands out, whether it be a statistics or assertion made, take a moment to ponder these new findings, re-read or rewind to experience the new information for a second time. After reading or watching, open up a notebook and write down what you found most profound, and how it made you feel. Over time, as this journal continues to fill, it can be a marker of ones progress, and a reference for knowledge when you need it.
  5.  If possible, try and spend time emerging yourself physically within cultures of marginalized members of our communities. Through spending time with diverse groups, one can begin to truly build knowledge structures that are rooted in justice and equality.

Project take-aways

“My biggest takeaway has to be learning about the power of schemes and how they can blind people from certain information. Moreover, I’m glad that it is possible to change these knowledge structures with dedication, and open-mind and hard-work.”-Asher F.

References

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Baddeley, A., Eysenck, M. W., & Anderson, M. C. (2020). Episodic Memory: Organizing and Remembering .Memory. New York, NY: Routledge (pp. 165-202).

Baddeley, A., Eysenck, M. W., & Anderson, M. C. (2020). Memory and the brain. In Memory (pp. 23-38). New York, NY: Routledge.

Baddeley, A., Eysenck, M. W., & Anderson, M. C. (2020). What is Memory? In Memory (pp. 3-19). New York, NY: Routledge.

Baddeley, A., Eysenck, M. W., & Anderson, M. C. (2020). Semantic Memory and Stored Knowledge. Memory. New York, NY: Routledge. (pp. 207-232).

Baddeley, A., Eysenck, M. W., & Anderson, M. C. (2020). Working Memory, Memory. New York, NY: Routledge (pp. 71-105)..

Chen, A. (2016, April 07). Study Finds Deep Conversations Can Reduce Transgender Prejudice. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/04/07/473383882/study-finds-deep-conversations-can-reduce-transgender-prejudice

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Conway, M. A., & Loveday, C. (2015). Remembering, imagining, false memories & personal meanings. Consciousness and Cognition, 33. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2014.12.002

Doolittle, P. (2013). How your “working memory” makes sense of the world. [Video]. TED Conferences. https://www.ted.com/talks/peter_doolittle_how_your_working_memory_makes_sense_of_the_world?language=en

Kahneman, D. (2010). Transcript of “The riddle of experience vs. memory”. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_kahneman_the_riddle_of_experience_vs_memory/transcript

Loftus, E. (2013). How reliable is your memory? Retrieved December 4, 2020, from https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_loftus_how_reliable_is_your_memory

Ross, M., & Wang, Q. (2010). Why We Remember and What We Remember: Culture and Autobiographical Memory. Association for Psychological Science.

Schacter, D. L. (1999). The seven sins of memory: Insights from psychology and cognitive neuroscience. American Psychologist, 54(3), 182–203. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.54.3.182

Wang, Q. & Ross, M. (2007). Culture and Memory. In In The Handbook of Cultural Psychology. S. Kitayama and D. Cohen, eds. The Guildford Press, New York & London.

van Kesteren, M. T. R., Brown, T. I., & Wagner, A. D. (2016). Interactions between memory and new learning: Insights from fMRI multivoxel pattern analysis. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 10, doi: 10.3389.fnsys.2016.00046.