The research on race that helps explains Trump’s use of family separation at the border

“Crying. Screaming. Shouts of ‘Mami!’ and ‘Papá!’ This is what President Donald Trump’s policies sound like on the ground as asylum-seeking families are split apart,” as Vox is reporting. “In the audio published by ProPublica, though, Border Patrol agents do not appear to show empathy, with one agent hearing the sobbing children and joking that ‘we have an orchestra here’ and that ‘what’s missing is a conductor.’

“In just five weeks, US officials separated more than 2,300 children from their parents at the US-Mexico border. While the Trump administration has been deliberately obtuse about its intents, the ‘zero tolerance’ approach appears to be part of a strategy to scare people from illegally crossing the border — by, essentially, using the possibility of parents losing their kids as a threat.

“It’s easy to wonder how any of this is possible. How can someone care so little about children and families that they’re willing to use kids — and separation from their parents — as pawns in immigration policy? And how can the people implementing that policy on the ground hear sobbing children and joke about what’s going on?

“One inescapable answer is race. These are, after all, immigrants of color coming from Latin America. Many of the people implementing these immigration policies, from Trump and his Cabinet down to border agents, are predominantly white. And based on the research, that makes them much less likely to view brown kids and their parents with a sense of humanity.

The dehumanization of minority groups
“Consider a small 2007 study that examined the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In that study, researchers found that people tended to believe that victims in racial groups that they don’t belong to suffered fewer ‘uniquely human’ emotions like anguish, mourning, and remorse than victims in racial groups that they did belong to. They also found that the aftermath of a natural disaster, perception of fewer ‘uniquely human’ emotions led participants to be less willing to help victims of a different race.

“A 2009 study similarly found that when participants looked at images of people in pain, the parts of their brains that respond to pain tended to show more activity if the person in the image was of the same race as the participant. Those researchers concluded that their findings ‘support the view that shared common membership enhances a perceiver’s empathic concerns for others.’ Other studies reached similar conclusions.

“There’s a basic concept behind this: Once someone can relate to the person who’s suffering, it becomes much easier to empathize. But since the majority of the public and policymakers in America are white, this line of research suggests that Americans are simply less likely to care for suffering Latinx families.”

The rest of the article is here.


Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

4 thoughts on “The research on race that helps explains Trump’s use of family separation at the border”

  1. For decades Native Americans were separated from their children by the government boarding school system. We know only too well that the destruction of a culture begins with the destruction of its basic unit, the family.

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