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Is racism contagious?

Written By | Jul 25, 2016

PETALUMA, CA, July 25, 2016 – “I’ve heard some people that I know and like saying quite offensive things,” said Carol Lindsay, a white, 80-year-old Londoner speaking with a reporter from NPR about the increase in racially motivated hostility she’s witnessed since the recent Brexit vote. “You know, just nastiness. I think it’s like a contagion.”

Given the universal aversion to disease, Lindsay’s analogy is unsettling. Chances are, though, that on average we do far more to protect ourselves from the proverbial common cold than any tendency we may have to see people of another color or race as a threat to our personal well-being.

“Floating with the popular current of mortal thought without questioning the reliability of its conclusions, we do what others do, believe what others believe, and say what others say,” cautioned Mary Baker Eddy in her Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, addressing what she understood to be the root of all sickness – moral, physical, or otherwise. “Common consent is contagious, and it makes disease catching.”

The question then becomes, how do we prevent the spread of racism – a disease, if you will, that appears to have infected nearly every corner of the globe?

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A CNN video making the rounds on the Internet provides a compelling example. In it, a group of counter-protestors in Dallas are seen gathering across the street from a crowd of “Black Lives Matter” activists, laying the groundwork for what one might expect to be a heated, even violent exchange.

Then something extraordinary happens.

After a representative from each group meet in the middle to shake hands, both groups decide to join forces, crossing the street and greeting one another with hugs and words of encouragement. “Today, we’re going to show the rest of the country how we came together,” says one of the protestors.

The video closes with a shot of both groups, along with a Dallas police officer, gathered in a circle, praying for their city.

Of course, most of those who watch this video will probably see it as an anomaly, nothing more than a handful of people who were somehow able to avoid being infected with the bigot bug, and even then only temporarily. But what if what we’re seeing in this video actually represents a turning point, however modest, in race relations? What if, as Eddy suggests, “good [were] more contagious than evil”?

There’s already some evidence of this. According to a USA Today report, police at the recent Republican National Convention in Cleveland experienced “more hugs than hostility” while out on patrol. “I appreciate the work they do,” said Eddy Vernon, an African-American who works at a local 7-Eleven. “Their lives are on the line at all times.” And in Wichita, members of the police department and a “Black Lives Matter” group spent a recent Sunday afternoon at a jointly planned cookout.

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Obviously there’s continued need to do all we can to contain racism and reduce its debilitating effects. But there’s also plenty that can and must be done in terms of infusing our communities with that divinely inspired sense of goodness that not only keeps racism in check but ultimately eliminates it. As the Archbishop of Canterbury implored the House of Lords recently, quoting the Apostle Paul, we have to “love one another, cease to tear at one another, lest at the end [we] consume one another.”

For Eddy, loving one another involved vastly more than simply maintaining a pleasant disposition. “Love is not something put upon a shelf, to be taken down on rare occasions with sugar-tongs and laid on a rose-leaf,” she wrote. “I make strong demands on love, call for active witnesses to prove it, and noble sacrifices and grand achievements as its results. Unless these appear, I cast aside the word as a sham and counterfeit, having no ring of the true metal.”

This kind of practical, unflappable love requires, first and foremost, an acknowledgment of both our own and another’s God-given desire and capacity to love. To accept anything less is to unconsciously nurture the soil and seeds of mistrust that give rise to the scourge of racism.

Is racism contagious? Without a doubt. The good news is that we have a proven and readily available cure.

Eric Nelson writes about the link between consciousness and health from his perspective as a practitioner of Christian Science. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs. Continue the conversation on Facebook.

Eric Nelson

Eric Nelson’s column “Consciousness and Health” has appeared on a number of national media websites including The Washington Times, The Washington Post, KevinMD, The Houston Chronicle and American Public Media's "On Being” blog. Eric also serves as the Christian Science Committee on Publication for Northern California, enjoys road biking, and is more than happy to chat with anyone, anytime, about baseball.