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New Greater Good Book: Are We Born Racist?

Announcement | July 7, 2010

Order your copy today!

We’re excited to announce the latest book from the Greater Good Science Center, Are We Born Racist?: New Insights from Neuroscience and Positive Psychology

Drawing on cutting-edge science, Are We Born Racist? explores the psychological roots of prejudice—and how we can overcome it.

The research covered in the book suggests that our propensities for racism are deeply ingrained, making the idea of a “post-racial America” seem pretty far fetched. At the same time, we know that there are research-tested ways to keep our knee-jerk biases and prejudices in check; what’s more, it’s possible to teach others—especially children—how to do the same.

Bringing a diverse range of disciplines into conversation for the first time, Are We Born Racist? offers a straightforward overview of the new science of prejudice, and showcases the abundant practical, research-based steps that can be taken in all areas of our lives to overcome prejudice.

The book expands upon many of the articles and ideas first featured in Greater Good‘s special issue on racism. It’s edited by Greater Good editor in chief Jason Marsh, contributing editor Jeremy Adam Smith, and GGSC executive committee member Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton; contributors include some of the country’s leading expert on racism—scientists, journalists, educators and many others. They draw on new scientific discoveries to reveal:

  • why and how our brains form prejudices;
  • how to fight prejudice in the workplace;
  • the keys to raising tolerant kids;
  • how to promote tolerance and equality in schools;
  • how racism hurts our health;
  • what a post-prejudice society might actually look like.

Are We Born Racist? has already been receiving some great advanced buzz, including this endorsement from Claude Steele, the provost of Columbia University and one of the country’s leading researchers of prejudice:

Revolutionary insight follows revolutionary insight in this broadly accessible book, accumulating to nothing less than a paradigm shift that will change how we think about everything from how prejudice affects our own lives to how laws and institutional practice can be used to reduce its ill effects. And it does it all with a brevity that I hope will insure what it deserves most: to be broadly read.

The book’s official publication date is August 1, but you can pre-order your copy here.

Are We Born Racist? also makes an excellent discussion tool. If you want to use the book in a workshop, book group, or high school or college class, please .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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Group. Friend. Foe. Family. Safe. Safety. It’s only natural to gravitate towards comfort, predictability, non-rejecting and welcoming. What better way than a head dress or hair style or woven clan pattern. A visual flag that we wear in common. Sometimes the fence is so subtle.

Why is it mostly discussed in terms of black and white in this American country? Why is white considered the norm reference? Isn’t everyone else’s good just as good? What if my skin is beige, my eyes almond-shaped, my hair curly, and my limbs long but thick? Am I American enough for you?

Are we born racist? I think it is more about belonging rather than exclusion. The lessons then to teach are more about feeling safe around people are of a different family group or clans, who may see a threat. Different look. Different dance. Different.

Pat | 7:48 pm, July 25, 2010 | Link

Jason Marsh's avatar

Yes, definitely, people do tend to gravitate toward the comfortable and the familiar, and regard the unfamiliar with suspicion or even fear. So, as you suggest, an important goal for any anti-racism effort is to promote feelings of inclusion and belonging with “the other.”

In fact, studies have found that people often react with fear toward images of others who seem unlike themselves for one reason or another—because they have skin of a different color, say, or are homeless. But when those people are made to feel an affinity toward that other person—such as by seeing him or her smile, or by discovering that they have something in common, or just by seeing that other person as a unique individual rather than a member of a strange group—those feelings of fear dissipate.

Jason Marsh | 11:24 am, August 3, 2010 | Link


Haven’t read the book yet so don’t want to jump to conclusions. I know that the book is about race; however I think that the issue is how we might be wired to fear “otherness.” Our natural propensity may be to move towards people that look, or think like us, whether we are talking about race, politics, gender, etc.. At the same time, if we are in the position to do so, we then socially, politically, and economically create the systems and adherent value systems that uplift certain “safe” identities (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) over others. So while it might be that we are born with a bias to trust that which looks and quacks like us, it will take more than that bias to create and sustain racism, classism, ageism, etc.

Sauda | 10:59 am, August 5, 2010 | Link

Jason Marsh's avatar

Thanks Sauda, I think that’s exactly right. We point out early in the book that while we zero in on racial bias in this volume, most of the research it covers also applies to prejudices based on other characteristics like age, gender, and sexual orientation.

And yes, definitely, the book (and the research it covers) makes clear that our real-world prejudices are determined by the interplay of our psychological propensities and our social environments. As you note, we may have an innate bias to be fearful and mistrustful of people we deem different from ourselves, but who we categorize as an “other” depends very much on social and political factors. That provides both a great challenge in overcoming prejudice and a source of optimism as well: Our prejudices are not inevitable. I’m eager to keep getting such thoughtful feedback from yourself and others as you dig into the book.

Jason Marsh | 2:42 pm, August 6, 2010 | Link


I think it’s unfortunate that the author chose a highly charged form of oppression like racism to sell their research which appears to be about how the brain is wired to form prejudices. This is in and of itself is not a new idea.  As a woman of African decent, I find it offensive and not adding much value to the conversation on racism.  Racism is a complex subject area and cannot be addressed with sensationalized titles and sophomoric theories.

Phyllis | 8:15 am, August 26, 2010 | Link

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