Feb 082017
Ohio KKK member with gun

When Trump unleashed his Muslim ban on Jan. 27, many liberal friends and I re-circulated a 2015 New America Foundation report showing that, since 9/11, alt-right extremists have killed more people on U.S. soil than have radical Muslims. Our point was that Trump is missing the point: A Muslim ban will not keep out the terrorists because the terrorists are already here. But then I worried, did I just post fake news? Could the 2016 Orlando nightclub attack have put the jihadists ahead of the right-wingers?

To get the actual facts, I downloaded the New America Foundation’s publicly available dataset. My analyses indeed revealed that the Orlando attack, which claimed 49 lives, raised the jihadists’ death toll to 94 victims, compared to the 50 victims whom right-wing extremists have murdered.

Yet a closer look at the data confirms that the biggest terrorist threat is still U.S.-born fanatics, not foreign-born zealots. The two most lethal terrorist groups are U.S.-born jihadists (69 victims) and U.S.-born right-wing extremists (50 victims), who have murdered a total of 116 people. Foreign-born jihadists are only the third most lethal group, with a total of 25 victims.

These numbers not only suggest that an immigration ban won’t fix America’s terrorism problem, but also raise a second question: Why do homegrown Americans break bad and join the jihad or the KKK?

To this question, my fellow cultural psychologists Sarah Lyons-Padilla and Michele Gelfand have intriguing answers. Their research shows that what drives Muslims to radicalize is believing their lives don’t matter, a belief that is fed by feeling they don’t really belong anywhere. Discrimination, racist rhetoric, and xenophobic policies only exacerbate these feelings of “cultural homelessness,” as Lyons-Padilla explains in this TEDx Stanford talk.

Enter radical Islamic groups, which target young men who are feeling alone and adrift, and then restore their sense of belonging and meaning.

A similar psychological process seems to drive European Americans to join White supremacist and other right-wing terrorist groups. The slow death of manufacturing, the contraction of American towns and rural areas, and the tanking of working- and middle-class incomes have left a broad swath of Americans feeling unmoored and insignificant. The widespread acceptance of redneck jokes, white trash impressions, and “basket of deplorables” comments only salts these wounds.

Like radical Islamic groups, White supremacist and other right-wing terrorist groups offer their members the sense that they are important and welcome. Same psychological phenomenon, Different culture war. And thus the KKK keeps pace with ISIS.

I grew up in a working-class neighborhood of Memphis and still have deep ties there. One of my relatives recently posed a question to my diverse friends on Facebook: “[How can we] keep our families, friends, and people that we haven’t meet yet safe [from terrorists]? I’m not asking this to be funny or degrading. I didn’t graduate from college and live in a small town in Mississippi. I’m not trying to debate with scholars.”

I think the timbre of her question holds a large part of the answer. If the grand U.S. experiment in multicultural democracy is ever to work, we must make everyone feel included and respected, even if they have not shown us the same regard.

Photo CC Paul Walsh

Jan 042017

To promote CLASH! I’ve spoken at the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, on dozens of radio and television programs, and on more college campuses than I can count. But Carleton College, tucked among the cornfields of Northfield, Minnesota, holds a special place in my heart. I’ve spoken there twice now, and both times met incredibly thoughtful faculty and students. Here is a video of my first talk there, two years ago. I especially appreciate that the audience laughed at all my jokes.

 Posted by at 8:07 am
Nov 232016
Trump Turkey Vulture political art by DonkeyHotey

This holiday season, several people have asked me how to deal with friends and family who voted for Trump. I am an unlikely advisor on matters of civil discourse, as my first language is sass. But growing up a White girl in working-class Memphis, where I received a public school education from smart Black women, in classrooms with mostly Black kids, and tried mightily to practice what Jesus said about loving all the neighbors (not just the White ones), but then returned home every day to friends and family who subscribed to White supremacy, anti-Semitism, and gender norms straight outta The Handmaid’s Tale, I did learn a thing or two about discussing race, gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, and politics with people I love but do not agree with.

Since then, I’ve been refining my techniques as a social scientist who studies how to heal cultural conflicts. So below are a few tips for navigating conversations about politics with your Trump-electing friends and relatives, should you desire to do so. I think you should give it a try, if you have the stomach for it. Many folks are saying that the Democrats lost White working-class voters because the two groups forgot how to talk to each other. I am inclined to believe this analysis, and so I encourage us all to start working on our cross-cultural conversation skills. Bipartisanship begins in the home.

1. Act Like an Anthropologist

Approach the conversation as an occasion to learn how people different from you think and feel, rather than an opportunity to change their minds or hearts. People can smell a missionary a mile away, and they usually don’t like the scent.

Instead, assume the posture of an anthropologist. Ask, who are these people, and why do they think, feel, believe, value, and act they way they do? Maybe you already know some of these answers. Likely you don’t know them all. In any case, just giving the other side a chance to share their heads and hearts makes them more favorable to hearing from your side of the aisle. Plus, you are likely to learn something new.

2. Ask “Why?”

Pursuant to Step 1, ask a bunch of open-ended questions like “Why do you think that is?” and “How did you arrive at that conclusion?” Get ‘em talking. Gently explore all the nooks and crannies of their belief system. “Why” questions are especially useful when you are angry, because they buy you some time to recover.

3. Honor Emotion

Understand that no one, not even you, is wholly logical. Most people routinely make false assumptions, and then clumsily reason from them. Having gone through this fraught and faulty process, we then don’t even use this “logic” to make most of our decisions. Instead, we base most of our decisions on feelings—many of them unconscious. Honor that fact, instead of deriding people for their lack of logic. This means all of us need to

4. Use I-Statements

Own what you think and feel, rather than portraying your thoughts and feelings as incontrovertible facts. That means using I-statements: I think, I feel, I believe, I read, I learned in school, I heard at the beauty shop, etc.

I-statements are particularly good for conveying when and why you are hurt, angry, and scared to people who just don’t get why you are upset. Rather than saying, “How could YOU, a parent of a daughter, vote for Trump? He’s clearly a misogynistic psychopath!” you may get more traction with a statement like, “When a presidential candidate admits to grabbing women’s pussies and forcing them to kiss him, I feel afraid and angry, for myself and for my children.” People can quibble over whether Trump is actually a misogynist, but they can’t argue over what you feel.

I-statements are also good for dealing with divergent notions of the facts. For example, a relative of mine who is a recovering addict recently said that he couldn’t support Clinton because Obamacare pays for marijuana. My first impulse was to respond with something like, “That’s a load of hogwash.” But instead, I said something more like, “Hmmm…that’s interesting. I read that Obamacare can’t cover marijuana because the federal government still considers marijuana a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Why do you think otherwise?”

And then we had a calm discussion about where we get our information and why our sources might disagree and how we could get information we would both trust. Conversations about whose knowledge and sources are more right or wrong, rather than which person is right or wrong, usually go over better.

5. No Name-Calling!

Which leads to my next point: avoid commenting on other people’s fixed, essential, dispositional traits, especially if your judgment of these traits reeks of negativity. In other words, don’t call people names or attack their personalities.

In particular, calling people racists, sexists, or xenophobes will get you exactly nowhere. When people feel insulted, they shut down and cannot listen, even if your scintillating analysis of their soul is both accurate and eloquent. So you just expend a lot of oxygen and effort for nothing—at best. Meanwhile, observers of your tirade will think you are just being mean. Name-calling simply doesn’t change people’s minds or hearts, nor does it warm people to your own way of thinking and feeling.

6. Build Common Ground

Repeatedly affirm your similarities. What do we agree on? What do we share? Many times I have witnessed how identifying seemingly insignificant similarities—Your people are from Pontotoc? So are mine! You are against the apocalypse? Me, too!—paves the way for deeper sharing.

I admit: Other than our common status as homo sapiens, I have a hard time finding similarities with some of the n-word-dropping, climate-change-denying, bitch-slapping, gay-hating folks I know. And of course I might feel more comfortable and righteous if I cut them out of my life altogether. But what if, in my absence, in my negligence, those folks never hear another way of looking at the world? It’s worth it to me to hang in there, find common ground, however shaky it may be, and then build upon it.

7. Check Your Head

Even with the best intentions, people who are different from you can easily get your goat. We seldom express ourselves or listen well when angry. So keep a finger on your own pulse and excuse yourself to get that second slice of pie if you get too irritated.  And note that threats to your person entitle you to a fast break for the back door.

I realize that I am writing this from a place of privilege. I am, after all, a well-educated, heterosexual, middle-aged White woman living in the Bay Area. Although Trump’s actions and words offend me to the core and instill fear in my heart for myself and the people I care about, I am not first on his list for deportation, registration, incarceration, or assassination. And so I get it when people who are high on those lists don’t want to engage Trump supporters in an exploration of beliefs and values. But for me, the aim is to use the privilege I do have to make the changes I want to see in the world. Using what I have learned to reach out to my own people is a first step toward that change.

Art CC DonkeyHotey

Sep 152014

For years, I’ve tuned in to PRI’s “To the Best of Our Knowledge” most Sunday nights as I make a soup for the week. So imagine my delight to be a guest on TTBOOK to discuss Clash! and how people navigate their many and often conflicting cultural identities. The line-up for the episode, called “Split Identities,” was top-notch, and included former Clinton speechwriter Eric Liu discussing his memoir A Chinaman’s Chance; and filmmaker Lacey Schwartz talking about her documentary Little White Lie, which chronicles her discovery of her family’s deep dark secret: she is biracial. Have a listen and let me know what you think!


Mar 142014

Do women “choose” to leave science, or does the daily grind of discrimination, lose-lose tradeoffs, and culture clashes drive us away? Do we opt out, or are we pushed out, to use the language of sociologist Pamela Stone? The data are still rolling in, but today in Science, we show how the more popular opting-out account obscures the more likely gender-bias explanation–even in Science publications. [pdf]

As the research of my colleagues and me shows, middle-class European Americans readily cite personal choices as the cause of people’s actions, but are slower to see how situational affordances and constraints shape behavior. This “choice bias” arises from the European American cultural understanding of people as independent, autonomous, and in control. In contrast, most other cultures of the world understand people to be interdependent, connected, and constantly adjusting to their situations.

My colleagues and I recently caught the insidious “choice bias” at work in a Science publication called Science Careers, which targets young scientists on the hunt for jobs. Today Science published our Letter pointing out the bias, as well as the response from the journalist who penned the original article. Kudos to Science for publishing both Letters, for together they illustrate how even well-meaning and well-informed people often fail to recognize the choice bias and its insidious effects.

Also, many thanks to my coauthors: Karen S. Cook, Shelley J. Correll, Hazel Rose Markus, Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, Carol B. Muller (who brought the Science Careers article to our attention), Jennifer L. Raymond, and Caroline Simard.

Science-2014-Choice and Bias

Dec 042013

American women are leaning in. We now earn more degrees, hold more managerial and professional positions, and in many cities earn more money than do men. And yet we still make up only 17 percent of the U.S. Congress, lead only 3.6 percent of the Fortune 500, and earn only 77 cents for the same work that earns men a whole fat dollar.

What’s up with that?

In this panel discussion from the 3% Conference, I humbly submit that women’s failure to bust through the glass ceiling is not for want of leaning in. Instead, it’s because many men are failing to relinquish the levers of power to their abler female counterparts.

And so the the time has come for women not to lean in more, but to lean on men, urging them to break the glass ceiling from the other side. To avoid messy accidents, men could also just open the doors and let us in, already, to the board rooms and corner offices they still control. Although women have made great strides across the economy, men still rule the upper echelons of our institutions. Without men’s help, women will never completely ascend to the heights for which we have repeatedly proven ourselves  qualified.

Don’t believe women are fit to lead? Well. All the more reason for you to watch this discussion, titled “How Women Lead.” In it, CEOs Daina Middleton (Performics), Dianne Wilkins (Critical Mass), Wendy Wallbridge (On Your Mark), and I talk with Kelli Robertson (Goodby, Silverstein and Partners) about the unique strengths of women leaders. And we’re not just talking out of our hats. We present compelling evidence and personal stories illustrating how women uniquely motivate employees, connect with markets, innovate solutions, and make the pie bigger for everyone (mmm…pie).

This panel discussion was part of one the coolest events I’ve attended this year: the 3% Conference, so named because only 3 percent of creative directors in advertising agencies are women–even though women make 85 % of all consumer purchases. Founded by creative director Kat Gordon (Maternal Instinct), the conference brings together men and women to discuss how to get more Mad Women into the marketing mix. It’s an annual extravaganza, so stay tuned to learn the where and when of next year’s event.



Nov 252013

Over the river and through the woods, you can now listen to CLASH! as you drive, walk, or caper across the autumnal landscape. Hazel and Alana narrate the book, which means you can bask in Hazel’s warm Californian inflections and Alana’s slightly Southern accent (although she worked hard to say “gender” instead of “ginder.”) If you’ve already read CLASH! and wish you could induce your, say, coworkers and in-laws to learn more about why your cultures clash and what they can do about it, the Audible CLASH! makes a great gift.

Oct 042013

I was chuffed to give a talk about CLASH! at the inaugural TEDx Pacific Palisades, whose theme was “From_____ to _____.” I shared, among other things, tales of my harrowing transition from working-class Memphis to Yale, a photograph of my grandmother with 17-year-old me, and the story of how I got mixed up with Hazel Rose Markus in the first place. Kindly stab yourself and pass the dagger (which is an old British adage meaning “take some for yourself then pass it on”)!

Oct 012013

I have a dirty secret: for most of last year, I couldn’t get health insurance because of a pre-existing condition. Lucky for me, an insurance agent tipped me off to a little-known program called the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP, pronounced, unfortunately, “pee-sip”). PCIP is one of the first phases of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

Today, PCIP transitioned to the insurance exchange program you’ve been hearing so much about. Alas, some blowhards in the House, many who enjoy taxpayer-funded health insurance, want to take my insurance away.

Before I shake my tiny fists at the ironies, injustices, and idiocies of the insurance industry in general, and anti-Obamacare factions in particular, let me tell you a little bit about my situation. I am a vegetarian triathlete with a body mass index of 20.4 (that means I’m normal sized), a resting heart rate of 60, blood pressure of 110/70, no surgeries, and no chronic conditions. I completed a postdoctoral certificate in health psychology at UCSF, mentor doctors in the Stanford School of Medicine, and collaborate with a healthcare company to design Web interfaces that inspire healthy behavior changes. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I daresay I am more physically robust, motivated, and knowledgeable about health and healthcare than your average American.

And so when I resigned from my job to write a book and launch a business, I thought I would have no trouble purchasing an individual plan. But I was wrong: the insurance/healthcare company (they were one in the same) that had covered me for seven years through my employer rejected my application to become an individual purchaser.

As veterans of the uninsured life know, after one insurance company denies you, all insurance companies deny you.

So, what was my crime against the insurance establishment? The answer is ridiculously mundane: Two abnormal Pap smears (a test for precancerous cells of the cervix), taken in 2010 and 2011.

You may be thinking, Aha! You had cervical precancer! Of course you couldn’t get insurance, you wenchly drain on our healthcare system!

But let me point out that 25 percent of women have an abnormal Pap smear in their lifetime. Only a handful of these cases would progress to cancer if left untreated, and that would take 10-20 years, on average. But when detected early, cervical cancer is 100 percent curable.

You would think my insurance/healthcare provider would want to keep an eye on my precancerous cervix because doing so would be in everyone’s financial best interest. After all, preventing cancer is a hell of a lot cheaper than treating it. Aside from the business case for insuring me, you might suppose the Hippocratic Oath and other ethical edicts would induce the organization that diagnosed my precancer to want to track and, if needed, treat it–not for free, mind you, but using the premiums and co-pays I regularly fed into their coffers for the better part of a decade.

But that is not what happened. I appealed my insurance/healthcare company’s decision, and lost.

My former insurer suggested I opt for COBRA. But at $850/month, COBRA was impossibly expensive for a social entrepreneur attempting to get her book and business off the ground.

So I signed up for PCIP, which requires its applicants to forgo health insurance for six months. After half a year of driving in the slow lane, not riding my bike (to the detriment of my mental and physical health), and worrying that maybe I was indeed incubating tumors in my reproductive apparatus, I received my PCIP acceptance letter. The premium of $275/month was not cheap, but when you think you might have cancer, expensive insurance beats the heck out of no insurance.

Later that week, I visited my new OB/GYN for a Pap smear and a test for all high-risk strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), the germ that causes 99 percent of cervical cancers. The results of both tests were normal, and have remained normal over the past year. As is the case for the vast majority of women, my immune system has repaired my cells, and my cervix has returned to its usual healthy and happy state.

I’m not in the habit of writing about my lady bits, and I’m not terribly comfortable with disclosing this chapter in my health history. When your insurance/healthcare company rejects you, it’s hard not to feel dirty and diseased. I would have just as soon kept this shame to myself.

Yet I feel compelled to visit the Land of TMI because I don’t think opponents of Obamacare understand whose lives they’re screwing with. My sense is that, to them, the uninsured masses are the unwashed masses–obese, lazy, dumb, poor, and probably brown or black.* I’m here to tell you, though, that Dr. Middle-Class White Triathlete was also among the uninsured and, until recently, uninsurable. If politicians want to keep their citizens healthy and innovative, they need to stop blocking affordable healthcare.

*I also happen to think it is our shared responsibility to take good care of all members of our society, regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, intelligence, size, or even motivation. But I realize this idea seems loony-pants to many of our “leaders.”


Aug 212013

Why do African Americans have the highest levels of self-esteem in the U.S.? Why don’t tiger cubs wither in the grips of their tiger mothers? Is your brain a plant or a computer? I answer these questions and more on KERA’s “Think” with the redoubtable Krys Boyd, to the delight of my friends in Dallas. Click here to listen.