March 8, 2021

What George Washington's teeth teach us about history, race, and cognitive bias

[] What George Washington's teeth show us about cognitive biases on race and history | Fortune© 2020 Fortune Media IP Limited. All Rights Reserved. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our u003ca href="https://fortune.com/terms-of-use/">Terms of Useu003c/a> and u003ca href="https://fortune.com/privacy-policy/">Privacy Policyu003c/a> | u003ca href="/california-privacy-policy/#notice">CA Notice at Collection and Privacy Noticeu003c/a> | u003ca href="https://fortune.com/right-to-opt-out/">Do Not Sell My Personal Informationu003c/a> | u003ca href="http://preferences-mgr.trustarc.com/?pid=fortunemedia01&aid=fortunemedia01_pub&type=fortunemedia">Ad Choices u003c/a>u003cbr />nFORTUNE is a trademark of Fortune Media IP Limited, registered in the U.S. and other countries. FORTUNE may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.u003cbr />nQuotes delayed at least 15 minutes. 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","type":"post"},"children":[{"name":"byline","config":{"link":"https://fortune.com/author/shawn-tully/","name":"Shawn Tully"},"children":[]},{"name":"image","config":{"aspectRatio":0.6666666666666666,"attachmentId":2958290,"alt":"Rising Interest Rates-Graph Concept","caption":"Rising interest rates could be a killer for stocks.","crops":[],"height":1920,"imageSize":"article-sidebar","lazyload":true,"lqipSrc":"https://content.fortune.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Rising-Interest-Rates-Graph-Concept-GettyImages-1303546981.jpg?quality=60&resize=60,40","postId":2958044,"retina":true,"showCaption":false,"sources":[{"default":true,"transforms":{"resize":[130,86]},"descriptor":100}],"sourceTags":[],"src":"https://content.fortune.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Rising-Interest-Rates-Graph-Concept-GettyImages-1303546981.jpg","srcset":"https://content.fortune.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Rising-Interest-Rates-Graph-Concept-GettyImages-1303546981.jpg?resize=260,172 200w,https://content.fortune.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Rising-Interest-Rates-Graph-Concept-GettyImages-1303546981.jpg?resize=130,86 100w","url":"https://content.fortune.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Rising-Interest-Rates-Graph-Concept-GettyImages-1303546981.jpg","useBasicImg":false,"usingDataFallback":false,"width":2880,"fallbackImageUrl":"data:image/gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAIAAAAAAAP///yH5BAEAAAAALAAAAAABAAEAAAIBRAA7","picture":false,"sizes":"100px"},"children":[]},{"name":"byline","config":{"link":"https://fortune.com/author/shawn-tully/","name":"Shawn Tully"},"children":[]}]}]},{"name":"advertising-slot","config":{"align":"center","lazyload":true,"useDynamicChannel":false,"placementName":"RightRailFlex_Articles","slotId":"RightRailFlex_Articles1","themeName":"article","targeting":{"placement_name":"RightRailFlex_Articles","index":2}},"children":[]},{"name":"dianomi","config":{"type":"sidebar"},"children":[]},{"name":"advertising-slot","config":{"align":"center","lazyload":true,"useDynamicChannel":false,"placementName":"RightRailFlex_Articles","slotId":"RightRailFlex_Articles2","themeName":"article","targeting":{"placement_name":"RightRailFlex_Articles","index":3}},"children":[]}]},{"name":"article-media","config":{"publishDate":"","type":"video","section":"Newsletters"},"children":[{"name":"brightcove-video","config":{"accountId":"2111767321001","disableAds":false,"disableAutoplay":false,"disableContinuousPlay":false,"disableViewplay":false,"isLeadVideo":false,"loop":false,"playerId":"HDNR3TkSj","stickyPlayerOff":false,"silentlyAutoplay":true,"videoId":"6226637173001","section":"Newsletters"},"children":[]}]},{"name":"article-body","config":{"mediaType":"video","premiumCategory":"P-Newsletter"},"children":[{"name":"gutenberg-content","config":{},"children":[{"name":"html","config":{"content":" u003cp>When you think about it, all our problems can be explained by George Washington’s teeth.u003c/p> u003cp>As we'll see, those famous chompers provide a surprising entrypoint to the cognitive impasse we seem to be facing around race, wealth, history, and power. People's u003ca href="https://fortune.com/2021/01/20/when-it-comes-to-the-capitol-riots-we-see-things-differently/">varied interpretations of the Capitol insurrection on January 6u003c/a> are only the most recent example, and you don't need to be a social scientist to see that facts alone rarely help resolve those tensions.u003c/p>u003cp>u003c!-- piano selector -->u003c/p>u003cdiv class="paywall"> u003cp>Here’s another case from recent history. In a u003ca href="https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/13/opinion/race-economy-inequality-civil-rights.html">new essay adapted from her booku003c/a>, “u003cem>The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together,u003c/em>” Heather McGhee, a former policy wonk at the progressive think tank Demos, recalled a time when the forgotten history of race and privilege made policy discussions particularly disheartening.u003c/p> u003cp>When faced with a deeply damaged economy in 2010, her policy peers — pushed toward a “grand bargain” by the Tea Party and Obama administration alike — rejected investments in favor of massive cuts to the kinds of government programs and services with a track record of lifting up the vulnerable middle class. To her, the dissonance was deafening:    u003c/p> u003cp>u003cem>On a call with a group of all-white economist colleagues, we discussed how to advise leaders in Washington against this disastrous retrenchment. I cleared my throat and asked: “So where should we make the point that all these programs were created without concern for their cost when the goal was to build a white middle class, and they paid for themselves in economic growth? Now these guys are trying to fundamentally renege on the deal for a future middle class that would be majority people of color?”u003c/em>u003c/p> u003cp>u003cem>Nobody answered. I checked to see if I was muted.u003c/em>u003c/p> u003cp>u003cem>Finally, one of the economists breached the awkward silence. “Well, sure, Heather. We know that — and you know that — but let’s not lead with our chin here,” he said. “We are trying to be persuasive.”u003c/em>u003c/p> u003cp>Trouble is, we can’t just stop believing what we believe, whether it’s about u003ca href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/12/23/tax-cuts-rich-trickle-down/">trickle-down economicsu003c/a>, or whether u003ca href="https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/how-we-fail-black-patients-pain">Black patients feel less painu003c/a>, or the u003ca href="https://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/immigrants-contribute-greatly-to-us-economy-despite-administrations">effect of immigration on the U.S. economyu003c/a>. Persuasion is just as hard: when we try to defend our own beliefs to others, people typically dig in their heels.u003c/p> u003cp>And here's the part about the teeth, via a delightful u003ca href="https://theoatmeal.com/comics/believe">explainer comic about beliefsu003c/a> drawn by Matthew Inman, the best-selling author, illustrator, and philosopher-artist behind u003ca href="https://theoatmeal.com/">The Oatmealu003c/a>. (He may be best known for his New York Times bestselling collection, u003cem>u003ca href="https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/how-to-tell-if-your-cat-is-plotting-to-kill-you-the-oatmeal-matthew-inman/1117501588">How To Tell If Your Cat is Plotting to Kill Youu003c/a>.) u003c/em>In this strip, Inman explores what’s known as the backfire effect, documented via an experiment that involved using an MRI machine. Bottom line: when we encounter facts counter to our deeply held beliefs, our brains feel it as a physical attack.u003c/p> u003cp>This is where Washington’s dentures come in handy.u003c/p> u003cp>If you’re an American with vaguely warm feelings toward the myth of George Washington — the “father of our country” who may or may not have u003ca href="https://www.newsweek.com/historians-correct-nikki-haley-after-george-washington-tweet-1569489">written the Constitutionu003c/a> — then you probably snickered when you first heard that his dentures were made of wood. Times were tough back then! He powered through. u003c/p> u003cp>But what if you learned a new fact: that a 2005 scan revealed that they were really made of a u003ca href="https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/wooden-teeth-myth/">bunch of materialsu003c/a>, like gold, lead, ivory, and horse teeth. Inman asks you to consider: “How did it u003cem>feel u003c/em>to learn this new fact about George Washington’s teeth?” Because it fundamentally changes little about your idea of him, “presumably your belief in the composition of George Washington’s teeth has changed with little or no friction.”u003c/p> u003cp>So, what happens when you learn that Washington also had a set of teeth that had been taken from the mouths of enslaved people? (He did.) That’s a little bit more work, isn’t it?u003c/p> u003cp>To become better able to have difficult conversations, we need to have a better handle on ourselves. “The point,” Inman says, “is to give you an emotional barometer of how you feel when presented with new ideas.” This barometer will help you understand the late-night compulsion to fight on the internet, the strong reaction to “cancel culture,” and tense holiday dinners, among many other things.u003c/p> u003cp>But it also gives you a tool to survive tough conversations with competing ideas. How to persuade other people? Harder to say. Maybe a comic will help.u003c/p> u003cp>Inman credits a three-part series on the u003ca href="https://youarenotsosmart.com/2017/01/13/yanss-093-the-neuroscience-of-changing-your-mind/%20">backfire effectu003c/a> from the excellent u003ca href="https://youarenotsosmart.com/">You Are Not So Smart Podcastu003c/a> as his source, and I recommend checking out the whole thing to learn  more. But his comic explainer is an emotionally accessible reminder that while it’s okay to be human, it’s better to evolve.u003c/p> u003cp>“I’m not here to take control of the wheel, or to tell you what to believe,” he writes. “I’m just here to tell you that it’s okay to stop. To listen. To change.”u003c/p> u003cp>u003cstrong>Ellen McGirtu003c/strong>u003cbr>u003ca rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://twitter.com/ellmcgirt?lang=en" target="_blank">@ellmcgirtu003c/a>u003cbr>u003ca href="mailto:ellen.mcgirt@fortune.com">Ellen.McGirt@fortune.comu003c/a>u003c/p> u003ch3>On pointu003c/h3>nu003cp>u003cstrong>Will the real estate industry ever address its role in the racial wealth gap?u003c/strong> This is the question asked by two analysts from Brookings, who note that while lenders and donors are abandoning Trump’s businesses and by extension, his political apparatus, they have yet to do the same with industry practices. “Lenders’ separation from Trump is a recognition that financial support enabled his anti-democratic behaviors,” writes “Brookings Fellows Tracy Hadden Loh and Andre M. Perry. However, the real estate industry has been complicit in white supremacy and racial discrimination long before Trump took office. Will the repudiation of Trump lead to a wider reckoning?”u003cbr />u003ca href="https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2021/02/11/the-real-estate-industry-is-divesting-from-donald-trump-but-divesting-from-white-supremacy-requires-more/">Brookingsu003c/a>u003c/p>nu003cp>u003cstrong>English football is at a breaking point u003c/strong>The online abuse — hate speech, slurs, threats— has gotten so bad that leaders in the sport have banded together to make it stop. In an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, officials from the English Football Association, the Premier League, Women’s Super League and the organizations representing players, managers and referees made it plain. “Your inaction has created the belief in the minds of the anonymous perpetrators that they are beyond reach,” and that their platforms are “havens for abuse.” Is a digital media boycott next?u003cbr />u003ca href="https://apnews.com/article/race-and-ethnicity-media-social-media-mark-zuckerberg-jack-dorsey-d5547ab21eb763eb62ee2d03d02c559e?">AP Newsu003c/a>u003c/p>nu003cp>u003cstrong>What we’ve learned from the year of the ‘Karen’ u003c/strong>Looking back, 2020 was the year that a persistent meme — that of an interfering white woman calling the police, or otherwise harassing people of color — became a window into America’s racist feminine Id. “We as a culture have adopted this stance that white women are more virtuous and not complicit in upholding racism in particular,” Apryl Williams, a professor of communication and media at the University of Michigan tells writer Julia Carrie Wong. “They just sort of go along with it, but they’re not conscious actors. The Karen meme says, no, they are conscious actors. These are deliberate actions. They are complicit. And I think that’s why it strikes a nerve with people.”u003cbr />u003ca href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/27/karen-race-white-women-black-americans-racism?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other">The Guardianu003c/a>u003c/p>nu003cp> u003c/p>nu003ch3>On Backgroundu003c/h3>nu003cp>u003cstrong>The U.S. has a more complex history than most people seem to realize u003c/strong>Historians, researchers, and writers have been working overtime to help provide the much-needed context to explain the moment we’re in and why it shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s worth reading and sharing widely, for at least one simple reason: they are the best answers to the “can we just move on?” argument. In this piece, Paul Musgrave makes it plain: We are doomed to relive racist resentment and violence because we never connect the dots. “As debates over how to understand Jan. 6, 2021 demonstrate, until recently most practicing American social scientists reflexively dismissed such events as incidental, regrettable exceptions to a democratic, rule-based system.”u003cbr />u003ca href="https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/01/18/political-scientists-turned-a-blind-eye-to-americas-democratic-failures/">Foreign Policyu003c/a>u003c/p>nu003cp>u003cstrong>A stolen slave auction plaque and an unexpected confession u003c/strong>People don’t read the plaques, until they do. This is the tale of how a small plaque embedded in the ground of Charlottesville’s central Court Square came to represent a bigger story about what gets remembered and who gets admired. The plaque commemorated the “slave auction block,” barely noticeable in the shadow of Confederate monuments. When it was stolen last year, people assumed it was white supremacist shenanigans. It was not. And then the hole in the brick pavement was filled with another, much better plaque. Enjoy.u003cbr />u003ca href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2020/02/10/charlottesville-slave-plaque-stolen/">Washington Postu003c/a>u003c/p>nu003cp>u003cstrong>Women of color are tired y’all. Can you guess why? u003c/strong>Sayu Bhojwani, a writer and advocate, is unflinching in her answer. “Women of color leaders are guarding a dirty little secret — our work is eroding our mental, physical and emotional health,” she begins. “We are slowly wrecking ourselves as we try to transform political organizations, foundations, media rooms, nonprofits, the publishing industry.”  And it’s just getting worse. She explores our own complicity, which I admit, was painful. But it ends in a good place. “But we can’t keep playing a game in which the rules are rigged against us,” she says. “Instead, we must commit to valuing ourselves and our time in ways that feel uncomfortable at first but can lead to a shift in culture more generally…”u003cbr />u003ca href="https://medium.com/@SayuBhojwani/lets-get-real-about-why-women-of-color-are-so-tired-fe3966f1b510">Mediumu003c/a>u003c/p>nu003cp>u003cstrong>The marshmallow test gets roasted u003c/strong>The marshmallow test was an important piece of social science research in the 1960s, believed to measure the ability to delay gratification and predict future success. It was simple: Place a marshmallow in front of a child and instruct her that she is free to eat that one now, but if she waits fifteen minutes, she can have two. The kids who can manage to hold out were once believed to have brighter futures. Turns out the original study was based on only 90 kids, enrolled in a preschool on the Stanford campus – and a follow-up showed that the marshmallow gobblers did no worse long term. A more recent study expanded the cohort to 900 more economically diverse kids, and a new interpretation emerged: For kids from poorer homes, eating the marshmallow in front of them may have been the smart choice.u003cbr />u003ca href="https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/06/marshmallow-test/561779/">The Atlanticu003c/a>u003c/p>nu003cp> u003c/p>nu003cp>u003cem>raceAhead is edited by David Z. Morrisu003c/em>u003c/p>nu003ch3>Today’s mood boardu003c/h3>nu003cp>u003ca href="https://content.fortune.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/rocky-scott.jpg?w=810" loading="lazy">u003cimg class="size-full wp-image-2954466 aligncenter" src="https://content.fortune.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/rocky-scott.jpg?w=810" loading="lazy" alt="" width="761" height="805" />u003c/a>u003c/p>nu003cp>Narrator: It was not, in fact, New York’s A$AP Rocky watching the Houston Rockets from courtside. Some investigators considered the u003ca href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astroworld_(album)">Astro World capu003c/a> a clue to this u003ca href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/13/arts/music/travis-scott-astroworld-billboard-no-1.html">completely unknownu003c/a> mystery man’s u003ca href="https://www.instagram.com/travisscott/">true identityu003c/a>, but perhaps we’ll never know.u003c/p>nu003c/div>n"},"children":[]}]}]},{"name":"dianomi","config":{"type":"footer"},"children":[]}]}]}]}},"componentData":{},"error":null,"loading":false,"player":{"currentTime":0,"duration":0,"loading":false,"playing":false,"seek":0,"src":"","visible":false,"volume":0.5},"route":{"status":200,"redirectTo":"","redirectStatus":0,"action":"PUSH","pathname":"/2021/02/16/what-george-washingtons-teeth-can-teach-us-about-bias/","search":"?","hash":""},"visible":{"search":false,"primaryNav":false,"freestar":false,"adminBar":false},"contactForm":{"submitting":false,"submitted":false,"failed":false,"validation":{},"redirect":""},"user":{"isLoggedIn":false,"accessLevel":null}}; ]]> response.json()) .then(function (data) { signPackage = data; wx.config(data); wx.ready(function () { wx.updateTimelineShareData({ title: title, link: url, imgUrl: img, success: function () {}, cancel: function () {} }); wx.updateAppMessageShareData({ title: title, desc: desc, link: url, imgUrl: img, success: function () {}, cancel: function () {} }); wx.error(function (res) { //location.href = g_url; }); }); }) } }; script.src = "https://res.wx.qq.com/open/js/jweixin-1.6.0.js"; document.head.appendChild(script); } ]]> You need to enable JavaScript to view this site.
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