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10. In-group and out-of-group

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Hey everyone, today is Monday, November 16th 2020 . This month is Native American Heritage Month. And since we were just talking about social categories and the Vice President we want to take a moment to think about Vice President Charles Curtis. Why? Because he was the first person of Native American ancestry to be elected to the executive level of Vice President. In fact, he was part of the Kaw nation which shared the land that at the time the United States considered the Territory of Kansas. 

Charles Curtis was born on January 25, 1860. He worked very hard to become an attorney and eventually Republican politician. He served as the 31st vice president of the United States from 1929 to 1933 becoming the first minority to hold the office and Senate Majority Leader from 1924 to 1929.He is the highest-ranking enrolled Native American ever to serve in the federal government.

Curtis was proud of his Native American Heritage, but he was not without controversy as he openly pushed legislation that worked to force assimilation of Native American people with European-American culture. Though he would say that it was in effort to ensure the survival of Native American people, his critics would recognize that it also hurt the expression of Native Culture. 

People are complicated. We might not always recognize this, but it is true. And that is something we are going to talk about today. Complicated people verses evil people. You’ll want to hear this because we’re going to really dish on the evil and wicked and we’re really going to praise the ones whose God’s favor shines upon constantly. 

(start conversation)

Wait, that doesn’t sound like things we should do in a public school podcast.

Oh my friend, that’s where you’re wrong, and clearly evil. See you don’t understand how this works. But I do, so that makes me, and all the people like me, or the people that are in my “in-group” special, and that makes you, and all the people like you, who are out-of-my group – evil. 

You are not right man. How can anyone live a healthy life thinking like that?

(end conversation)

Great question? There are many sides to this, but the key is to understand two things, the first is that it is natural for people to have a fondness for others they identify as in their “in-group”. This could most easily be seen when looking at the bonds people can share over sport teams, bands, movies, books, art, schools, clubs, and especially politics. 

From research conducted by psychology departments at several universities, including Sheffield and Delaware and Exeter, Go insert mascot name here:

Adults are sensitive to the physical differences that define ethnic groups. However, the age at which we become sensitive to ethnic differences is currently unclear. Our study aimed to clarify this by testing newborns and young infants for sensitivity to ethnicity using a visual preference (VP) paradigm. While newborn infants demonstrated no spontaneous preference for faces from either their own- or other-ethnic groups, 3-month-old infants demonstrated a significant preference for faces from their own-ethnic group.

So this means that research is showing that humans, as young as 3-month-old babies start to show a preference for faces they identify as a part of their in-group. 

A person is part of many “in-groups" because an “in-group” can be defined by a lot of different categories. For example, gender is a very large category. If you present in the world as male and identify as male, you may share in-group experiences with others who present in the world as male and identify as male. 

“Students who go to our school” is also a category but a much smaller category. If you go to our school you share an “in group” experience with this category. But please, know, just because you share an in-group experience does not mean you share a sense of belonging. That is actually something else that we will talk about later, but for right now, we are just talking about in-group categories people may be placed in. 

Right, so here is a really important concept to hold. You can share in-group with so many categories that sometimes they overlap or intersect. For example, I present and identify as male and I go to this school, I am included in both of the in-groups we’ve mentioned. 

Right and I go to this school so we share that in-group but I present and identify as female so now we do not share that group. In fact you are not in my in-group of female, so again, you are evil and I am blessed. 

That may sound really silly when we are talking about being special and being evil, but sadly, that is a way that preference is often weaponized. Again, this comes back to what we talked about before, in understanding competition for resources. When people are made to believe that there are limited resources, then they can easily be convinced that the people out-of-group must be stopped from getting the resources so that the people in their in-group can have them. 

This has been happening in our nation for many, many years. Since it’s Native American Heritage Month Let’s go back to consider the Removal Act of 1840.  Here is a crash course in this part of American History. In the 1830s Native American Tribes were living on the lands in the Southeastern Part of the United States, places we call Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana. 

People who identified as White and of European ancestry decided that they would like to have that land. So, President Andrew Jackson made it happen by using the United States laws and army to force all the Native Americans from those lands to East of the Mississippi in what was then called Indian Territory, and is now called Oklahoma.  And just please, take a minute to use your SEL skills of empathy to consider how you would feel about that if being Native American is part of your family story. 

So how does this apply to our in-group categories? Well one way is to see that is, understanding what it would take to steal from someone. It’s hard to get into the mind of another person or people but it’s not hard to understand that in order to treat someone badly you certainly have to see them as deserving it in someway. 

One way to do that is to “demonize” them. That is to characterize them as evil or wicked or different enough to deserve your punishment. And the first way to do that is to draw a hard line between them and their group and you and your in-group. 

Human history is full of examples of this. But you don’t really need to look into history. You can look at what is going on in our nation right this second. 

Many of the arguments made during this election involved the demonizing of the other party. Framing the other party not has having different ideas but as if they would destroy the very foundation of the nation. And, as if that isn’t bad enough, the current president, who is choosing to display behaviors that us middle schoolers would get a phone call home for displaying if we lost an election, is still trying to say that about the majority of our nation who, with their votes said, they don’t agree with him. 

So what can you do when you’re caught in an in-group good, out-of-group bad category fight? Well, if you need to keep fighting, keep fighting. But, when it’s time to be done fighting, you need to change the category. 

That’s right, you can change the category, it’s that simple. If you are looking across our country right now and you are seeing red-good, blue-bad or blue good red bad, and you want to stop that, just change the category. Recognize that you could start to think of the people you don’t agree with not as blue or red but as fellow citizens. 

That won’t change their beliefs or suddenly make what they are saying sound good. But it will change the in-group out-of-group pain that may be present. You can realize we are all part of the same group, that is Americans. Americans who disagree on policies. Americans who hold different strategies on how to make life better. That is not to suggest that evil doesn’t exist, it does for sure. Just be sure to reserve the label of evil for actual evil and not a disagreement with someone. 

The point is, you can  start to recognize that the way we put people into and out of groups will shape the way we interact with them and with ourselves. And we’ll talk about that more next time. Until then, may your thoughts and feelings be with you. 

Referenced in the ad-lib intro is a video about concession.

Here’s the video about the art of concession

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