Brain Science & Racism: Is Racism Genetically Inherited? – Pt. 3 with Pastor Miles McPherson

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Many of us classify racists as those with deep unhappiness and hatred in their hearts, but could it possibly be that some of us are more wired for racist thoughts and behavior than others? The science may surprise you. In the third episode of “Racism and the Brain,” Dr. Daniel Amen, Tana Amen, and pastor Miles McPherson discuss the role brain science and genetics play in racism.


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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast, I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain, to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD and addictions.

Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain spec imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information visit

Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.

Dr Daniel Amen: All right, welcome back. So, we're continuing with racism in the brain, and this podcast is gonna be specifically about the brain and it's role in racism. So a long time ago I learned when I was looking at scans, is that there're actually certain patterns in the brain that go with people who are rigid, who are inflexible. Where if things don't go their way they get upset, and then as we saw people who were clearly racists, we're like, oh my goodness there's a pattern in the brain for this.

It's actually very similar to people who have OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder-

Tana Amen: Interesting.

Dr Daniel Amen: Where, they don't check blocks, but they get a thought in their head, it has to be this way, and anything that's not this way, they can't stand it. They get upset by it. So I saw it with people who are racists-

Tana Amen: Well, politics. If you get stuck on-

Dr Daniel Amen: We haven't talked about politics, but we absolutely should in this because we are at such a political divide, where if you really like what's going on in the White House and you like say it, you get attacked. If you don't like what's going on in the White House and you say it, other people attack you.

I mean the level of hostility is unlike anything I've ever seen. But there's a brain pattern that goes with it, plus with racism, you'll also ... and I think you talk about it in the book, it goes from me to you to we. Well what is we, it's empathy, it's I can relate to your experience, I can think about your experience, I can resonate with your experience. That's a brain function, it's the front third of your brain, it's called the pre-frontal cortex. Largest in humans in any animal by far. Its 30% of the human brain, 11% of the chimpanzee brain, 7% of your dog's brain, 3% of your cat's brain.

Tana Amen: That just made a lot of sense.

Dr Daniel Amen: It's the part of us that makes us human, and the better that thing functions, the more connected you are, not just with your own tribe, but with other tribes as well. So when your brains' not right, you are not right, so racism goes up.

But you also see it in the church, given that you're a pastor. It's like why are there so many churches, because people get stuck on my way, my way. If it's not my way, then I can't stand it and I have to break off.

Tana Amen: You mentioned a really interesting word too, it'll be interesting to hear your perspective on this, tribe. Because like I said before, before civilization that's sort of how we survived. So trying to integrate tribes, if you think of it from that perspective, we separate, my curiosity is why we still do it, even though we know we should, we don't know.

I shouldn't say we should, but it feels like we should be more evolved right, it feels like we should be more focused on character, and yet we still do the tribal thing. And [crosstalk 00:04:26]

Dr Daniel Amen: But when tribes combine, they become more powerful.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: Right, they actually become safer when they combine.

Tana Amen: But they often have a hard time because of cultural differences too, there are differences in how they see things.

Pastor Miles McPherson: Yeah, I have a chapter in here about culture, and usually we identify differences in culture for reasons to be different and separate. But all cultures are doing kind of the same thing, just a little different. Like every culture has food.

Tana Amen: Right.

Pastor Miles McPherson: Every culture has weddings [crosstalk 00:04:58]

Tana Amen: They want their children to be safe.

Pastor Miles McPherson: They want their children to be safe, they all wanna pursue a job and a career and people do it differently. Instead of saying mine's better than yours, what can I learn from your culture. It was a guy I wrote about in here, he a six foot three white guy, and he had a sales route in low income minority neighborhoods. His co-worker said, don't go, it's too dangerous.

He said, well that's my route. So he started going and every time he would get into a house, they wouldn't speak english, or it was all black and he was out of place. He would always find something that they had in common.

Tana Amen: That's smart.

Pastor Miles McPherson: He'd look for a picture of maybe a kid playing baseball or he'd ask for a glass of water.

Tana Amen: That's brilliant.

Pastor Miles McPherson: And all of a sudden they were united, and he sold insurance, but he made friends because we're all trying to do the same thing. So it's all about how do we honor, this book is how can I honor your culture, you, the way you do things, and how can that make us stronger together.

Tana Amen: I was watching one of the political fights one day, which makes me crazy, I just turn the news off most of the time. But it made me step back and go, wait underneath it all, don't we mostly want the same things, yes we have some different values. But underneath like the deepest you can go, we want safety, we want security, we want our kids to do well, we want you know, we want to be happy, right, underneath everything. But how people think that they should get there seems so radically different.

Dr Daniel Amen: There's a wild card to this that nobody talks about, and that's our genes and what experience does to our genes. So we know that children of the Holocaust, they actually have more problems with depression, with fear, with anxiety disorders, even though they didn't experience.

There's this great study out of Emory where they took mice, and they made them afraid of the scent of cherry blossoms. So they shocked them every time the scent of cherry blossoms was in the air and it was classical conditioning like Pavlov's dogs.

But what the researchers found, that the babies of the mice that had been shocked were afraid of the scent of cherry blossoms. Their grandbabies were afraid of the scent of cherry blossoms.

Tana Amen: That's fascinating.

Dr Daniel Amen: And so, what happens in my grandparents life actually affects me, and I have no idea ... so if you'd been robbed, raped, in a fire, that actually may have generational consequences. So I tell my patients, it's important that we deal with whatever's yours, but if it's not yours to try to understand that as well, and begin to get you well because that will affect your babies and your grandbabies. We have a new granddaughter, her name is Haven, she's gorgeous.

Pastor Miles McPherson: Of course.

Tana Amen: See baby can do anything, we think they're amazing.

Pastor Miles McPherson: Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: But when Haven was born and when your daughter was born, little girls are born with all of the eggs they'll ever have.

Pastor Miles McPherson: It's amazing.

Dr Daniel Amen: And they're habits throughout their life turn on or off certain genes that make illness more or less likely in their babies and their grandbabies. So you see how important it is to get your health habits, your brain habits right, because it's not about you. It's literally about generations of you.

Pastor Miles McPherson: Yeah, one of the things I write about in this book, the third option is about our social narrative, and all about social narrative, the story that defines how we see the world. You're adding a whole nother layer of the genetic social narrative, because it's one thing to grow up with your dad saying things and your friends saying things, and the media telling you things.

Tana Amen: That you input directly.

Pastor Miles McPherson: And that's the only information that you have. Then you have genetic disposition to believe those things, and now you're really programmed to believe that this is the only way it is. This is a deprogramming, this book is part of a deprogramming process and tool so people can start to rethink how they see themselves and how they see other people and how they treat other people.

Dr Daniel Amen: Well think of the children growing up today in Syria. With the ISIS crazies, the Americans involved, the Russians involved, the dictator, the chronic fear and hatred that is changing their genes, which is going to change generations. That's why, why can't we solve the Palestinian Israeli thing because it's baked into their genes.

Unless we really work hard to give the people the emotional, financial, physical support, we're not gonna solve this.

Tana Amen: If we bring that closer to home, we've got people living in neighborhoods, right. I had this conversation actually with my niece. We were talking about, she has had a very chaotic crazy life growing up, so it's been really hard, harder than most that I've dealt with.

We were talking about it, and she like mentioned that when she sees a police officer, she instantly feels fear, and I'm like why. I asked her why, and she couldn't sort of identify it, and finally she said because my dad's been arrested so many times, I've been in the back of police cars and to be whenever I see a police officer-

I'm like, but have they ever done anything to you? And she was like no. I'm like, but what was your dad doing when he got arrested, and she finally was able to sort of separate it and go, because I don't want her to feel like a victim, I want her to sort of take responsibility.

So we were able to talk about it. She was like, oh my dad [crosstalk 00:10:42] was regularly breaking the law.

Dr Daniel Amen: But you see how that was programmed into her mind.

Tana Amen: But she was programmed the police are bad, don't ever say anything, never tell the truth and never ask for help, that's what she was told, actually told growing up. That's not the indirect message, that's what she was told.

So, it's funny, I'm like, that's so funny, when I see a police officer I actually feel like, okay, everything's gonna be okay. But a lot of it has to do with where you were raised and how you were raised.

When you talk about the issues in Syria, and I think about bringing that closer to home. We have people in neighborhoods who are terrified of the law because it has not served them in whatever way. So how do you fix that because that's carrying on generation as well.

Dr Daniel Amen: That's what we wanna talk about, coming up is what to do, what can you do as an individual to combat racism in yourself and in your community.

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Dr Daniel Amen: Stay with us.

Tana Amen: 'Cause we're gonna talk about communities and bringing them together.

Dr Daniel Amen: Thank you for listening to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. Go to iTunes and leave a review, and you'll automatically be entered into a drawing to get a free signed copy of the Brain Warrior's Way, and the Brain Warrior's Way Cookbook we give away every month.