Is Racism an Evolutionary Construct? – Pt. 1 with Pastor Miles McPherson

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

Is it possible to act in a racially offensive way, but not be a racist? In the first episode of a 5-part series on racism and the brain, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen are joined by former NFL star-turned pastor Miles McPherson for an engaging discussion on why we discriminate, and what we can do to change the way we think about others.


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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warriors 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 less, ADHD and addictions.

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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome everyone. We are so excited. We have our friend, Pastor Miles McPherson, here and he's the author of the brand new book called, "The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation."

Tana Amen: Very excited about it.

Dr Daniel Amen: We call this week "Racism and the Brain." Let me tell you a little bit about Pastor McPherson, he was born in Brooklyn, New York, the second oldest of five children. Raised on Long Island. He was a professional football player, in fact that's how we met, he's part of our NFL study. He went to the University of New Haven, majored in engineering. That's actually [crosstalk 00:01:38] and very unusual for a football player.

Pastor Miles McPherson: The key thing is major not graduate.

Dr Daniel Amen: Achieved all-American honors in football, drafted into the NFL, strong athletics run in his family. His brother, Don McPherson, was the Heisman Trophy runner up in 1987, playing in the NFL for four years, was part of the San Diego Chargers which, my goodness, I've seen so many Chargers who had drug addiction problems. He developed an addiction to cocaine that put him into a tailspin.

After a second season in the NFL, after a weeklong drug binge, he called out to Jesus Christ, accepted him and stopped doing drugs in one day. I used to work with Teen Challenge, that was part of my journey back to the Lord was working with them. I get that. I've heard that.

He worked as a youth pastor for Horizon Christian Fellowship in San Diego, enrolled in Azusa Pacific University, got his masters of divinity degree. And in 2000, he felt called by God to start the Rock Church in San Diego, which according to Outreach Magazine, has been consistently one of the nation's fastest growing and largest churches with nearly 15,000 people attending one of the Rock's 21 Sunday services, which I got to speak at a few weeks ago. I was so excited. In addition it streamed online, microsite, you have to talk to us about microsites, so interesting, radio and TV. He's done so many other things but he's the author of this very important new book called "The Third Option." So welcome to the Brain Warriors Way podcast.

Tana Amen: Yes, interesting bio.

Pastor Miles McPherson: I'm tired listening to that.

Tana Amen: No, and I like it because you relate to our audience in so many different ways. The NFL and coming and joining our study, the addiction issues and now the racial issues. I think that that's amazing. We can address things that you understand.

Pastor Miles McPherson: I'm the guinea pig for everything, yeah. I've been there, done that.

Tana Amen: That's great.

Dr Daniel Amen: So before we get into "The Third Option," I want to start by talking about your thoughts on how we got this way. Why are we racially, politically divided in such a nasty way?

Tana Amen: Yeah, it's terrible.

Pastor Miles McPherson: Our sinful nature is all about me and one of the best ways and most common, easiest ways to divide is how we look. People who look like me I feel like I have something in common. And I'm going back to way before slavery in this country, just in general.

Tana Amen: Yeah, almost biology. It's just a-

Pastor Miles McPherson: We're selfish. People like me are better than people like you. I think at the root of it, when we get into this book, and we think about what we feel about people like me and people not like me, we divide based on that. I think at the root of it we can trace it back to that and part of our sinful nature.

Tana Amen: Very interesting.

Dr Daniel Amen: And people who are not like me scare me.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: And so there's probably something in our genes that say, "Watch out, be careful."

Pastor Miles McPherson: Yeah, you could speak to the genetic part way better than me but exactly, the people … I write this in the book about how we group … We're all part of groups. And the group that I'm part of, my N group, those are people like me that I understand very well, I'm accustomed to them, I'm comfortable with them.

Tana Amen: Yeah, and it's interesting, I actually did … I wrote about part of that in one of the books I wrote. We are hardwired to do that, to group like that, for safety reasons. So before we lived in a society that was civilized that was our survival. Survival meant you grouped, you had to be part of a group, and if you were part of that group it meant other groups were automatically your enemy.

Pastor Miles McPherson: And you didn't know about that group so you had anecdotal information, what you saw on the television or one experience, and then you apply all that to that whole group. And then you label them. Now that's who they are, they're in that corner, I'm in this corner. It's us versus them mentality, which is what we see today. The third option is that we honor what we have in common and we'll get to that later.

Tana Amen: See I love this because I have said this so many times and I ended up feeling really stupid with one of my friends, a dear friend of mine who is African American. And I was like, "I don't get it. We're all Americans first. I'm having a hard time. It can't be this bad still in this day and age." She got a little irritated with me, and I'm like, "Yeah, that was probably a really ignorant thing to say. I have no business commenting on how bad it is in certain neighborhoods because I've got no idea." But to many of us it feels like because where we live is safe and clean and whatever we can't imagine that it still goes on because we wouldn't do it.

Pastor Miles McPherson: Yes or you don't realize what you do. I think [crosstalk 00:06:55]

Tana Amen: I like that.

Pastor Miles McPherson: That's the other thing. One of the big ahas in this whole book was getting people to accept that they can be racially offensive without being a racist.

Tana Amen: Everyone can.

Pastor Miles McPherson: Without being a racist.

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Pastor Miles McPherson: So because people, what they associate being racially offensive to being a racist, then they deny that they could ever be offensive. So therefore they deny they could ever be wrong, therefore they deny that what you're saying is bothering you doesn't exist. It's a domino effect.

Tana Amen: I like that.

Pastor Miles McPherson: But if I can be racially offensive without being a racist, in other words I may offend you and it may not be me it may be you.

Tana Amen: Right.

Pastor Miles McPherson: Or I may be saying something that I really sincerely want to help-

Tana Amen: But you don't realize.

Pastor Miles McPherson: Like saying I don't see color. I know people mean well when they say that but they shouldn't say it.

Tana Amen: It's silly.

Pastor Miles McPherson: It's silly.

Tana Amen: Have you been to the Museum of Tolerance in LA? It's fantastic. I went to a Christian College and they took us as part of our nursing education, because I'm a nurse from Loma Linda. And they took us there and it is an amazing museum. I've never seen a Holocaust museum quite like it. So it's very different. It was done in part by Leventhal but it was also done by Steven Spielberg, so it's very interactive.

But there's one part where there's two signs and you're walking through and it says, "People who do not discriminate in this line, people who do discriminate in this line." Everyone tries to go through … Most people try to go through the other side, the other door won't open. It's locked. And I was like … It was such a huge wakeup call.

Pastor Miles McPherson: Wow.

Tana Amen: Because it makes you really stop and go, "Wait, do I do that?" I discriminate every day against people who I think hurt children but the minute you do that it can spread.

Dr Daniel Amen: What was your experience growing up?

Pastor Miles McPherson: My grandmother is white, my other grandmother is half-Chinese and black. My grandfathers are black.

Tana Amen: So you've got all bases covered. [crosstalk 00:08:49]

Pastor Miles McPherson: I'm all things to all people. I grew up in a black neighborhood and I went to school in a white neighborhood for the first 8 years of my schooling, so I got called all the names in the white neighborhood because I was black, but I got called names in my neighborhood because I wasn't black enough. So I was a no man's land growing up. And that was my experience is I was black but to some I wasn't black enough. Even still to this day I get joked about that. I got called all the names, n-words and white boy and this and that. That was my experience.

Tana Amen: So you really felt it from both ends.

Pastor Miles McPherson: I got it from both ends even though I am black and I identify black and my best friends and family was black, but I had a white grandmother. And what was interesting about my grandmother is that at home there's all these light-skinned brown people and this white lady and we never knew where she … We never knew as kids where she came from. We didn't know her family because when she married my grandfather-

Tana Amen: They disowned her.

Pastor Miles McPherson: They disowned her and they live 15 minutes away. We found out later.

Tana Amen: That's crazy.

Pastor Miles McPherson: So they sent her from Jamaica West Indies where she grew up and she actually knew my other grandmother as a kid, they sent her to Jamaica, Queens, so she wouldn't marry a black Jamaican. And in Jamaica, Queens, she met a black Jamaican in Jamaica, Queens, and married my grandfather. I grew up knowing people on both sides of the street, which the white neighborhood was on the other side of Ocean Avenue, and they were great kids and I had great friends in both neighborhoods. And they talked about each other but I knew both of them.

Tana Amen: Isn't that interesting?

Pastor Miles McPherson: I said, "No, what you're saying about them is not right. You just know a little bit of information," because the white kids never came into my neighborhood. And my friends never went into that neighborhood. And it was right across the street. But I went back and forth every day from first to eighth grade going to school. But my friends in the white neighborhood would never come to my house.

Tana Amen: That's fascinating.

Dr Daniel Amen: When you were in the NFL what was your experience with racism?

Pastor Miles McPherson: Certain positions, and it's changed over the years, had a stereotype of … White players would play quarterback and there was very few quarterbacks growing up. My brother was a Heisman runner up. My brother was the number one rated passer in college, but he was drafted in the fifth round and there were a lot of stereotypes about he couldn't pass but he was the number one passer in the nation. He was the Heisman runner up. It's changed dramatically. Guys that now are getting opportunities because of guys like him, blazed a trail for him.

I was a safety in the NFL and safeties, when I was growing up, there were more white guys playing safety. We were told things like the athletes go in the corner and the smart guys go at safety, I was told that. And so that was very subtle but you had most of the coaches were white and so, not that they were racist at all but when I was told that, as a stereotype, you're going to go over here because we have the smart guys that play this position. Now that's changed. You got a higher degree of black players playing those positions, quarterback, safety as well. That was probably, and what my brother went through, was the biggest glaring thing that was racist to me that I experienced.

Tana Amen: So interesting. So I have a niece, she is half-Hispanic but she looks Hispanic. If you saw her, she is experiencing what you just described. She moved down here and the school she goes to has a lot of Hispanic kids and she thought she was going to feel comfortable there. And they make fun of her and they don't really bring her into their fold and they think she's a white girl. I'm like, "Your name is Casianos." So confused. She speaks Spanish. But they won't accept her. And so it's just an interesting odd thing when you see this happen.

Pastor Miles McPherson: Well we decide what does like me look like and what does like me sound like and what does like me do. Once we decide those barriers then we exclude everyone else.

Dr Daniel Amen: And exclusion is really going to hell because hell, according to some theologians, is not a burning lake, it's separation from God and separation from your community because when you become separated from your community your life is at risk. That exclusion is so painful, as Elize, her niece has experienced.

Tana Amen: Right, and the white kids don't want her in their group either. Now they're accepting her because she's really smart but they're bringing her in based on her IQ and genetics and whatever. Yet there's a very funny other thing, and this probably goes along to what you said earlier, you may not mean it in a negative way but it comes across that way.

So my daughter went to a school where there were very few African American or black kids. And when they came in they were such a novelty everybody wanted to be their friend. My daughter, it actually irritated her, she's like, "Why do you do this thing where you need a token black friend? I'm so confused. Do you know that person?" And it would bother her. So her friends would call her racist and she's like, "No, I think they're racist." In her mind that felt racist to her. What are your thoughts on that?

Pastor Miles McPherson: I was walking through a school once, an inner city school, to do an assembly and it was black and Hispanic, inner city of Philly, and a white youth pastor was walking with me and he said, "How do I act?"

And I said, "Number one, you can't act good enough to fool anybody."

Tana Amen: Right, so don't try.

Pastor Miles McPherson: Don't try, and number two, if you're just yourself everything will be fine. Even if you're goofy. So in situations like that every individual has to, in their heart, sincerely say, "I really want to get to know you," or "I really respect you."

Tana Amen: Right.

Pastor Miles McPherson: And a lot of times we want to judge why someone is doing something but sometimes people have a genuine interest in someone and so it's okay, sometimes people have a manipulative underlying intent, it's hard to determine that. Every individual case is so different.

Tana Amen: Yeah, it was an interesting thing.

Dr Daniel Amen: So racism is common. It's-

Tana Amen: I grew up with it.

Dr Daniel Amen: It's painful.

Tana Amen: And it was ugly.

Dr Daniel Amen: It is pervasive. What do you do about it? Stay with us. We're going to talk about the third option.

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