Does Your Body Language Express Racism?

A study from the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine found that doctors often used the same words when speaking to their black and white patients, although there were striking differences in their body language. When a white patient displayed sings of pain and plummeting vital signs, doctors would stand by the right of their bedside and touch them empathetically. When black patients experienced the same symptoms, doctors did not exhibit the same sympathy in terms of their proximity, eye contact, and touch.

This evidence suggests that our body language may be a window into our implicit racial bias. It gives clout to the claims I have heard that someone, “seems racist.” We do not have to explicitly state an opinion of white supremacy to communicate racist thoughts or make people feel excluded. There are thousands of messages we express daily that and nonverbal.  Joe Navarro, author of Clues to Deceit posits that there are, “there are over 215 behaviors associated with psychological discomfort and most of those are not in the face.”

The topic of body language presents particular difficulties in a nation where we struggle to directly address racial tension. There are Americans who deny white privilege and claim that they are held to unfair standards with expectations to be politically correct. It is especially get an individual with this mindset to buy into the subtleties of body language. The truth is that we can control our words and repeat empty euphemisms such as, “I don’t see race,” but unless we think critically about mindsets, our body positioning and facial expressions will rapidly reveal our true not-so-colorblindness.

Witness this interview between Tomi Lahren and Jazz Jennings. For those who don’t know her, Tomi is problematic conservative talk show host who routinely minimizes minority groups. Please note, this conversations centers around race and Jazz Jennings is a white woman, so this is not an illustrative example of racist body language, but generally prejudiced and transphobic. I chose it because I believe that this interview is a provocative example of exclusionary and contemptuous body language.

This is what I caught:

  • The difference between Tomi’s greeting of the cisgender woman and Jazz
  • Her eyebrow raise at 3:10 when Jazz asserts that she was “born this way”
  • She purses her lips when Jazz asks her how Tomi would feel if she was uncomfortable in her own body
  • She raises her eyebrow again at 3:45, to express skepticism or perhaps doubt
  • Tomi shakes her head at Jazz at 5:01 when Jazz says she doesn’t want to use the men’s restroom
  • This was not an example of body language but where in the world was Tomi going with the pervert comment?
  •  When Tomi shakes Jazz’s hand, her body is stiff, leaning back and not matching the warmness of her contrived, “truly, truly.”

Now it’s your turn. What differences do you notice in these two interviews of resident white feminist Taylor Swift? Think about the subtle changes in posture, tone, facial expressions, and proximity.


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