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Is Racism A Choice?

Bandura’s social learning theory has the potential for weakness. One weakness is that the social learning theory rejects one’s ability to choose how to behave. If humans learn nearly everything by observation, like Funder (2019) mentions, then there is not a concept of self. In my second weakness, Bandura identified that a single self runs the show underneath the superficial self (Funder, 2019). If this is true, then where did the single subconscious “self” learn how to behave. The theory cannot properly explain the subconscious “self” without discrediting the social learning theory.

So what is social learning theory and how does it influence racism?

As Funder (2019) explains, locus of control states that this concept centered on becoming more aware of how your actions influence outcomes. With this definition, the theory can explain personality as an emulated behavior through observation of others. Basically, you learn your personality from someone else. Norman and Ford (2015) mention that adolescents with favorable attitudes towards substance use and parents who condone it uses substances. They may have learned to find substance abuse favorable through observational. However, that does not explain how their personality finds substance abuse to be favorable. But, we can find evidence that a choice to be racial bias, prejudice, or discriminatory is a learned behavior mixed with choice. If a child grows to be more favorable of substance abuse because of the actions of a parent, this same analogy can be applied to racism.

Choosing not to choose is racist.

Unlike Bandura, Fromm’s theory of personality uses a group of adjectives to describe specific personalities. Fromm’s theory does not contradict the concept of choice or decision-making. Sartre would have pointed out that choosing not to choose is a choice (Funder, 2019). Observational learning has shaped our personality from the mold that was already present. Learning requires comprehension. Kohler’s Clever Chimps experiment shows that the chimps gained insight from learning that their behavior was rewarded with a treat. If they were punished, they probably would have developed a phobia of bananas.

What does phobia of bananas have to do with racism?

If children were punished or reprimanded for racist behavior, they would develop a fear of racist behavior. Likewise, if children are taught to stand up to racism, they wouldn't choose not do something. Ultimately, the only non racist behavior is to change a racist environment. Not acting is choosing to support it. We need to have an DEI program in the education system to combat the observational learning of racism in the home setting. Not having an DEI program in the k-12 education setting is choosing no to choose. It is pro-systemic racism.


Funder, D.C. (2019) The Personality Puzzle (8th). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company

Norman, L. B., & Ford, J. A. (2015). Adolescent ecstasy use: A test of social bonds and social learning theory. Deviant Behavior, 36(7), 527–538.

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