The Exclusion Principle
Coming Face to Face with Racism
Racism demeans both the hated and the hater, because racists, in denying full humanity to others, fail the humanity in themselves.
- Timothy Findley
by Nicholas Rossiter
Beauty may bring rich rewards in a society obsessed with youth and sex, but there's an uglier side to our instinct to judge by appearances. Neuroscientists have published new research that suggests we are not only deeply affected by a face, we are inherently racist in our perceptions, too.
Had the research been available 20 years ago, it would have had deep significance for a young black man, Ronald Cotton, who wrongly spent 11 years in a North Carolina jail after being convicted of raping a white woman, Jennifer Cannino, before being released in 1995. The police described her as a first class witness. She helped them put together an identikit of her attacker and then picked him out of a lineup. After his conviction, she tried to get on with her life. Then DNA tests revealed the real rapist, who was coincidentally serving time for another offence in the same prison.
"Race must have been an important factor" in her error, she admits.
According to the research, Canino's mistake could be down to the simple fact that she grew up in a white neighbourhood with little exposure to different ethnic faces. It suggests the makeup of a person's face triggers an automatic response over which we have little control. And for the first time scientists have discovered the mere act of looking at the face of someone from a different race causes changes in the brain and our reactions may be unconscious; the old cliche that certain races "all look the same" is for the first time supported by science.
At New York University, Dr Elizabeth Phelps has been investigating the "startle response" (or rapid eye blinks) a universal response to something alarming. Volunteers were wired up with electrodes around their eyes to measure how strongly they were preparing to blink when looking at a range of faces from different ethnic backgrounds. Her results gave a clear indication that people have a tendency to fear unfamiliar faces, particularly from different ethnic groups.
Deciding how you feel about that face occurs in the amygdala, a part of the brain that behaves like a spotlight. "It's involved in grasping that something is emotionally significant," explains Phelps.
Depending on whether you're looking at the face of your friend or enemy, your boss or your lover, an emotional response is triggered which can be measured. This emotional response is critical because it prepares you for how to behave toward that person. If seeing a face sparks a rush of adrenalin, it's a "fight or flight" response.
At the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, in a paper How, but not Why, the Brain Distinguishes Race published last August, neuroscientists described how they used magnetic resonance imaging to measure the level of emotion black volunteers experienced in the brain when viewing photographs of white people, and vice versa. These were contrasted with their responses to photographs of their own race.
The results were conclusive: the scans from black volunteers showed the amydala firing up when viewing white faces and the same happened when white volunteers looked at black faces.
Over the course of a million years, the human brain has evolved to form a special area, the fusiform, part of the infero-temporal region of the brain, dedicated to facial recognition. The face is a human being's nametag. Other animals rely on different senses for recognition: dogs recognise each other through smell, and in a group of, say, 10,000 king penguins, a mother has no problem in identifying her chick by its calling sounds. But for humans, it's the face that provides us with a unique identity in a world with six billion other human faces.
All the faces we have seen in a lifetime are stored in the fusiform. Ingeniously, our brains hone in on tiny variations from the norm and exaggerate these salient details to make them easier to remember. In effect, as Dr Villayanur Ramachandran, professor of neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego, explains, we translate faces into caricatures. "What the artist is doing is actually mimicking the very processes that are going on in your own brain. He's asking himself: What's so special about this face and what makes it different from other people's faces?"
To the untrained eye, faces of other ethnic groups can appear very similar because the brain is easily fooled into thinking that typical ethnic characteristics such as broad nose or almond-shaped eyes, are distinctive features, as opposed to the true details that mark out one individual from another.
"The critical parametres that distinguish Chinese faces are different from those that distinguish Caucasian faces, and your brain takes some time to pay attention to these," says Ramachandran. "So you need to develop sensitivity, and that takes a few months of exposure." From treating people as types as opposed to individuals, it's not a big step to dehumanise them. Ramachandran believes this is a key factor in racism: "Instead of seeing the whole person, you see the person as a single visual prototype, somebody who is black or somebody who is Chinese, and then you start generalising from that one prototype."
Evolutionary psychiatrists John Tooby and Linda Cosimides from the University of California believe that the fear of ethnic groups that results from this lies in our minds, having evolved millions of years ago when we were living in small clans and groups which, most historians agree, had an optimum size of about 150.
Strangers were perceived as a potential threat, either as enemies or as carriers of disease. Your ability to recognise family and friends was a fundamental survival skill. It was also important to tell friend and foe from a distance and judge gaze direction accurately. As cities developed, poverty, crime and violence grew with them. And as strangers became commonplace, so by the mid 19th century face experts flourished as people sought a ready reckoner they could trust. It was at this time that the influential Italian physician Cesare Lombroso founded the science of criminal anthropology. His studies of degenerates were based on poor and unemployed southern Italians, and he noticed the following characteristics of the criminal type: "Enormous jaws, high cheekbones, prominent superciliary arches, insensitivity to pain, excessive idleness, and the irresponsible craving of evil for its own sake."
At the same time, Darwin's Origin of Species had created questions about the unquestionable: religion and man's place in the natural world. Anthropologists charted and collected specimens, as though by bottling and labelling one could understand nature itself. Ethnographic collections were an attempt to justify contemporary belief that coloured races were not only primitive, but atavistic and degenerate.
Even now, as Stephen Pinker, professor of psychology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explains, "People put things and other people in mental boxes, give each box a name, and thereafter treat the contents of a box the same." But Pinker insists this compulsion to categorise the unfamiliar does not mean the brain has limits in the number of faces it can cope with. "With its trillion synapses, the brain is not short of storage space."
But in our fear of the unknown, we cast back to similar faces or types of faces that we have already seen in search of any clues as to how this face may behave. If the face reminds you of someone you dislike, your brain makes an assumption that this person may also be a threat. In the world of the hunter-gatherer, inference or instinct overruled reason because it often meant the difference between life and death. We learn that facial abnormalities were potential carriers of contagious diseases, so we learned to avoid the ugly.
So evil characters often have disturbing faces with skin disease or cranial deformation like Frankenstein's monster. Bram Stoker's Dracula is depicted as having "peculiarly arched nostrils, massive eyebrows almost meeting over the nose and bushy hair that seemed to curl in on its own profusion."
These types were born out of the casualties of industrialised society: syphilitics, alcoholics, prostitutes, workhouse inmates and the insane.
In the early years of Hollywood, these types were similarly mass produced, so we can all now spot a gangster because the impression must be based on James Cagney's asymmetrical features.
Conversely, beauty is something we welcome and we associate attractiveness with goodness. Scientists call this the "halo effect", and it brings enormous benefits in its wake. Numerous surveys demonstrate how beautiful people are given preferential treatment from a very early age. Teachers give them more attention, they are less likely to be convicted by the courts, land better jobs, earn more money, are more socially skilled and have better sex lives.
Just as we are hard-wired to respond to beautiful faces, so fame exploits evolutionary mechanisms in our neurological development. Sir David Attenborough, not surprisingly, believes it's about animal hierarchy: "Fame is one way in which you recognise somebody in a crowd. Lot's of animals live in social groups, with a social structure, including us, and you have to know the boss guy. You have to have someone that you actually enjoy looking up to because he takes responsibilities, and you have to recognise him."
"The problem with fame," says Leda Cosimides, "is that we confuse the famous with those who mattered to us in a primitive society." Fame, then, was a natural quality, your unique value to the community as an individual, based on real achievement. So Hollywood and television provide us with substitutes. But it's not a two-way transaction. Not only that, but the arbiters of fame and taste are subject to the same historical bias as the rest of us. Now, which bit of our hunter-gathering past that comes from is anyone's guess. - The Times Magazine, London
Source: Sunday Star Times Focus 29 April 2001
The Origins of Racism: Them
In the bad old days of 19th-century eugenics, scientists who had supped at the table of social Darwinism would construct evolutionary trees that had twigs within the species Homo sapiens. Each twig was a racial group. The top twig was, of course, the white Caucasian one - since the scientists who did this work were themselves white Caucasians.
Modern genetics has shown the error of their ways. Systematic genetic differences between people from different parts of the world, though they exist, are small compared with variations between people from the same place. The visible differences, such as skin colour, are the result of a mere handful of genes. Under the skin, humanity is remarkably homogenous.
Racism, however, is ubiquitous. it is not only white Caucasians (whatever that term means, in the context of current knowledge) who are guilty of it. That has led to another biological hypothesis, that people are somehow "programmed" to recognise race and be racist. Robert Kurzban, John Tooby and Leda Cosmides, three evolutionary psychologists who work at the University of California, Santa Barbara, find this hypothesis unlikely. And this week they have published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that supports an alternative hypothesis.
That hypothesis is that racism is actually an unfortunate by-product of another phenomenon - a tendency to assign people to "coalition groups", and to use whatever cues are available, be they clothing, accent or skin colour, to slot individuals into such groups (or "stereotype" them, as modern usage might term it). The good news is that experiments done by the researchers suggest that such stereotypes are easily dissolved and replaced with others. Racism, in other words, can be eliminated.
You want to be in my gang?
For many years, psychologists have believed (and have found data to support) the idea that, when somebody encounters a stranger, the stranger's characteristics are slotted into three pigeon-holes: sex, age and race. These pigeon-holes are assumed to be long-established, biologically programmed mental faculties.
The sexes and ages of other people are social contexts in which decisions have to be made all the time, so the idea of evolved pigeon-holes to deal with these categories makes sense. The reason for scepticism about the third category is that, for most of their evolutionary history, human beings would never have been exposed to individuals of other races. It is therefore hard to see how a specifically racial pigeon-holing system could have arisen.
On the other hand, there was probably good reason to want to be able to place a stranger within the system of tribal groups, coalitions and alliances that early man would have had to deal with among his neighbours. To the extent that the individuals in those groups had things in common, those things might mark an unknown individual as a group member.
Learning the wrong associations between markers and groups, though, would be maladaptive, so a flexible approach to such markers, discarding them when they prove useless, might be expected. Following this line of thinking, Dr Kurzban, Dr Tooby and Dr Cosmides predicted that, in circumstances in which race was irrelevant to the ways that groups of allies form, prejudice would vanish, possibly rapidly.
To test this idea they used an established psychological technique called the "memory confusion protocol". This involves showing subjects a series of photographs of people, together with sentences of a conversation that those people are supposed to be having.
After that (and without having been warned what to expect) the subject is shown the sentences in a random order, and asked who said what. The information the protocol provides stems from misattributions of words to pictures. Subjects tend to confuse who said what within groups that they have constructed mentally from the information available, rather than between those groups. But the only data available to construct those groups are the words and pictures, so the researcher can work out which criteria are, perhaps unconsciously, being used.
Dr Kurzban, Dr Tooby and Dr Cosmides used two variations of the protocol. In both, the photographs (all of young men) were assigned by computer to one side of the conversation or the other, with each side receiving two black and two white men. In the first variation, the content of the conversation was the only clue to coalition membership. In the second, the individuals on either side wore different-coloured shirts (grey and yellow).
The researchers made four specific predictions: that race would not be "encoded" into a subject's reactions equally in all social contexts; that shared appearance is not necessary for encoding membership of a coalition; that arbitrary cues other than race can assume the properties that race tends to exhibit in predicting membership of a coalition; and that, when that happens, the strength of racial stereotyping will drop. All or these predictions were shown to be correct.
In the first experiment, in which there were no visual clues about coalition membership, a lot of misattribution was correlated with skin colour. However, such misattribution was not overwhelming. Subjects misattributed statements on the basis of which side of the conversation they came from about half as often as they did on the basis of race; appearance is therefore not everything.
It is, however, important. In the second experiment, the results were reversed. Given the extra clue of shirt colour, the preponderance of misattribution was connected with apparent membership of a coalition. Race dwindled into insignificance.
The subjects had been given no prompting about the purpose of the experiment. They did not know that they were supposed to be looking for coalitions. But, subliminally, they noticed them anyway. That suggests their brains were more attuned to clustering by signals that would point immediately to group membership, than by prejudices about which individuals should be forming groups. In turn, that suggests that racial characteristics are operating merely as badges of convenience, rather than pressing deep, biologically determined buttons of discrimination. And that, though by no means a solution to the problems of racially divided societies, might provide a small chink for social policy to work on.
Source: The Economist 15 December 2001
Alaskan Panel Has Suggestions for Improving Race Relations
by Sam Howe Verhovek
Juneau, Alaska - The videotape showed Eskimos in downtown Anchorage flinching and shielding their faces as they were shot at with paint ball guns by three young white men in a car, who laughed as they cruised the streets and filmed their search for victims.
Out of that incident, which occurred last January and sparked discussion in Alaska about bigotry in a state where about 16% of the residents list themselves as Indian or Alaska Native, has come a new report by Governor Tony Knowles's Commission on Tolerance, which listed nearly 100 recommendations for improving race relations.
Several of the 14-member group's proposals were economic, such as raising the state minimum wage or increasing money for programs in rural Native villages. Others were cultural, such as adding a verse to the state song to reflect the influence of Native cultures. The commission's 35-page report, issued 6 December, said the state's educational curriculum should include more emphasis on Native people, as Indians, Eskimos and Aleuts are known here.
"The commission heard heartbreaking testimony of discrimination and injustice, expressions of frustration at a system in which many feel they are not full participants, and demands for action," the Reverend Chuck Eddy, who was chairman of the commission, said.
The report included a Community Action Guide describing "ways each Alaskan can take personal responsibility to work toward a society that celebrates diversity."
How state lawmakers will deal with the report's recommendations is unclear. Republicans dominate the state Legislature and some have suggested that Governor Knowles, a Democrat, had exaggerated the extent of racial problems in Alaska by convening the commission. "I don't believe Alaska is a racist state, but I have seen this governor pick at the scab of racism until it's a festering sore," State Senator Pete Kelly, Republican of Fairbanks, said. "He told them to go around the state and find everything that's wrong with the state, sometimes in isolated examples."
However isolated the paintball attacks might have been, they clearly struck a chord of outrage among many Alaskans, who saw news accounts of the tape depicting the Eskimos, mainly men but a few women as well, as they were hit by the marble-size paintball pellets. The youths, a 19-year-old and two younger teenagers, appeared to be looking for Eskimos. "Shoot him! Shoot him!", one voice on the tape said. "You need to shoot that guy." Another voice replied: "No. He's Chinese."
One man involved in the attacks, Charles D Wiseman, who is now 20, pleaded guilty or no contest in July to three charges of misdemeanor assault. Mr Wiseman admitted to filming the attacks, while one teenager drove and the other shot the paintball gun. The teenagers' cases have been handled in juvenile court, where proceedings are closed. An Anchorage judge, who said Mr Wiseman and the two boys had acted with "horrible glee," sentenced Mr Wiseman to six months in jail and 300 hours of community service, and fined him $6,000.
"I feel horrible about how we behaved," Mr Wiseman read from a statement in court and then apologised to the victims, several of whom attended the sentencing. "I didn't think about how wrong it was."
The sentence, as well as the judge's depiction of the act as a hate crime, was hailed by some Natives, but others said it demonstrated that the state should have much stronger I laws to punish bias-related violence. "A hate crime of any kind that involves violence certainly falls in line to be classified as a felony," the Alaskan Federation of Natives said after Mr Wiseman confessed. "We are disappointed that plea agreements are coming down in an event that is one step short of using real bullets."
The commission's report, while prompted in large measure by the paintball attacks, also dealt with economic disparities between rural villages, many of which are largely or entirely Native, and the predominantly white, wealthier cities. The commission said the legislature should halt budget cuts for a program that subsidises electricity in rural areas and should increase spending for rural schools. Lieutenent Governor Fran Ulmer, a commission member, said that while the paintball attacks were disturbing, many Alaskans of all races had reacted with horror and said they did not represent how Alaskans feel about the diversity of their state. "I think the time is right for Alaskans to brag about how rich our cultural diversity is and see it as a treasure," Ms Ulmer said.
Source: The New York Times Sunday 30 December 2001
I Am White: Racism Today
"I am better than you. I am smarter, I am more attractive. You are stupid and lazy. Your children are dirty and rude. I and my kind will always be superior to you and yours. I am White."
Jane Elliott says that, regardless of whether I voice these thoughts or even acknowledge thinking them, as a White person, I have been raised with a myth of White superiority. Elliott, a retired school teacher, originated the Blue Eyes Brown Eyes exercise in the 1960s to demonstrate to her 4th-grade students how harmful the myth of White superiority is and what, as a result of this myth, it meant to be Black in America.
Standing a mere 2 inches or so above 5 feet, with silvery white hair, glasses, a rounded figure and pinky-peach skin, Elliott does not look much like Malcolm X, the controversial civil-rights leader - who stood at a gangly 6-foot plus and had reddish-brown hair and bronze-hued skin (though he did also wear specs). And yet, when 62-year-old Elliott talks, that’s whom she sounds like. "White people in this country are tweaked," Elliott says. "We are raised to believe a myth of White superiority." Malcolm X, in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, said that White people’s "...belief that they are ‘superior’ in some way is so deeply rooted that these things are in the national White subconscious." Malcolm X went on to explain, "Many Whites are even actually unaware of their own racism, until they face some test, and then their racism emerges in one form or another." Elliott administers such a "test" for a living.
In 1968, Jane Elliott was an elementary-school teacher in her all-White hometown of Riceville, Iowa. Dr Martin Luther King Jr had been a "hero of the month" in Elliott’s 4th-grade class, because Elliott believed that "what he was doing was right for all of us, not just for Blacks." When King was shot, her students wanted to know why their "hero" had been killed. Elliott took the opportunity to discuss race with her students. She queried the kids on what they knew about Black people (none having ever met a Black person). Their responses were bile-laden: "They’re dirty," "They stink," "They don’t smell good," "They riot, they steal," "You can’t trust them, my dad says they better not try to move in next door to us."
Elliott decided to administer a racial reality check. She divided the class into two groups: the brown eyes and the blue eyes. Anyone not fitting these categories, such as those with green or hazel eyes, was an outsider, not actively participating in the exercise. Elliott told her children that brown-eyed people were superior to blue-eyed, due to the amount of the colour-causing-chemical, melanin, in their blood. She said that blue-eyed people were stupid and lazy and not to be trusted. To ensure that the eye colour differentiation could be made quickly, Elliott passed out strips of cloth that fastened at the neck as collars. The brown eyes gleefully affixed the cloth-made shackles on their blue-eyed counterparts. Elliott withdrew her blue-eyed students’ basic classroom rights, such as drinking directly from the water fountain or taking a second helping at lunch. Brown-eyed kids, on the other hand, received preferential treatment. In addition to being permitted to boss around the blues, the browns were given an extended recess.
Elliott recalls, "It was just horrifying how quickly they became what I told them they were." Within 30 minutes, a blue-eyed girl named Carol had regressed from a "brilliant, self-confident carefree, excited little girl to a frightened, timid, uncertain little almost-person." On the flip side, the brown-eyed children excelled under their newfound superiority. Elliott had 7 students with dyslexia in her class that year and 4 of them had brown eyes. On the day that the browns were "on top," those 4 brown-eyed boys with dyslexia read words that Elliott "knew they couldn’t read" and spelled words that she "knew they couldn’t spell."
Seeing her brown-eyed students act like "arrogant, ugly, domineering, overbearing White Americans" with no instructions to do so proved to Elliott that racism is learned. Prior to that day in 1968, her students had expressed neither positive nor negative thoughts about each other based on eye colour. Yes, Elliott taught them that it was all right to judge one another based on eye colour. But she did not teach them how to oppress. "They already knew how to be racist because every one of them knew without my telling them how to treat those who were on the bottom," says Elliott. That day, Elliott discovered that "you can create racism. And, as with anything, if you can create it, you can destroy it." For 14 out of the next 16 years that Elliott taught in Riceville, she conducted the exercise. In the White enclave of Riceville, fighting racism was not looked upon by most as an honourable duty. As a result of her work, kids beat up her own children. Her parents’ business lost customers. Elliott and her family received regular death threats. And each fall, parents called Elliott’s principal and said, "I don’t want my kid in that nigger-lover’s classroom!"
Not everyone was against Elliott. She believes that 80% of the people in Riceville were compassionate, caring people who were concerned about their school and their kids and their community. But, says Elliott, the 20%, the vocal, vicious minority, intimidated the rest of them. It seemed as though the only Ricevilleans strong enough to stand up to this vicious minority were Elliott’s students. After participating in the exercise, says Elliott, her students went home and argued with their fathers about racism. Imagine: 8-year-old children telling their parents that they were wrong.
In the early ’80s, however, Elliott was denied an unpaid leave to run the exercise for a corporation's employees, and decided to retire from teaching and take her anti-racism crusade on the road. She thus reinvented herself as a "diversity trainer," a PC term for traveling the world challenging racist thoughts and behaviours. But while she may have left the classroom behind, Elliott retained the demeanor of a strict, slightly overbearing grade-school teacher. Today Elliott uses her strong presence and feistiness to capture the attention of college kids and adults in corporate America and Europe. She speaks at colleges about racism and performs the Blue Eyes Brown Eyes Exercise at the request and cost of companies that feel the need for some "diversity training." Elliott, who had been a guest on The Late Show with Johnny Carson back in the ’60s has, more recently, been reintroduced to national audiences on Oprah and 60 Minutes.
She describes her work as "an inoculation against discrimination." But, unlike DPT shots that protect us from viruses to which we might one day be exposed, Elliott aims to protect us from the "live virus of racism" that we are guaranteed to be exposed to on a daily basis. White Americans’ mouths have been washed out with soap enough times that most of us have learned what words not to utter, or even dare to think. Elliott says that the major difference between exercise participants today and her 4th-grade students of 30 years ago is that, now, people are "less likely to use the word ‘nigger.’"
Despite the milestones achieved through years of struggle for racial equality, people of colour are still discriminated against because they are people of colour. If you think that a single Black person has gone through life without ever being judged negatively because of the colour of his or her skin, you are wrong. No, not all of us Whites are racist. But yes, all Blacks are subjected to racism. Elliott emphasises this point in her speeches on college campuses. She aims to educate college kids about the realities of life and schooling in America. For example, Elliott contests our use of the traditional world map. She argues that on the maps we are most familiar with, "All the White countries in the world take up half the land, which isn’t true. This is racist teaching." Elliott urges that we reject this map and use in its place the Peters Projection Map. While the Peters map distorts the shapes of the countries, it remains true to their sizes. And, as we all know, size matters.
What matters most to Elliott though, is that, as a result of her work, people begin to "recognise racism when they see it, know that it is a choice that we make and that we can choose to not go along with racism." To Elliott, "Choosing not go along" means that we must "actively protest racist remarks, racist advertising, racist politics, racist politicians and racist behaviours." Those are some pretty tough marching orders. And yet, as mentioned, many of Jane Elliott's 8-year-old students challenged their parents' racism after going through the Blue Eyes Brown Eyes Exercise. Why is it then that many of us have trouble doing the same? Maybe it’s because not all forms of racism are as blatant as parents telling their children that a Black family had better not move in next door. Sometimes racism exists in an assumption (a store clerk who closely tracks the movements of a young Black customer but not a White one); a behaviour (a teacher who refuses to acknowledge the accomplishments of a Black student with the same pride as those of a White); or an attitude (a White woman who tenses when a Black man steps into an elevator).
Elliott has a "laundry list" of things White people can, and should, be doing to end racism. She says that first, like so many alcoholics, you need to admit you have the problem and take ownership of it. Then educate yourself about the problem. Thirdly, realise that you weren’t born racist; you learned to be this way and, you can unlearn it. Lastly, you must follow her marching orders to actively protest racism in all its forms, subtle or blatant. You must take a risk and stop racism. It is not a Black problem, says Elliott: Racism is a "White attitudinal problem." For too many years we have been blaming racism on people of colour. We have thought, "If you people would just get White we’d all be all right." Wrong. If we people would just accept that, as Elliott says, "we are all different and have the right to be so," it will all be all right.
The Peters Projection: An Area Accurate Map
The Peters Projection World Map is one of the most stimulating, and controversial, images of the world. When this map was first introduced by historian and cartographer Dr Arno Peters at a Press Conference in Germany in 1974 it generated a firestorm of debate. The first English-version of the map was published in 1983, and it continues to have passionate fans as well as staunch detractors.
The earth is round. The challenge of any world map is to represent a round earth on a flat surface. There are literally thousands of map projections. Each has certain strengths and corresponding weaknesses. Choosing among them is an exercise in values clarification: you have to decide what's important to you. That is generally determined by the way you intend to use the map. The Peters Projection is an area accurate map.
Peters on the left, Mercator on the right
Which is bigger, Greenland or China? With the traditional Mercator map (circa 1569, and still in use in many schoolrooms and boardrooms today), Greenland and China look the same size. But in reality China is almost 4 times larger! In response to such discrepancies, Dr Arno Peters created a new world map that dramatically improves the accuracy of how we see the Earth. Mercator's projection (created at a time when navigators were sailing on the oceans in wooden ships, powered by the wind, and navigating by the stars) was particularly useful because straight lines on his projection were lines of constant compass bearing. Today the Mercator projection still remains useful for navigational purposes and is referred to by seafarers and airline pilots. The Mercator is also a "conformal" map projection. This means that it shows shapes pretty much the way they appear on the globe. The mapmaker's dilemma is that you cannot show both shape and size accurately. If you want a true shape for the land masses you will necessarily sacrifice proportionality, that is, the relative sizes will be distorted.
World mission and aid-giving agencies use the Peters map because it serves to represent the developing countries at their true proportion. The Peters map has been widely adopted elsewhere, but remains a curiosity in the United States. Why is this? Among related factors are these:
Arno Peters was one of the first to assert that maps are unavoidably political.
Source: petersmap.com - to order a Peters map, visit the site.
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