Fear Less, Love More

Evolution has primed us to seek solid ground, certainty. That’s why we’re so quick to label others. Is mindfulness the way to uncover and counteract unconscious bias?

Vinny Ferraro, a senior trainer with nonprofit Mindful Schools, hugs a participant at Challenge Day, a program that helps youth build connection and empathy. Photograph by Zach Cordner

It was a lovely day in Berkeley when Gibor Basri decided to clean out the flowerpots on his second floor balcony, which overlooks a quiet tree-lined street not far from the University of California, where Basri works. Suddenly, two police cars pulled up, and a knot of officers ran into his yard, guns drawn and pointed. When Basri’s wife Jessica opened the door, they said they would rush her to safety because a “hot prowl”—a burglary in action—was in progress. She looked up. “Oh, that’s my husband.”

An astrophysicist, Gibor Basri claims Jamaican and Iraqi heritage and has dark skin. Jessica Broitman, who works as a psychoanalyst, is white. The two have been married for more than 40 years, have a grown son, and chose Berkeley as their home partly because of its reputation for diversity and a liberal attitude. But when someone driving by spotted a dark-skinned man on a porch in a good neighborhood, bias reared its ugly head. They called 911.

The police were quite embarrassed and apologetic, says Jessica. But they had been alerted that something strange was going on. “Yeah,” she shot back, “Something strange was