My wife and I were watching a re-run of Black/White, the show where a black family puts on whiteface to explore the white world, and a white family puts on blackface to explore the black world.
At one point, a black man explains how white people seem improbably curious. “When white people hear a strange noise, they go to see what’s making it. When black people hear a noise, they try to get as far away as possible.”
It struck me that this is fundamentally the difference between optimism and pessimism. When I have time, I’ll post my summary of Marty Seligman’s “Learned Optimism,” a true classic. For right now, I’ll content myself with two of Marty’s observations.
One, optimism is *generally* a more productive strategy. Optimists are happier, healthier, and more successful.
Two, pessimism has an important role to play, because pessimists perceive reality more accurately than optimists. If your pilot is deciding whether or not to cancel a flight because of ice on the wings, you probably want a pessimist in the cockpit! When the cost of failure is high, pessimism is the more effective way of thinking.
This maps very well to race and racism. If racism makes the cost of failure higher for black people, pessimism is a logical and effective strategy, albeit one which comes at the cost of some happiness. If research shows that African-Americans tend to be less happy, perhaps this is because their cost of failure is higher.