Racism is evil, stupid and ugly, so what? And what next?
What is racism?
Try to remember when as a child, you first experienced being blamed for something bad you didn’t do or were refused something good that everyone else had. Maybe you were blamed because you “looked guilty,” perhaps you were denied food/a school place/a toy. You now wear better clothes and know how to speak more politely but it does not make a difference on how others treat you. You work not twice, but at least three times as hard as the average, and still earn barely enough to keep yourself and your family fed and sheltered.
Now, since that first time, multiply the same experience 365 days a year with the number of years you were alive since then. Finally, imagine this original injustice repeating every day till the day you die.
This is how life is for the majority of people on earth. This because the “guilty look” is based on the color of your skin, the shape of your eyes or that of your nose. The denial of rights is due to the fact that you cannot change this external appearance, nor your birthplace. The Oxford Dictionary defines racism as,
“Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.
(Including) The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”
This belief destroys the lives of those who experience the actions of those who hold it. People who experience racism are never at home in the world and never completely free. Often the best they can hope for is to become invisible, so as not to be noticed enough to be treated badly.
Ironically, those who commit racist acts do not have a good life either, because they are never truly human. Inside is the suspicion that the deference they get is undeserved, the privileges they hold are not worth the isolation, and the fear that the tide of history will turn against them someday soon.
If racism is undeniably evil, why is it still being practiced?
Who racism benefits
Racism is still around because we are all potential racists, unless we are taught a better way to engage with those who look different from our group. Racism benefits anyone who gets a chanceto “kick down”, maybe only once, maybe for a whole lifetime. Unfortunately for human beings, it is an easy way to feel better about one’s life, but only for the very short time before you yourself becomes the target of aggression.
One of my teachers in grade school told a story about why one dog had to be “put to sleep”. She said that in that family, the father was cruel to the mother; the mother often angry at her daughter; the daughter always annoyed at her younger brother. The boy could not deal with being the end target, and so would kick the dog. The dog would try to bite anyone standing close enough.
The technical term for this is rankism, and basically, it means that one is treated according to their rank in the hierarchy. The hierarchy of course is often defined by those at the top or hoping to be close to it. It goes all the way down, with everyone climbing over someone else by kicking them down. This is so that they do not stay at the lower levels, where carrying the load is unbelievably heavy and thankless. There is sometimes a quick way out of the bottom though, and this is victimization. If you can present yourself as a victim, then someone higher up the pile might treat you just a tiny bit better because of guilt, but never as an equal. And let’s face it, being the victim
only works if you are the most obvious victim in the room.
The big questions are these:
- Can we get out of this pile of misery before we use up the world’s
- Is there a better way to live both in theory (policy/ethics) and everyday life?
Luckily for us, yes there is, but getting there can be difficult, with as many different paths as there are people on earth.
How we are different, how we are the same
Throughout the history of science, there have been those who consider all human beings as coming from the same source (e.g. Robert Boyle, 1627–1691), and those who consider people as so different that they belong to different species, with the group they belong to being inherently superior (e.g. a whole line of racialists, or ”racial scientists”). The latter group has been proved wrong by recent decades of genome research, showing that the concept of race in biology has no scientific validity. However, race is still a social construct in modern societies, as are the problems of judging human differences as based on biology, then classified as superior or inferior. In other words, at the cellular level we are all the same, but it does not stop some groups of people using
external differences to place themselves above others.
In 1978, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) stated that, “All peoples of the world possess equal faculties for attaining the highest level in intellectual, technical, social, economic, cultural and political development.” Our differences are due to the earth’s geography, the history and economy of the countries we are born in, and the cultures and society of the places we belong to. These differences are not permanent. They occur in endless combinations and contribute to the changes that make the world a place of infinite possibilities.
We are the same because we are all homo sapiens (thinking man). Now if we could only live up to the name.
What can be done to stop racism?
The bad news is that at present there is probably no society on earth which is totally non-racist. The good news is that there are many individuals and groups who have successful initiatives in almost removing racism in themselves, and others too. Here are some of the highlights:
As a victim of racism:
- Refuse to accept the racist’s judgement about your worth. You are both human beings, and differences are mostly external and random. I have still to meet the baby who chose where he/she is born and to which race.
- “School” the racist if you can, but not if you cannot get out of it alive. Here is a link to one of the oldest and most effective anti-racist letters, written by a former slave to his former owner, in the United States. It lists the cost of his labor, which the former master needs to pay. http://www.pajiba.com/miscellaneous/in-1856-a-freed-slave-wrote-a-letter-to-hisformer-master.php
- Talk with others, it helps them realize that you are a person, not a stereotype. It helps you become less isolated.
As an ally against racism:
- Take a cue from the Australian program against racism, it’s all in the name, “It stops with me.” Think about how belonging to a favored race or nationality gives you privileges that many others, probably living in the same place as you, don’t have. https://itstopswithme.humanrights.gov.au/
- Listen, listen, listen. It’s easier to talk but save the talk when it counts. Mostly, when others are being actively racist. Be the person who says, “Leave that person alone”, “Give her the opportunity,” “Hey, let’s be fair here,” or, “Hello, I’m… your neighbor,” to the asylum seeker next door.
- Do NOT be the person who says, “I’m not racist, I have a black/Asian/Moslem/native/etc. friend.”
- Do not support businesses that you know are racist (for example, by refusing to serve certain people, or underpaying some workers).
- Do not support politicians who are racist, for the same reason above (they are in the business of selling poison).
- After you get through the initial difficulties, join anti-racist groups for support, but be careful not to mistake joining for the real work, which is with individual people, and with yourself.
What would a non-racist society be like?
Why should we do all the difficult work of removing racism from society? Well, because it makes life, our short, short life in this planet, much better. It may not solve the hunger problem, but it will reduce hunger due to greed. It may not eradicate war, but it will lessen stupid reasons for war, like fighting for a mythical past that never existed, or falling for the anti-foreigner speech of presidents and prime ministers who cannot offer anything better to the citizens of their country.
A non-racist society may not be one in which we will all immediately like each other. That would be unrealistic. But, if we dislike each other, you can be sure it’s for a valid reason. It’s so much more satisfying to be angry because someone did something wrong (like shooting people, screaming obscenities, or giving you the passive-aggressive stink eye) than because they look different from your group, or have a different accent than yours.
I do not mean to be flippant about racism. It ruins lives, corrupts souls, tears countries and sometimes families apart, and it cannot be stopped by one concert or by government policy alone. It cannot even by stopped by social pressure, as the so-called “culture wars,” in the U.S. attests.
It can only, truly be stopped, by each one of us in our own way – by Rosa Parks refusing to leave her seat in a bus, by a white boy wanting to become Black Panther, by a Finnish grandmother playing with her Chinese neighbor’s child.
The most wonderful thing about a nonracist society is this: You not only get to be angry at people for the right reasons, but you get to love your fellow humans for the right reason too: You see them as they are.
Writer: Celeste Lacuna-Richman