Racism is rife across the world. Most right minded people would agree that racism is ‘wrong’ and yet racism thrives. It is perhaps more virulent now than in the whole history of mankind.
The definition from the Oxford English dictionary is as follows;
‘Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. 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.’
There is a dreadful clarity in the above definition, especially if we break it down. The first sentence talks of discrimination, and antagonism against someone seen as different – different how? In any number of ways, most obviously colour, but language, religion, even dress. There is a natural instinct in us all to hang on to what makes us comfortable, what we are familiar with. That seems reasonable enough. Where we go astray is in the phrase; ‘based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.’
The ground gets trickier as we consider what is borne of those beliefs, namely ‘that each race possess qualities specific to that race, ‘especially as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.’
That is to say, it is the belief that underpins the ideas of inferiority or superiority.
Clearly there are differences in racial characteristics, e.g. the physical manifestations of Caucasians, Orientals, and Aboriginals et al. The discomfort of one group with another is reinforced by their cultural differences, again dominated by belief systems.
Racism is a reaction of fear, fear of the unknown, the stranger, the sounds and even the dress of different cultures. That fear is easily exploited by those who wish to take advantage of the frailties of the mass of people who through no fault of their own have not experienced any variation outside their tribal circumstance at all. Anything from outside is a threat to some, to be avoided by others and accepted by a few exceptional and open minded people. These exceptional people are in the minority.
It would be good if we all came to terms with the idea that the very nature of tribalism is to look inward and to fear interlopers from ‘other places and cultures.’ All of us to some extent are defensive and fear change.
Respect for other cultures and thus knowledge of them is the only way to lessen racial tension. This is not easy to achieve. In some ways different races and (for a want of a better word) tribes, desire the proliferation of their own beliefs and cultures and see others as alien. Alien is preciously close to inferior.
So we can agree that racism is entrenched, the key to ameliorating the situation or making all mankind more open to other races and cultures, is education. Education though can only be catholic (small c) if the prevailing belief systems allow.
Hence the more extreme wings or cultural centres who become defensively introvert alienate and put fear into those who are outside their belief system. There are very few examples where closed communities have been accepted by the broader world. Perhaps the Amish community in North America, and the Welsh expatriates in Patagonia are two examples.
The melting pot of mass migration has exacerbated the racism issue hugely with Europeans being upset and fearful because of mass migration from the Middle East and Africa and the US because of a massive influx of Mexican workers.
Is racism then a matter of degree? How openly we are prepared to accept new people and new cultures. How open can we be when superficially at least, there are huge cultural issues? (The place of women in certain religions, Capital punishment in others, and on ad infinitum)
If I believe that capital punishment is wrong, and consequently believe the Saudi Arabians to be less than civilised because they routinely execute people. Am I a racist?
It’s an interesting question, not least because the British Empire was built almost entirely on the proceeds of the slave trade. Where sick slaves were routinely thrown overboard in mid Atlantic. I am British. It is part of my history. My great grandfather was by all measures a racist, predominantly because he was ignorant, just like me. I’m a racist because I don’t know any better. I hope I don’t give up trying to learn.