“Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Modern racism is a European concept created to divide and conquer Africans slaves brought to Europe and the Americas, and to make them work on plantations in a way European slaves would not. The effects of racism, white supremacy and colonization are still felt worldwide today.
- Anybody can be racist, in that they think that there exists separate genetic human “races”, or that one race is superior to another by birth.
- Our technology has advanced greatly, but the human mind lags far behind.
- It is universal human behavior, regardless of ethnicity, to group people according to ‘ingroup’ and ‘outgroup’ — ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’. Most fail to understand how human brains have physically evolved in such a way that makes them susceptible to ideas like racism. Ironically, asserting whites as the sole racists worsens the problem by preying on the us versus them thought-process: it brings the fight against the ‘other’ side, not the system itself. If we want to understand something, we must start at the physical beginning of it. In combating racism, we must not again fall prey to ‘us’ versus ‘them’. If one insists another belongs to a certain group, they will likely act as such.
- Even if only white people are racist, the sole focus on this idea fails to stop racism, as so many who believe it assume it’s simply fact. In reality, most people are not aware of this (even if they would agree), and many of those who need to hear the message most such as lower-income whites or the affluent, isolated by power and wealth, are not understanding the message as they were taught something else entirely, and molded by a very different culture. Instead they are mobilized by white persons of power like Donald Trump, who prey on their insecurities and speak in a way they understand.
- If one aims to convince another, regardless of how correct the persuader is, they must seek to understand, and speak to be understood (if someone is ‘stupid’, will showing you are ‘smart’ make them agree?). If they use a forceful method, they should expect to be met with a similar forceful method.
- Power rarely gives itself up. The aim of this paper in in part to inform how to fix a broken system of which whites have largely benefited from. This is done partly via law and politics — by developing and promoting blacks in positions of power to in turn better the welfare of other blacks. It is done through electing government officials who recognize this problem. It is done through rebuilding a broken criminal justice system. This piece’s aim is to create dialogue and understanding built on truth rather than pure emotion.
- Human sin and atrocity is also universal: understanding how people of all ethnicity, nationality, or religion have been active or a part of these various broken systems and atrocities throughout history helps us repair them piece by piece, and approach the problem of racism with a calmer mind and more humble heart.
I must preface this piece with a HUMONGOUS disclaimer: if based on the title alone, you believe this is solely about white people needing to accept responsibility and opening their minds and providing space for people of color, please stop reading for your sake. Conversely, if you believe this piece to be pro-white supremacist, born of Islamophobia, or out refusal or recognition of actual white supremacy and my potential part in it, then just stop reading and find a suitable respective safe-space forum or journalism site to circle-jerk, as this will likely not convince you, and be a waste of your time.
If you are on a fence, or find yourself conflicted on these issues, or see within yourself there is room to grow, and truly want to potentially effect change in racial relations in America and truly just everywhere, please read on. This goes as deep into the human condition as I can muster with my limited knowledge and as the scope and space of this piece (blog post) allows. I want a discussion and more wisdom from said discussion. Now I’m going to say something controversial and not currently accepted in the avant-garde of the modern social justice-minded intellectual community, so please bear down and bear with me:
One of the biggest mistakes of the modern social justice movement has been the presumption that only white people can be racist.
Racism, as defined in the dictionary, is the belief that one given ‘race’ (or group of people denoted and labeled by the color of their skin). Often, those of a social justice mindset reject this definition and follow the one most popularly coined by director Spike Lee, that racism is a system of oppression. Blacks cannot be racist because they are not the oppressors and primary holders of power in this system. The race-equation is simply ‘prejudice+power=racism’.
An advocate of this belief, would assert people of color can be “prejudiced”, that is harbor, fear, animosity or dislike towards a particular demographic. For my purposes in this essay, and the purposes of reducing racism I believe, I will not distinguish between the two.
A Brief History of Racism
To so many, racism is ‘dead’ or believe we are only dealing with its after-effects and the world has unanimously improved. The reality is much darker and tragic. The Jim Crow laws following the American Civil War essentially aimed make slavery stay a legal reality in all but official name. Many studies have shown African-Americans have historically been targeted by police disproportionately (controlling for other variables), and imprisoned unjustly, especially before the advent of DNA evidence. The degree to which this still exists is debatable; but European-Americans as a group surely have not been targeted specifically for their skin color by comparison.
Actual slavery still exists but is driven underground and operating under a different title: “human-trafficking”. The Arab-African slave trade is believed by some historians to have officially continued until the 1960s; however, “slavery in Mauritania was criminalized as recently as August 2007.” I outline the Arabic Slave Trade (note I do not call it the ‘Muslim Slave Trade”) as it is the lesser known to a Western audience and begins earlier in history. I will also demonstrate how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was its global parallel, that converged with it at various points throughout history, both in its function, and its essence — that of believing another human being is innately worth less than you.
The history of the Arabic Slave Trade predates the Trans-Atlantic slave (1400 CE) trade by about 700 years. The Zanj Rebellion took place around 800 BCE, involving Bantu (possibly) people uprising against Arab slavers.
The Arab-African slave trade differs from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in several important regards, one of them being the crux of this piece — race. For the Arabs, slavery was less an economic cornerstone than it was for Europeans (though this did not prevent Arabic cultures from dehumanizing different ethnic groups). Conversely, Europeans studied, asserted, and utilized the concept of race in their enslavement of Africans. The cultural effects of this “racism” came afterwards, especially after slavery was officially made illegal. However, many Arab demographics did indeed view dark-skinned Africans as inferior and increasingly have to present day, a topic that we will visit further later in the piece.
Arab enslavement particularly targeted women as sexual objects, with a secondary role as housekeepers or maids. Men too were targeted, as thousands of male African slaves were castrated to prevent them from having sex with Arab women and also from procreating altogether — rendering them less of a potential threat. The killing or castration of males to prevent further conflict and the use of women as wives or simply sexual object was not an uncommon practice for any nation of antiquity however.
Europeans also did not allow much for social advancement for black slaves. Arabs, however, did allow slaves to advance in society (with great restrictions: women were not allowed positions of power as men were nor were given comparable social capital). Some slaves even held prestigious positions: respective Mamluk dynasties lasted for over 500 years. The role and ruling on slavery in the Quran/Islam is controversial and I will not address this here, but it is clear (to me) that any literal interpretation of a holy book results in mistreatment of others. Slavery had existed in the older religions of Christianity via Christian nations in Europe, but it certainly was not sanctioned nor allowed by Jesus. I digress: though the prophet Muhammed held slaves, Islam did much to moderate the practice of slavery and this is what allowed for said advancement of slaves. The paradox of potential advancement for slaves in Arabic nations was that slaves would advance socially, gain rights and resources, and the Arabic nations would then require more slaves, using war as a catalyst.
It is also controversial but relatively common knowledge that many African nations and tribes aided in the capture and sale of other Africans as it either benefited them for political purposes or perhaps because they feared the Europeans invaders. This was common in the Arab-African slave trade as well. Both seemed to follow the mantra “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” or simply applied “divide and conquer” to suit their cultures wishes. The colonial or invading force used pitted one political or ethnic group against another. To many readers, this will seem like an unnecessary distraction to the problem of colonization and white supremacy, but I submit that this fact is crucial to understanding racism, the current culture build by colonization, and the root of said racism — that which we call “evil”.
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade did not simply begin by white Europeans storming the shores of West Africa, and kidnapping happy black people en masse repeatedly, while the rest of the world watched. Indeed, East Africa had been supplying slaves to Arabic peoples such as the Turks and other Sultanates for several centuries. Some of the African nations and tribes that aided in this were the Yao, the Makua, and Nyamwezi (or Yeke). The documentary, “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross”, details this process further. I must reassert that while the concept of racism as we know it today did not exist until white colonization of blacks, but slavery — that is forced servitude with or without pay — has existed since civilization began. Moreover, Byzantine Christians and Muslim Turks increasingly sourced Moor slaves — African and black — and this correlation only increased the negative, sub-human, attitudes towards them. The word “civilization” carries particular significance with regards to slavery because humanity started in hunter-gatherer societies according to most anthropologists.
Slavery appears to be almost non-existent before the advent of agriculture and subsequently, civilization. Tribal/gatherer societies would see slaves as simply another mouth to feed. Enter farming, and a surplus of food and a desire to spend leisure time and extra resources, more crafts not immediately necessary for survival are available to pursue. Slaves fill this gap for those with the surplus, as they provide cheap labor. Almost every civilization utilized slaves. The earliest record of laws records the use of slaves, The Code of Hammurabi. However, the use of slaves is not a staple of the economy, as most captives, largely men, are killed, while women become laborers or concubines (forced wives). Babylon and Greece kept slaves, but slavery does not become gang-like and widespread until the Roman Empire and the Salt Mines of the Sahara.
The middle ages brought forth Feudalism — a form of forced labor, but far less brutal than true outright slavery, as Lords took only a portion of resources and offered (presumably) some form of physical protection in exchange. It is during the Middle Ages that the modern English term, “slave” originates. HistoryWorld.net details:
“During the eastward expansion of the Germans in the 10th century so many Slavs are captured that their racial name becomes the generic term for a ‘slave’. At the same period the delivery of slaves to the Black Sea region is an important part of the early economy of Russia.”
Yet in spite of the continued slavery and certain racial (and sexist) element, these practices do not yet meet the academic definition of racism most are familiar with; nor does it meet the definition where only white people are racist. The ascribing of an inherent, biological inferiority ascribed by leaders and intellectuals does not happen until European colonization.
The New World: a new kind of slavery.
Perhaps the best summation and an origin point for systematic racism which so many white subconsciously carry, comes from an American man named Richard Henry Pratt. He was the first person Oxford dictionary recorded using the world “racism” in 1902; he was highlighting the dangers of racism. He stated,
Segregating any class or race of people apart from the rest of the people kills the progress of the segregated people or makes their growth very slow. Association of races and classes is necessary to destroy racism and classism.
However, he was not a saintly social justice warrior, as he was also infamous for coining the term, “Kill the Indian…save the man.” found in this passage:
“A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one,” Pratt said. “In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”
As noted by in the article quoted above, the late 1800s started to see the final destruction of Native Americans as a people from disease and starvation, who were living in lands forcibly seized from them. Most of the government saw this and called it “The Indian Problem”, so a group of well-to-do white men saw fit to prevent that by completely assimilating the Native American people to ‘true’ American culture. This was sought via education and evangelism.
Boarding schools were constructed across the country for Native American children, aimed at culturally bleaching them into whiteness. They were taught about American history (save the raping of Native Americans), civics, mathematics, and of course, Christianity. Not coincidentally, the illusion of choice comes into play with the desired obedience of Native Americans:
The schooling held a bit of charm in these choices, but it seems most of the children’s compliance was gained by having little other option. Native American were often forced to solely speak English and thus could not speak to their grandparents or even parents. Sometimes they were simply too ashamed to. Grace Chaillier, a professor of Native American studies at Northern Michigan University stated,
“In many cases, they were ashamed of them, because their grandparents and parents were living a life that nobody should aspire to live.”
The loss of language is enormous as language is a main transmission of culture and history: many Native American languages are now extinct same as their tribes.
Abuse, physical and sexual was common at some schools. Richard Pratt said he was unaware but his potential ignorance is irrelevant, as any objection to Native American treatment was now crushed under the wheels his initiative had set in motion. Ironically, despite aiming to save Native Americans from physical demise, many schools became death camps for their children. Tsianina Lomawaima, who heads of the American Indian Studies program at the University of Arizona, told NPR’s Charla Bear:
Tuberculosis or trachoma, a preventable disease causes blindness, were rampant. All of the boarding schools, she said, had their own cemeteries.
Many children fled the schools, but the government then made their attendance mandatory and would withhold food rations if they did not attend. One of the most extreme examples is shared by Chaillier, who is Lakota,
(she) told me a story that her mother often shared with her about her Indian school experience. One day, according to her mother’s story, a young student snuck out from his room at night, fell into a hole being dug for a well on the school grounds, broke his neck and died. His body was put on display and the students were assembled, forced to view their schoolmate’s corpse as a reminder of what happened to students who were disobedient.
As most who have visited casinos know, the other solution was for the government to ‘gift’ subsidized casinos on the few patches of remaining land Native Americans had left. Today they are are caricatures of old Native American cultures, and even with the shores of substantial wealth, Native families often are broken and rife with alcoholism; so many are divorced from their former pride and sense of belonging in society. What is most shocking and almost laughable in a tragic way, is not this severity, but that the Native Americans, like African Americans, were forced to deal with these conditions because of failed solutions to problems they did not create; they were created by the ones with the failed solutions — white Americans.
For African Americans, their culture was partly what Whites gave them, as most grew up in the United States. African-American culture cannot exist with slavery. However, they have been consistently divorced from white and the affluent, via Jim Crow Laws, Segregation, planned housing developments/white-flight, and outright social rejection and racism. They differ from other minorities in that their dark skin, their very blackness has been molded into the minds Americans as ‘lesser’, or at the very least as ‘the other’, for centuries. Asian-Americans nor Latin-Americans have experienced systematic racism too (in many cases still do), but they were not taken en masse on the scale that African-Americans were for the sole purpose of slavery, nor were they literally bred away from their native African culture and barred from white American culture on such a severe scale, particularly when they resisted. Thus, these African-Americans developed culture separate from whites, they became “black”, as they were called. Europeans created “whites” and “blacks”. Many academics and scientists of the time believed in “phrenology”, which was a crude mapping of the human brain based on studying dead bodies, and asserted that blacks had inferior and less developed brains than those of whites. This was a major cornerstone for the ruling class to believe that black people truly were less-than-human. If blacks were not human, there would be no moral problem with working them and treating them like animals. An great and sick coincidence of racial discrimination was that the Irish were deemed ‘too stupid, wild and lazy’ to work the tropical climate of the Caribbean and Southern U.S. while Africans and peoples of the West Indies were observed as brighter mentally and perfectly acclimated to this climate.
Racism does not have to be calling a black person “nigger”, nor does it have to be violent; racism can take the implicit form of preference of one’s own race. It can indeed be heavily reinforced by one’s conscious or subconscious support of a societal system that favors one race in the present, or that has been built on the backs of a given race, especially when this preference is in the favorites’ blind spot. When I speak of preference, I am not simply speaking of pride in one’s heritage, but the the belief that there is an inherent difference in people due to the color of their skin — that ‘race’ exists at all. This is not saying one should be ‘color-blind’ — that is believing race has a biological component — rather it is affirming that race is a human social construct. Truly, actual racism is “specism” — believing that humans are of different species. This may have been true 500,000 years ago when Cro-magnon mated with Neanderthals, but these differences in species have been long since blurred and bred out.
Given these inherited ideas that have yet to be entirely eradicated in the West among whites, the idea that only ‘white people can be racist’ is credible in some respects. It is impossible to ignore how Africans/blacks have consistently been treated comparatively to the rest of the world. Asians (referring to East-Asians such as the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese) did not have the inter-ethnic global contact on the scale that Arabic and European peoples did (it is arguably because China chose not expand their empire during their 1000 years of isolation or that the world is not ruled by them instead of the United Stated). Susan Abulhawa writes,
“…no matter how you look at it, the slave trade was a one-way street, with Africans always the enslaved victims. I know of no African tribe that kidnapped Europeans and put them in bondage for generations; nor do I know of an African tribe that captured Arab women for centuries and made them sex slaves.”
Given how and where the world was mapped is equally as important as why. Why did the West essentially dominate the world, while the East did not ?I contend that the world could have easily ended up with different ethnic, potentially non-white, demographics wielding more or less power; but the fact that Europeans/whites (and again East-Asians) did so is largely due to geographical, resource, and subsequently technological reasons. In essence, white people got lucky, and the massive power imbalance enjoyed by whites is not due to “God’s blessing” or simply “hard work” and love for democracy. Jared Diamond wrote an excellent book titled “Guns, Germs and Steel” on the matter, of which you can watch an abridged documentary online for free here. Some scholars find this theory absurd and justifying racial lines, but I rebut that analyzing history in such a manner rather than following the reasoning that one group or culture has a specific predilection for racism, is essential to understanding the power dynamic of current systematic racism, and in turn, reducing or eradicating it.
The fact that non-European/white peoples had grand and cruel imperialistic ambitions contradicts the almost legendary notion that Europeans had the only kind of aims. Indeed China could have crushed the rest of the world at various points in history and its leaders such as Kublai Khan sometimes wished for such were it not that disease, or political infighting interfered. The Ottoman Turks were well on their way to conquering Europe had they won the 2nd Siege of Constantinople, again largely lost to political betrayals. Had they continued, it is likely Europe, and the world, would have been Muslim and tan-skinned, instead of Christian and white.
Of course you might refute by saying “So? Why say ‘what if’? It didn’t happen that way.”
But again, we need to know why these events happened and again why others did not happen. Failing to do so results in confirmation bias and ironically forces us to look at the world through a European lens, and ignore the systematic flaws still embedded in various social and political systems globally, and in our our psyches, evolved through contact with other humans for 10s of thousands of years. Delving backward through time, and into the human mind gives critical insight into both the geopolitical mapping of ethnic colors today and the global problem of disproportionate racism towards blacks. Humans, white or black, male or female, abuse power consciously or even subconsciously; we act in our own or our immediate group’s self-interest first and others second. Certainly there are subtle physical advantages in different ethnic groups, but at the core of ourselves, we learn that we are not so different from other ethnic groups — for better or worse.
Us versus Them.
There is a profound irony in thinking racism is dead as the concept of race is clearly not and is still discussed at length, by every race. Usually what one means or refers to when they say ‘race’ is ‘ethnicity, assuming the most positive intent. But every person alive thinks in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’, ingroup versus outgroup, whatever it is that defines said groups. Moreover, people respond at least subconsciously to one’s race as demonstrated by the Implicit Association Test (IAT), developed by social psychologists, Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald. A specific version, the Race IAT, reveals that many white people harbor implicit preference for European-American people, and bias against African-American people. For some test-takers, this result was in direct contrast to the conscious non-biased, egalitarian views they held, such as the politically liberal families of the American Northeast, and even the test-creators themselves! This is largely due to what’s called a ‘mindbug’, a subconscious process that interferes with a correct perception of something. Here are several examples of such, graciously provided by the authors of the book, “Blind Spot”:
I’m sure some of my readers (all fucking 3 of them), are curious as to how I responded to these tests. I will directly message you if you ask (I must have some incentive for you to subscribe). This answer I’m sure will surprise many of you, and surprised even myself.
The quick, crude take-away from this test (and book) is that many who proclaim they are not prejudiced, are indeed prejudiced, and that our brains still operate in subconscious, and even primitive ways, despite our vast intelligence.
The human brain needs to categorize the world to survive. Our ancestors often did not have time to critically think about whether something was a ‘friend or foe’ and would respond to the thing in kind: think of a snake or spider. Perhaps it is more advantageous to assume all snakes or spiders are potentially dangerous rather than risk being poisoned having gotten too comfortable and close with the creature. Similarly, humans treated other humans who did not look like them with a similar apprehension. This did not preclude them from eventually trusting the creature or person, as many ancient tribes befriended both foreign creatures and foreign peoples, and even cooperated with them; but an immediate comfort with the foreign thing could mean death for one’s tribe. One of the first scientific recognitions of this trend was reported in Gordan Allports 1954 book, The Nature of Prejudice:
“The human mind must think with the aid of categories…Once formed, categories are the basis for normal prejudgment. We cannot possibly avoid this process. Orderly living depends on it.”
Thus, early humanity grouped people into the categories of ‘us’ and ‘them’, ingroup and outgroup. Despite all the social, technological, and ethical advancements we’ve made, we have managed to categorize everything in sight. We may think more or less of someone depending on their religion (regardless of how devout they are), or even what musical band they like! A less harmful modern example of this exists with sports teams. The team members and fans believe their team is unique, and the given person often has an illogical preference for the team (perhaps they were born there and the team members and fans are more like ‘them’?). Some even believe their team has certain characteristics other teams do not. The uglier side of this phenomenon shows itself in prejudice and racism.
The anthropologist Elizabeth Culotta explores this phenomenon at length.
“You’re alone in a dark alley late at night. Suddenly a man emerges from a doorway. If you are a typical white American and he is a young black man, within a few tenths of a second you will feel a frisson of fear as your brain automatically categorizes him. Your heart beats faster and your body tenses. In this event, nothing happens. He glances at you and moves away. You walk on, feeling foolish for fears based merely on his membership in a racial group.”
In the scenario above your brain would have responded reflexively and automatically, without immediate conscious awareness of your actions and feelings. These feelings are powerful and our conscious action do often follow.
“Tension and suspicion between groups — whether based on racial, ethnic, religious, or some other difference — fuel much of the world’s violence. From the enduring feuds of the Middle East and Northern Ireland, to the vicious raids of South Sudan, to the gang warfare that plagues American cities, even to bullying in schools and skirmishes between fans of rival sports teams, much of the conflict we see today erupts because “we” are pitted against “them.”
Like person the alley, people don’t necessarily hold a particular grudge or animosity against another group, but rather have ignorance of them. Moreover, this ignorance and in turn, suspicion, of the other group is driven by our focus and preference of ‘our’ group.
For many researchers, our cruelty to “them” starts with our kindness to “us.” We favor those more like us, yet “Humans are the only animal that cooperates so extensively with nonkin, and researchers say that, like big brains, group life is a quintessential human adaptation.” (Culotta)
When the ingroup is loved, by definition there must be a less privileged outgroup. “One can be expected to be treated more nicely by ingroup members than by outgroups,” as psychologist Marilynn Brewer of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, put it in a seminal 1999 paper. “It is in a sense universally true that ‘we’ are more peaceful, trustworthy, friendly, and honest than ‘they,’” she wrote.
If your own group is competing for resources with another group, you would likely think to defend yourself or take some of the resources by force, as your very survival depends on it.
“Several other researchers have recently argued the reverse: that over time, hostilities between groups fostered ingroup love, because more cooperative groups won battles. Whichever came first, researchers agree that outgroup hate and ingroup love may have spurred each other.” (Culotta)
These biases, fears, and categorizations are built on very ancient, yet essential facets of the brain. Psychologist Steven Neuberg of ASU Temps notes, “The problem, he says, is that like smoke detectors, the system is designed to give many false alarms rather than miss a true threat. So outgroup faces alarm us even when there is no danger.” This would seem similar to the human desire to overeat sweets, as in a more dangerous environment, this particular source of energy may be scarce or a given climate or natural disaster may force you be without calorie-rich for an extended period of time. This impulse and behavior obviously betray us in a modern society, where sweets and calorie dense foods are a mere five minute drive or phone call away.
It might seem absurd to some that we have not “outgrown” our racial prejudices, yet as Robert Boyd of the University of Los Angelos points out, “In the distant past, we had very little experience interacting with people who were physically very different from us…” Even before colonization by Europeans from 1492 onward, most cultures (as in the bulk of a given population) did not have regular contact with people very physically different than themselves (Anglos/East-Asians; Africans/Native American). Ethnic or cultural distinctions have existed for a longer period of time, as psychologist Susan Fiske of Princeton University suggests. Events like the wars of the Maori and Morori Ori nations of Papa New Guinea bolster this argument. The former were warlike and the latter, passively resistance and non-violent. The Maoris nearly wiped out the Morori because of these differences.
These tendencies can be seen even in children, and even in those who fight for racial and religious equality. “This is in every single one of us, including me,” Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji says (co-author of “Blind Spot”). A recent study demonstrates this starts young: “Yarrow Dunham of Princeton, Banaji, and colleagues found that Taiwanese toddlers assumed that a smiling racially ambiguous face was Taiwanese, but a frowning one was white; white, American 3-year-olds similarly preferred their ingroup” (Culotta). This behavior is not isolated to humans, While Bonobos prefer cooperation and non-violence conflict resolution like sex, chimps “sometimes band together and attack and kill members of other troops.” Even the highly social and intelligence Orcas have been known to attack other creatures like Blue Whales for the mere sport of it. Violence unfortunately (according to human morals) is a natural part of life.
The concept of ingroup versus outgroup is basic enough to be a children’s story. The Sneetches, by Dr. Seuss, summarizes it well. The story tells of ducklike birds called “Sneetches” who have two classes — those with a green star on their bellies and those who do not. The Star-bellies consider themselves superior. The Plain-bellies inherently believe they are inferior as a result. This class-system appears stable until an entrepreneur named “Sylvester McMonkey McBean, who makes their system go “belly-up”.
He creates a machine which gives them a star, but for a fee. The leads to Plain-bellies becoming Star-bellies in huge numbers. The former Star-bellies see the star as cheapened as it is no longer exclusive to them. McBean sees this and offers to remove the stars (for a larger fee). Stars are stamped in and out between the Sneetches, and ultimately neither group can distinguish between each other. McBean leaves the planet filthy rich, convinced that these creatures will never change; yet by end of the story, the Sneetches come to realize that they are indeed all the same, and that “Sneetches are Sneetches.”
But human society is not so quick to understand. Technology and economic well-being has grown drastically since its beginning, but human behavior fundamentally remains the same.
“We seem to be quite willing to pay a high price for the right to group-based warfare, with group boundaries constructed along arbitrary demarcations of religion, race, and geography and requiring little more than distinctive stigmata and status as cues. We plot, scheme, and plan intergroup violence, all of which suggest highly conscious and reflective acts of hostility. But even here, we will see the hand of automatic feelings and benefits emerging from blindspots as igniters and stokers of intergroup conflict.” (Banaji, Greenwald)
Part of the failure to grow past these destructive behavior lies within human biology, and the brain’s susceptibility to habit. These habits and focused perspectives of course allow us to navigate the world more simply and successfully, but they can betray us when the world around us does not fit our focus and habit. Moreover, our brains are molded so that we are social creatures, and these habits and perspectives are imprinted from others. I’m sure my explanation appears somewhat vague, but that is due in part to the debate of ‘nature versus nurture’ is hardly settled. There began significant success in behavioral science in the 20th century.
Konrad Lorenz, the mid 20th century Austrian ethologist, did a study on ducklings “whose attachment behavior revealed a choreographed interplay between nature and nurture.” (Banaji, Greenwald).
The duckling would instinctively follow the first moving object they encountered, which normally is the biological mother. However, Lorenz arranged the ducklings so that he was the first thing they encountered. The result was a famous scene of ducklings following a human around. He was able to achieve this because the ducklings were in a critical period where they were most susceptible to imprinting. Their attachment became ‘stamped-in’. Like clay being molded, his intervention imprinted behavioral response upon the ducklings; like clay heated or left to dry, the ducklings’ imprinting was so strong as they grew into geese, they still preferred Lorenz over other geese.
The process was initially thought to be permanent and specific to that critical period, however, more recent studies show it is not necessarily irreversible. Yet, this imprinting does occur without a doubt. Within animals and humans, there is a “preparedness” to “favor the familiar” (Banaji, Greenwald). The ingroup/outgroup nature of humanity demonstrates this profoundly, and shapes our sense of identity. Most believe themselves to be masters of their destiny or perhaps subconsciously believe that they see the world the “true” way. We generally do not consider that, “A person with the same genes would likely end up Jewish if born in Israel, Muslim in Saudia Arabia, or Hindu in India.” (Banaji, Greenwald). A person may even consider they are wrong or understand logically that their religion, culture, or worldview is only one of many, and not the only ‘correct’ way, yet due to so many traits or preferences are ‘stamped-in’, they may not escape their stamped-in behaviors and views.
Monkey see; Monkey do.
Social order and influence play a profound role in society, regardless how individualistic and tolerant one society may be. The 20th century further saw significant social and psychological revelations within humans. The Milgram Obedience Test and the Ashe Conformity studies revealed how deeply and quickly someone can be influenced by others without force, even as an adult.
In the Milgram test, participants were convinced to deliver an (fake) electric shock to a participant based on whether they answered questions correctly. Almost all participants delivered the near-maximum shock to the other participant. Most would find harming another to be inexcusable — at least at face value. This was accomplished as they were able to justify their actions and delegate the responsibility to the test instructor, and insist that they were ‘just following instructions.’ We can easily imagine then, how even those who thought slavery to be immoral would carry out discipline of slaves, or at least turn a blind eye to it.
The Ashe conformity study revealed how people will preserve an established social belief even if it contradicts their own, and even if it contradicts facts!
A group of several participants were shown lines on paper and asked to write down which was long. They were then asked to state which was longer in front of the group. The catch was that everyone but one subject in each group was aware of the study and would give the same incorrect answer aloud. The responses were filmed, so a viewer could see the visible discomfort on the subject’s face as everyone else gave an answer they truly knew to be incorrect. However, the subjects changed their own correct answer to incorrect group answer.
The discomfort they experienced is what social psychologists termed “cognitive dissonance” — that is the though sensation that occurs when one thinks of two contradictory ideas, and cannot reconciled together, and they feel compelled to accept one. In the cases of the aforementioned social experiments, a person would accept the idea someone in authority told them or that the majority believed, even if they believed it to be wrong. John Jost, a psychologist at New York University, has suggested that, “people in fact are willing to sacrifice their self-interest for the sake of maintaining the existing social order.” How many thought slavery to be inhumane or at least too extreme, yet could not be bothered to fight against it? How many yearned to be a romantic relationship with someone from another race during the Jim-Crow Era or Apartheid, yet did not wish to disappoint their parents or community? For many, truths in society may be more difficult to live than is worth the effort. Rather; a truth may become less ‘correct’ in the fact of a majority that doesn’t agree; it may have less practical and accepted application. For example, you could design a pair of pants that is almost indestructible, but if it is not considered fashionable, it will likely not sell well. One could love a sports team, but if they have no fellow fans, the potential enjoyment gained from watching the team is reduced: who wants to be lonely?
One might also think of the saying, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, did it make a sound?” We depend on others not only to enjoy something together, but to validate our own beliefs about the world. If no one has seen the things you have seen or thought what you have, you might question, “Is what I thought, heard or saw, real?” Part of the discomfort caused by cognitive dissonance is due to sensation of not-knowing. Both the mental illnesses of depression and anxiety are heavily influenced by feeling helpless, and of being unable to cope with a given expectation. If we have support from others, even if those others validate a belief we believe to potentially be incorrect, it becomes more true to us. And as the Milgram Obedience Test suggested, it can be comforting and stress-relieving to cede responsibility — the burden of choice — to another. This phenomena clashes with the notion of individual identity, free-will, and even a democratic society. The 20th century Russian fiction writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, arguably the best pyscho-analytical writer of his generation, says it best:
“Man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that great gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Grand Inquisitor
If one sees racism in action, they can use their brainpower not to fight it, but to justify it, or at least justify their inaction by blaming another or saying their efforts will be pointless. Facing the problem may force them to face it alone (so they believe) and may only attract violence against themselves. We may even consciously recognize that “this is just the way things are” or that “that is just how they were raised” when seeing the hostility against another. In this way, our brains betray our morally better selves, as we use our empathy and social nature to empathize more so with the person committing the racist act, or at least to downplay its severity. An even more likely scenario is that a given person knows racism to be wrong involving a member of their own ‘race’ hurting another of a different race, but they believe this be a relatively isolated incident, not a pattern. How statistically common racially-motivated crimes are will not discussed at length here; the focus in this thought experiment is the mindset involves ‘confirmation bias’ — where a person seeks only answers, situations, or people that confirm what they already believe or suspect. If a white person believes themselves to be racially targeted, they will seek out examples confirming this problem, and either deny or incidentally not see ones that say blacks are actually targeted more so. If a black person sees society as having bias against blacks, their perspective will notice far more examples of discrimination against blacks. Certainly one of these scenarios has more examples than the other and is perhaps part of a larger, more powerful pattern, but the principle of confirmation bias remains the same. This mindbug helps lay framework for an Us versus Them dichotomy, and ultimately prejudice and racism.
A study by Elizabeth Phelps at New York University further reinforces Us/Them. It sought how long respondents of different races — white or black — would have a fear aversion to a given race after experiencing pain. The participants would be shown a picture of white or black person will being given a somewhat painful shock. The researchers then measured the amount of sweat from their palms to show their level of fear. They found that the white and black participants showed the same relative level of fear of both races of the people in the photos, but their fear for people of their own race diminished faster than that of the other race. The implications from these finding are significant and wide-reaching: they bolster the idea of tribalism and groupthink. One commentator from Phelps’ lab noted, “the result suggests that an act of terrorism committed by a member of the in-group may be forgotten faster than a similarly reprehensible act perpetrated by a member of a foreign group.” (Banaji, Greenwald). This finding also further affirms the role of confirmation bias in prejudice: we underestimate the occurrence and severity of crimes of people in our racial or religious group, and overestimate the crimes of people not our racial or religious group.
Again, the problem of racism is bigger than racism and more than single learned, modern concept. Jason Mitchel at Harvard University conducted a study where (liberal) undergraduates participants were asks to analyze and answer the same questions about two men while an fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). One was conservative and religious and the other liberal and career-focused. Most would think the neurons used to analyze the men would be the same, but Mitchell discovered they were actually different. From previous research at Dartmouth University, its understood that the ventral mPFC in the brain is more engaged when we think about ourselves than when we think about others. Moreover, it’s only equally active when we are anticipating the actions of someone similar to ourselves. In sum, we tend to think we know what another is thinking. Psychologists suggest recruitment of these neurons associated with ourselves is a simulation “of the mind of the other person”. We can only recruit these neurons of this given area of the brain if we identity with the other person. Of course, this is all happening subconsciously. In our Shakespearean conceit, we may entirely unaware we are incorrectly analyzing another. This is troubling for three reasons in my summation: 1) we may fail to empathize with another and/or act on their behalf with largely inaccurate information and 2) we may simply avoid interaction with those unlike us because we see their actions are not as they should be. 3) We ARE aware we don’t understand them and find it’s too much work to do so. We don’t care. We act on our fear instead.
Yet there have been cases where we analyze the damage done to others — the outgroup — by our false preconceptions and notions of them. Whites believed they “understood” blacks. Not only did they incorrectly assess them as people, but they incorrectly assessed them as beings. Blacks were considered subhuman — beasts even. The psuedoscience of phrenology asserted as fact that parts for the ‘Black brain’ were smaller. This was the pretext and justification for their enslavement, a widespread sentiment that has arguably lingered to this day. Mamie and Kenneth Clark, two African American psychologists, created the famous “Doll studies” that influenced the Brown v. Board of Education case, which concluded with the Supreme Court deeming segregated schools to be unconstitutional on the basis that it was harmful to the black students. Black children unanimously preferred the white dolls over the black dolls: their racism was internalized, and deep down, they disliked their own selves.
Most of us think, “but I would not do such a thing. I would stand up and do the right thing.” or perhaps we think, “I am only a victim” but research and real events show us how quickly an ordinary person, woman or man, can internalize a role, and abuse an another when given a bit of authority. In 1971, Phillip Zimbardo conducted a study funded by the U.S. Navy, which set up a fake prison with 12 men as guards and 12 men as prisoners, and saw how each group would respond and behave respectively. Even knowing this, the guards were being observed, they psychologically and even physically abused the prisoners. They would try to force feed the prisoners and if refused, would lock them in solitary confinement within a closet, without a bed or light. Some acted significantly worse, and “needed to show their dominance even when unnecessary”, an attribute of the “Hawthorne effect”. The prisoners even internalized and CONTINUED their participatory role, even though they could leave and still be paid at any time. It is uncanny how the real events of Abu Ghraib mirrored this study.
***An Addendum: Recent review of this study suggests it may be another victim of the “replication crisis” — in that its results cannot be readily replicated with a study of a similar model and participants, thus its results are not scientifically valid. The participants were supposedly cajoled into performing the demeaning acts to others and just “doing what [Zimbardo] wanted”; however to me at the fact that the participants were willing to do this lends credence to authority can convince otherwise ‘innocent’ individuals into doing terrible things. The Milgram experiment was recently repeated in a Polish study, albeit with more ethical constraints, and found to have strikingly similar results as the original.
The experiment was terminated early as Zimbardo was told by his colleague how unethical the study was. The findings suggest the participants actions were driven by “situational attribution of behavior over dispositional attribution (a result caused by internal characteristics)”. Yet, I believe the findings also say something about human beings’ innate disposition as a species and society considering how relatively easily manipulated their behavior was, especially when juxtaposed with horrific acts of torture, sexual abuse and genocide like Abu Ghraib, the My Lai Massacre, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Rape of Nanking. These were perpetrated by many different ethnic groups, and even the women could be convinced to take part in these atrocities.
Violence often stems from fear, albeit fear allowed to run wild. Xenophobia is defined as fearing what is foreign. It is not hard to see then how people generally have an innate hesitation to trust that which is foreign. We greet strangers with apprehension, especially in the dark or if the other is a large male and we are a female. Once one becomes more familiar with something or someone, we of course become more trusting in kind. Moreover if another group is physically isolated or consciously segregated by society or a ruling class, then there will be less familiarization of their physical features and behavior, and hence more fear. This lack of trust does not always have to result in actual violence or even verbal aggression, hence is harder to detect like the current state of prejudice of the United States. But some studies aim to assert how humans physically act on their fear and in turn, prejudice.
The amygdala in the brain is implicated significantly in the emotion of fear. It ‘lights up’ when afraid and often is seen as underdeveloped or damaged in the brains of ‘psychopaths’ and serial killers. A study in 2012 titled “Race and reputation: perceived racial group trustworthiness influences the neural correlates of trust decisions” details how the brain reacts with fMRI scans when asked to trust another person, white or black, in a game of monetary exchange.
Our analysis focused on the continuous relationship between individual differences in race attitudes and perceived trustworthiness. We found that differences in implicit race attitudes (IAT D score) predicted disparity in the perceived trustworthiness of black and white faces.
The amygdala and another brain area called the ‘striatum’ are both implicated in the role of trust estimation and trust-based decision making. The amygdala and striatum appear to “interact when the potential threat or emotional value of a stimulus results in a decision to act.” ( Damian A. Stanley et. al). While these results regarding mirror neurons and the role of certain brains areas being implicated in actual prejudice are not irrefutable, the bulk of these studies in evolutionary biology suggest there is a strong correlation at least between racial attitudes and trust.
Nazis, like the racists in the United States, were successful as persecuting Jews in part because they were able to dehumanize them, the other group. It is of course easier to dehumanize when you don’t empathize: the other group was not human so it would be far less to empathize, or only empathize as one would with an animal.
Empathy is suggested to be fostered by “mirror neurons” in humans and similar creatures such as primates. The same (or similar/neighboring) neuron would be firing in one’s brain when they watched another engaging in the same action that they had engaged in themselves, such as seeing a researcher eat a peanut or watching a researcher tickle themselves with a feather. This to me is telling in both nature AND nurture. These findings in some ways suggest that humans are ‘wired’ (not the best metaphor given how complex the brain is) for cooperation and seeing others as similar and treating them to the ‘golden rule’ — treating others as we want to be treated. However, we clearly do not empathize as often as we should. We do not always see others as the same as shown in numerous historical accounts of dehumanization and outgroup prejudice such as Nazi Germany and segregated America. Even today, these ignorant attitudes and prejudices are rampant across societies across the globe. If we take the historical invention of modern racism towards African-Americans, and the prevalence of similar modes of ethnic and gender prejudice and compare them with many individuals who do not show the same level of prejudice when tested by methods such as the IAT, it seems that at least in part, we have learned to be prejudiced and to hate.
Boys will be Boys
It is evident to most that human males tend to be more aggressive. Despite female warrior exceptions, it has been largely men who have waged war against one another and defended against violence. Even today for whatever reason (will not delve into the matter here), men commit more violent crimes and sexual assaults than females. Some psychologists or evolutionary biologists believe this is due to the presence of nearly 10 times the amount of testosterone than is present in females. Evolutionary biologists believe in the “mall warrior hypothesis”, in which “…men have evolved stronger tendencies to form coalitions to attack other groups and to defend their own groups, families, and property against coalitions of other men.” They consider that perhaps the “The snap judgments people make about others may be part of a sensitive alarm system that evolved when the people most likely to present a violent threat were strange males.” (Culotta). It is not difficult to observe why: physical sexual dimorphism in humans is rather significant. Men on average are larger and stronger than females and thus present more of a threat when alone with female. Given the aforementioned role of the amygdala in fear, we can see how quickly the recipe for prejudice is followed subconsciously. Yet others are not as convinced, such as anthropologist Polly Wiessner of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. She states that the, “Kung of Africa, whom Wiessner studied for decades, “may travel for hundreds of miles to visit exchange partners in less familiar areas, with no fear of unknown males,” (Culotta). Perhaps this is the exception rather than the rule though.
In the United States, black males face disproportionate discrimination than other females and males from other ethnic groups suggests Harvard University psychologist James Sidanius, an African American who himself was the target of hate crimes as a young man. “He and colleagues have assembled a devastating catalog showing how this is true for black men in America. As compared with black women, black men are more likely to be victims of hate crimes, receive harsher jail sentences for comparable offenses, pay more money for cars” and be denied job opportunities. Black women conversely will more likely be victims of sexual assault. They also are seen as less attractive as other ethnic groups on a larger, societal level (I don’t believe this, but this study supports this sort of discrimination). This does not mean that a given individual is not actually attracted to another (their genitals may betray their brain), but that the desire to mate and marry with an ‘in-group’ individual may supersede this desire. Perhaps their desire to avoid rebuke or isolation from other ingroup members equally acts as an incentive to choose someone of their own group. If one does not receive blessing from their parents for a given partner, especially if they are financially dependent upon them, it is more difficult to choose someone from an outgroup, as they may not be ‘blessed’ with financial support.
Islam is supposed to be a religion of peace, yet as it’s widely interpreted and practiced, it is bogged down by prejudice in that it is largely patriarchal. Men are the primary holders of power and beneficiaries.
One of the more powerful rules for this reinforcement is that Muslim women cannot marry non-Muslim men (see the piece I wrote on the matter), whereas men are afforded this latitude or at least receive lesser social consequence for dating outside religion/race. The children are supposed to follow the religion of the father. Even dating a non-Muslim attracts considerable ire. Many ethnicities that believe in Islam harbor significant prejudice against even Muslims of other races. They see certain races that are Muslim as inferior by nature: this meets the criteria for racism certainly. The Arab Slave-trade was, until the 1990s, was perhaps one of the most prolific systematic trafficking organizations of human life for the purposes of forced labor. Many Arabic households have East African women ostensibly as “housekeepers” and then objectify them sexually and sexually abuse them.
Unfortunately the most prominent spokespeople in Islam have interpreted related Surahs in such a way that following Islam appears as a choice. The harsh reality is that it’s an illusion of choice.
The illusion of choice is a form of behavior modification (goes by other names; it’s used in group homes, therapy, etc.) where you offer a person two or more choices so the situation appears to be the other person’s choice — giving them a sense of control or freedom — but that achieves a planned result you desire. When one is raised in an environment where the penalty for not choosing said belief system is so harsh that they may be disowned from the family, choice is subsidized by desire for safety and the only option of companionship that is available — that is choosing between other Muslims or potentially someone from another race who is Muslim. Most Muslims live or emigrate from largely African and Arabic countries where this relationship is heavily reinforced. As a result, this mentality and schema is ingrained in Muslims’ respective psyches; it is normalized and deviations such as dating outside religion is haram or even outside one’s ethnic group is met with great skepticism. Many Arabic peoples believes it is beneath to marry a ‘dark-skinned’ individual and actively discriminate against even light-skinned ethnic groups.
While many Muslims interpret that certain Surah to mean one cannot marry a ‘non-believer’, so many have conflated religion and race, despite the prophet Muhammed’s (peace be upon him) commands forbidding racial discrimination. Many Muslims have put race before religion, and prefer to associate with those of the same race and nationality. Many have used their religion as a pretense to bar others from different races to marry into their family. I do not submit that it is Islam itself that creates racism (at least not here and in this context), rather it is the followers’ of Islam doing. For instance, Islam requires that all those who are Muslim be treated as equals, yet many Islamic conquerors would actively abstain from converting (or rather ‘reverting’ as Muslims prefer) certain peoples, as this would prevent them from being treated as equals and allow them to be used as mere tools.This happens due in part to said brain mechanisms sorting people into ‘us’ and them’ and the relative isolation of certain ethnicities. Necessary to factor into this equation are nations and groups representing different sects of Islam, Sunni and Shia, that have waged war for centuries. They two have conflated the other sect as being ‘them’, thus of lesser worth somehow. This would seem absurd to most modern citizens in the West, as a Protestant would certainly be allowed to marry a Catholic. Of course, it was not always this way.
Islam is but one example where religion and race is conflated. Clearly, Christianity has been tainted by the idea of race. When one looks at depictions of Jesus over the last several hundred years, they see a clearly Anglicized, Caucasian Jesus, despite that Jesus was of Middle-Eastern ethnicity and would have a darker skin and hair complexion. After the destruction and dissolution of the Eastern Roman Empire, Christianity become a largely European enterprise on the backs of the Byzantines. Indeed, Christianity became a political weapon and even a business at times. The Holy Roman Empire had no qualms of excommunicating those who defied its leadership or “God’s plan”. Henry the VIII was excommunicated by the Catholic church for marrying a Protestant woman. The United States was in part founded by Dutch Puritans seeking religious freedom. It was not long before the Americans used their newfound freedom to take it from others.
As mentioned earlier in this piece, the systematic physical and ethnic destruction of the Native Americans by European settlers, who were largely Christian, clearly was anything but “Christian” behavior (according to the New Testament anyway). Yet many thought it Christian virtue to “tame the savages”. Schools existed for the forced adoption of Native American children so they could be made “civilized” and “good” Christians. The alternatives were beatings or living in isolated poverty with their parents.
Black people received rather unChrist-like treatment by white Christians via segregated neighborhoods, being victims of emotional and physical abuse, and were not welcome at white churches even. Even after numerous legal and social reforms, churches are STILL segregated today. Though they are not legally segregated, the churches are often segregated because they are in segregated neighborhoods and the issues they focus on are sometimes different. While white churches (like the ones I grew up with) are not actively seeking to segregate, their sermons have largely remained ignorant or apathetic to ongoing racial problems in America.
There exists a tragic irony in both of these religious examples of racial treatment contradict the written word of Christianity and Islam. Certainly much of these books is metaphorical (depending on what sect you believe in) but these verses are quite clear.
From the New Testament of the Bible:
Ephesians 2:14 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…
James 2:8–9 Indeed, if you keep the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. But if you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
John 7:24 Do not judge according to appearance, but judge the righteous judgment.
James 2:1 My brothers and sisters, do not show prejudice if you possess faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.
Even the Old Testament speaks against prejudice:
11. Leviticus 19:33–34 “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.
Islam also condemns racism and prejudice:
“Do you not see that Allah sends down rain from the sky? With it We then bring out produce of various colors. And in the mountains are tracts white and red, of various shades of color, and black intense in hue. And so amongst men, and crawling creatures, and cattle — they are of various colors. Those truly fear Allah, among His Servants, who have knowledge. For Allah is Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving” (Quran 35:27–28).
In the last sermon of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), he reminded us: 
O People, all mankind is from Adam and Eve; an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black, nor a black has any superiority over a white, except by piety and good action.
It seems conclusive that if we are to read into these two major religions accurately, discrimination is against God’s commandments. Our racism and fear trumps our obedience to piety and divinity in this respect.
The Race against Race
Perhaps the most profound caveat to belief that “only white people can be racist” is threefold: 1) most people “white” people (or simply people in general) are also not going to differentiate between prejudice and racism (or fundamentally or subconsciously see a difference) and partly due to said cultural understanding, 2) these people will not respond well or aptly to being labeled as “racist” because the word “racist” still carries great negative moral weight, especially when published in media: people often do not respond well to outright condemnation, especially when it is more directed at their character, rather than a specific action. It becomes a permanent label. However, these people (or us ) do not logically see how their actions constitute as racist, thus cannot reconcile the charge of racism with what they’ve likely learned. Moreover, if one insists another belongs to a certain group, they will likely act as such. We can see this throughout increased tribalism in politics. There is no social safety outside of one’s ascribed ‘group’. In a social landscape where the borders are frequently changing, being an not-racist not enough (that is — not thinking one race is better than another), so many say, “fine, if I am firmly defined as being white then I’ll be on team white.” This is coincidentally in part how ‘black’ culture developed (not nearly to the same severity of course). Again, this does not justify; instead it describes.
To more succinctly illustrate this problem, let us conjecture some classical logic, and follow thought-equation to their sum.
Scenario 1: If racism — apart from mere prejudice — is indeed a system of oppression of which only white people are the perpetrators, we still run into the three aforementioned issues. The system in turn is compounded further by the supposed ignorance ingrained in white people’s minds by the system of racism. If white people are brain(white)washed and they indeed believe they are right, that is, they behaviors and thoughts are learned since childhood, how is simply saying, “you are brainwashed” going to un-brainwash them? How will this be effective, especially when delivered with condescension? How many people in general respond well to a didactic tone based on a definition of racism they haven’t heard? If they were programmed a given way, you or others will have to un-programme them.
When someone has a problem with addiction or an unhealthy relationship with something, they need to unlearn the bad behaviors and connections that led to this addiction. This takes time, a severing of ties with bad reinforcers for this behavior, sometimes professionals and a controlled environment. The only one likely to exist in the real world is time and perhaps severing some ties: one cannot live in a vacuum without bad influences however.
Moreover, many of the people asserting only white people are racist are black, yet affluent. So many poor whites did not enjoy Barack Obama’s presidency as much as a more progressive white would. Now said person of color will state, “well it took a long time, generations, lots of hard work, suffering, and luck to get here” and that is likely true; however, if the given white person is so ignorant, how would they know this, and why would they believe it? Moreover, if they are NOT affluent, and in fact, quite poor, hearing an affluent black person say they are racist will seem absurd, especially if they lack the cultural wisdom and perhaps even intelligence to understand that accusation! After all, THEY presumably also worked hard yet have failed to achieve similar status. So many of these lower-class working white poor were the ones who voted for Donald Trump under the (clearly false) pretense that he would help them: they truly do not know they are being misled and this is quite understandable. This is a routine, classic application of “divide and conquer” and the essence of the term “white trash” — where white elites convinced lower-class white that blacks were the source of their economic woes. It is and was equally understandable how many blacks accepted and even appreciated their respective white tyrants; it was only with time and a wave after wave of awareness campaigns, tragedies (open-casket Emitt Till), successive generations, and in turn separation and distance from the severity of their oppression that they were able to recognize how terrible it and its perpetrators were. People tend to block out and normalize trauma to cope with it.
Yet let’s entertain Scenario 2 where potentially ALL people can be racist. We must address a few most likely sub-scenarios (they are somewhat arbitrary and abstract but are specific and different enough to suit this argument):
- All people are possibly racist, white people are the MOST racist.
- All people can be racist, but aren’t necessarily so. Whites are still main source of prejudice problem and act at least as systematic oppressors (not necessarily active) for people of color.
- All people are racist.
- All people are possibly racist; we cannot determine who is most racist
This isn’t to distract from the more likely and oft-discussed scenario of white supremacy (that is whites holding greater social power overall and consciously or subconsciously discriminating against non-whites); it serves to illustrate three crucial points. 1) It’s nigh impossible to determine any of this definitively without mind-reading everyone on the planet, and 2) there are scenarios evident where non-whites are racist, but that they don’t necessarily contradict this oft-discussed scenario of white supremacy; 3) scenario 2 is most plausible.
I assert that given the related historical examples, a logical analysis to reducing racism, and the neuroscience behind why racism and prejudice even exist, it is not true that ‘only white people can be racist’ and that even if this is believed, holding this belief will not reduce racism.
This begets the most important analysis and question: How then can we reduce racism?
Chiggity-check yourself before you wriggity-wreck yourself.
We perhaps must treat the fight against racism as a war, rather than a mere battle. We must follow the wise manta of Sun Tzu, who writes in the “Art of War” that aptly summarizes the necessary psychological approach:
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
I propose education of course, not merely for the ‘racists’ but for those seeking to end to racism, white or non-white. This education should consist of the material and topics covered thus far and be 1) wholly historical and anthropological, 2) psychological and neurological) and 3) logical and non-condescending both in its analysis and most importantly, in its efforts to convince ‘racists’. This social education (via public school curriculum and private conversations) should be coupled with political and legal measures that afford opportunities for minorities that address their relative discrimination experienced in applicable countries.
Psychologist Mark Schaller of the University of British Columbia asks,
“If certain situations turn implicit prejudice up, can it be turned down? Schaller notes that making people feel safer can moderate this bias, whether through specific priming or more generally with lower crime rates or a better economy. To unconsciously prime her own mind, Banaji has created a screen saver that displays stereotype-smashing images. Other researchers say that deliberately engaging the slower conscious mind may help. For example, in addition to skimming all job applications quickly, a manager might read the files of minority applicants with care.
Though we have consistently seen prejudicial attitudes have biological underpinnings, that does not mean that prejudice is even inevitable.
“These prejudices tap into very ancient parts of our minds, and it’s happening at a very quick, automatic level,” he says. “But we have recently evolved parts of our brains that allow us to engage in slower, more rational thought. When I experience that fear in a dark alley, it may take me another half-second for a more rational thought to kick in, but I’ll get there, if I have the motivation and means to do so.” (Culotta).
In essence, though we have circuitry laid for prejudice, it is malleable and we can ‘re-wire’ this learned behavior. A more modern way to describe this treatment is succinctly said in the wise words of rapper Ice-Cube:
“Chiggity-check yourself before you wriggity-wreck yourself.”
We must also understand ourselves and of course others, and see how we are the same in the builds of our brains. Facing the unknown makes something more known, and therefore less intimidating.
“Over the last century, researchers studying race have found a dramatic drop in racist attitudes and stereotypes. There is strong neuroscience evidence for what we have long known — that becoming familiar with individuals from other races as well as a conscious desire to transcend our prejudices can erode racism and other forms of bigotry.” (Rob Brooks).
Mark Twain echoed this sentiment over 100 years previously in The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Globalism is accomplishing this slowly but surely, however much nationalism is interfering. This new wave of nationalism (and every previous wave) preys on the Us/Them dichotomy of our more primitive minds. Social media and the internet has been able to connect the world over the last 20 years that is unprecedented in history. Unfortunately, it also is ripe for being taken over by the Us/Them arguments. We must continually battle against our baser selves with our prefrontal cortex and our will to progress and evolve. For those who are more traditional and nostalgic, we must remember that which we came from is the same as any other human being — blood and a womb. Almost every person alive wishes to survive and for a chance at happiness.
We must put our plans into action daily. We must defend those who experience discrimination, regardless of where they come from, but not only them. We must call out those who actively promote prejudice, so that they are in the minority and feel the call to join the greater group. It will feel uncomfortable at times, but you will sleep more comfortably knowing you treated another like a human being. You may lose some friends, but you will have the opportunity to belong to an ingroup that rates someone by the morality and merit of their actions, not merely where they come from or what they look like.
We must also put our money, and our vote, where our mouth is. It is not merely enough to talk about the problem of racism or simply ‘spread awareness’. We must be willing to grant job opportunities to minorities, eat with them, and invest in their communities. We should vote for political candidates that advance or sustain society for not only “our” group, but other groups, especially minority groups. These candidates will not always be perfect. Barack Obama, the first black president was hardly perfect, but his performance was solid, and more importantly, he set a precedent for black people, and gave hope to them that they too could achieve something magnificent.. After 250 years of white leaders, we saw a black man running a country created by white men, often on the backs of black men and other minorities.
One way to encourage the slower, more rational thoughts, which also encourage our better angels is very much in the hands of politicians. For instance, if it was left to a vote capital punishment would never have been abolished in many Western countries but politicians took the leap on moral grounds helped by extensive public campaigns. When politicians reverted to pro-capital punishment atavism, such as former Victorian Liberal opposition leader Alan Brown, their leadership came under threat. In contrast one of his successors, Jeff Kennett, was extraordinarily principled on questions such as race and just refused opportunities to add to the fires and the atavistic comments while publicly demonstrating a strong commitment to multiculturalism.
It is also necessary to break down the color barriers in romantic love. While this practice should not be compulsory, I believe that interracial marriage will force the respective families to to accept the merging of cultures and ethnicity, lest they choose to disown their own children. Either way, the children of these parents ( should they choose to remain together) will be inheriting ethnic and cultural diversity and potentially passing it on. Some may argue that ‘mixed’ children are often confused and torn between respective racial ‘sides’; but if we are healing the wounds between these races and erasing lines between sides, these children can be enriched by two cultures and use this as an opportunity to become a more ethnically-sensitive and tolerant individual. Others may argue that mixing ethnicities, especially in the case of African-Americans, will ‘whitewash’ their culture further, and simply step over the transgressions of European-Americans against them. Again, this can be seen as a cultural opportunity, rather than a cultural setback. For example, white person can potentially learn about a black person’s hardships and in turn be actively sympathetic and vocal about their feelings and related causes. The powerful emotion of romantic love can create awareness of the other and a bond that would otherwise not have existed. The very fact that two very ethnically different people are married can force people to acknowledge someone they may previously have had little contact with. This is not merely conjecture and wishful thinking on my part; interracial relationships have historically had a profound effect on changing public perception of racial relations and culture for the better.
However I feel compelled to provide warning and condemnation for those who simply seek to have sex with someone of another ethnicity simply for a novelty or domination aspect. I equally caution against the hypocrisy of those who tout progressive agendas publicly and in words, but privately are prejudiced and end up falling prey to another prejudice and enlist themselves into another ingroup: they will fight the outgroup instinctively and with discrimination — whether on the political right or left. A Russian author who lived through the terror of Joseph Stalin gave a piercing insight about the human condition that serves to remind us all what we can become.
“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.
Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956
This quote reminds me of a great Professor of East Asian History who changed the way I saw the world, and more importantly, myself. He spent an entire period lecturing and showing a documentary about the Rape of Nanking. The videos and images we saw were horrific, vulgar and excruciating. There were massive trenches of dead and live bodies, having just been tortured and raped — men, women, and children. Some classmates were in tears and others in shock. After we finished, the Professor also had tears welling in his eyes. Choked with emotion, he managed to sternly state,
“This could be you.”
Of course I thought me meant the murdered or raped, but he continued,
“Don’t any one of you think that this could not be you. Not only did so many terrible people willingly order and carry out these atrocities, so many good people simply acted and watched without protest or a fight. Only a handful stayed to fight and defend the persecuted.”
Beside myself, I started crying silently. I knew he was right, and I knew that this example explained so much of the suffering and prejudice we hold and that we face. Even the disciple Peter denied knowing Jesus, the supposed Savior of mankind, three times, simply to save himself.
So to those who say “Only White people can be racist”, I say you are a fool, however understandable; for we not only arm ourselves and our allies when we align ourselves along racial lines with such an absolute statement, we arm our enemies with our extremism and distance.
However, we cannot escape our need for categories and groups, so I submit to you 2 essential groups humanity will likely never escape or evolve out of. I ask to which group do you belong to: good or bad? I must assert that there is a disclaimer to these elite clubs: you must reapply to them each day, with each choice your make, and with each mistake you do or do not apologize for, and with each sin you choose to forgive or not forgive. You may be surprised to find the members migrate daily across party, racial and religious lines frequently, or that someone you never expected would be ‘good’ is suddenly one of the top members. Regardless which group you belong to, you may find yourself standing or kneeling alongside a Christian one day and a Muslim the next; you may be shaking hands with a black or white; you may be defending an Arab woman, or East-Asian man. You may likely come to the ironic realization that at the end of the day, the “first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” Ultimately, good is not a status nor a group: good is a choice.
We must understand and sometimes vindicate why various groups came about, and we must understand where these lines exist between us all and that we must learn how to serve the ‘other’ in order to erase these lines. But ultimately, we must realize that there are only 2 ‘race’ options to check when filling out the moral application to these clubs:
(I know list is sloppy but I don’t give a fuck because I already graduated college and this isn’t an academic publication)