Thoughts on Racial Prejudice

I like the notion that, as human beings, we belong to just one race, the human race. All racial subdivisions below that are just constructs, concoctions, to give certain people a reason for feeling exclusive and superior. Racism therefore exists, but it is built on a fiction, on an imaginary division of human beings. Physical differences and different adaptive practices are used to construct racial hierarchies.

A simple extrapolation of racism shows up in heart-on-sleeve or hand-on-heart patriotism. So often, vocal patriotism has racial overtones. Many people who are avowed patriots are also racists, who are antagonistic towards other races, cultures and religions. Reclaim Australia, for instance, is all about a white, anglo-saxon, Christian Australia. That is its real agenda. .

Antagonism towards Adam Goodes clearly illustrates the nature of racism in Australia. As a human being Adam comes across as a serious minded, sensitive, intelligent, articulate individual. He also happens to be a champion footballer,  an elite sportsman. Elite sportsmen are revered in Australia. The less popular ones are those who also demonstrate a tendency to being intellectuals or to being sensitive, new-age, compassionate, and maybe even something else your normal male sports fan does not like to be associated with. When that elite sportsman is all of the above as well as an Australian aboriginal the antipathy towards him is worse. This is where racism creeps in. An Aboriginal is not allowed to remind non-aboriginals of their inadequacies. They have to know their place as lesser humans. After all they are being granted the rights that other Australians enjoy and are being accepted into mainstream society. What is expected of them is a bit of gratitude. They will be admired for their sporting or other physical prowess. But they cannot demonstrate mental strengths as well. So Adam Goodes has copped it from white Australia. And, even more infuriating for white Australia, he is also courageous. He is not afraid to speak up about the atrocious treatment of his people, he is not afraid to say what is in essence true, that Australia is a racist country. Let’s face it, the White Australia policy was rescinded less than 50 years ago, aboriginals began to be officially regarded as part of Australia’s human population less than 50 years ago. Of course this country is racist. It has only put on a non-racist veneer. Not far below the surface racist attitudes simmer and bubble, and people like Adam Goodes bring it to the surface, and they are hated for it.

It appears that people who belong to ethnic minorities often like to racially identify themselves as a means of standing up against the majority group. They perceive that because they are being racially vilified, promoting and expressing pride in their race is a necessary act of defiance against the perpetrators of the vilification. There may also be a notion that if you don’t stand up for your race then you are ashamed of it. I think this attitude puts people in a bind. if you stereotype your own race you are also strongly inclined to stereotype other races. You feel uncomfortable if you cannot racially pigeonhole someone. The deleterious effect of this is that, even subconsciously, your impressions of individuals are contaminated by racial assessments. The divestment of all emotional attachments to your race is a big step. People see many positives to be gained from being proud of their race. At the same time they want to be treated as individuals. I see a conflict here. If you have ethnic facets to your self image, and consequently have ethnic facets in your perception of others, then you have to accept ethnic facets in others’ perceptions of you. I don’t think there is any way around it. It is a big step to shed race from your perception of yourself and others, but that is what growing up and maturing are all about. Almost all prejudices are instilled in childhood. No rational thought goes into their adoption. They are accepted because your parents or others you respect told you they were true. But, what good is education and life experience if you don’t use them to work things out for yourself, especially those things you blindly accepted as a child? All prejudices are essentially irrational. Education and maturity give one the ability to step back from their prejudices and look at them with more objectivity. The refusal to apply objectivity, or the tendency to ignore facts because they refute one’s beliefs, is very poor use of intellectual capacity. I cannot accept that it is difficult for an educated, enlightened person to objectively examine the involvement of race in their self perception and in their perception of others. What they may encounter are mostly emotional blocks. Pride in one’s race is one of them. To examine why one is proud of his race cannot be that difficult to work out. I heard someone say that a blanket statement to the effect that we are primarily all members of one race, the human race, is sugar coating the problem. I disagree. It is a fundamental truth that should be applied to one’s perceptions of race and how it affects one’s view of the rest of humanity and the world. By focussing on shared humanity you focus on commonalities; differences, racial, cultural or religious, become peripheral by comparison. You choose how important a particular difference will be. You choose the no go zones, you choose the non-negotiable differences, the core values, and on and on. But if, at the bottom of it all is a strong sense of shared humanity I dare say all those other things will no longer provide insurmountable barriers to forging friendships and relationships with other people. Chasms, gulfs, even expanses, become things you can now step into or step over. Once shared humanity becomes the basic premise for perceiving others, differences are likely to enrich the experience of getting to know someone.

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