July 25, 2013
The Challenge of Racism
By Amil Imani
Racism is one of a number of "isms" such as egoism, sexism, classism, ethnicism, tribalism, religionism, and so forth that reflect corruption of potentially good human dispositions. Environmental influences such as the person's upbringing, education in the broadest sense of the term, and personal experiences combine to mold these potentialities within each one of us either as positive attributes or negative traits.
Egoism, for instance, is the flip side of reasonable and justifiable self-confidence. While the former is a negative quality, the latter is a virtue.
Right at the start, it is important to realize that both terms "race" and "racism" are social designations with no factual bases. Genetically, humanity is from one common gene pool. Science has established that genetic variation within even the most distinctly homogenous isolated "race" is greater than that found across different races. Hence, there is only one race of humanity, irrespective of differences in certain physical features that may dominate in some populations while minimally present or absent in others.
Physical features associated with different "races," such as skin color, the ratio of trunk to extremities, type of hair, and the shape of the nose are results of climatic adaptations.
Looking objectively at racism, involving attribution of some negative qualities to a population of humans solely on the basis of a selective physical feature, such as skin color, is simply another form of categorizing; albeit, a repugnant one.
When dealing with any subject, we first need to establish that it does exist. Racism indeed exists and it is pandemic.
Racism based on skin color is most virulent and common because, in part, skin color provides an easy and quick way of classifying people. Classifying and attributing special characteristics to a population is a universal human practice. Young children, for instance, are classed and assigned certain common characteristics. Seniors, men in general, women as a whole, for instance, are assigned traits that characterize them as groups.
Psychologically, the practice of grouping people and ascribing its members with certain attributes is a form of generalization. Generalization, however, may have its flaws but it is also of great utilitarian value in numerous instances. By applying generalization, the person avoids the tedious and practically impossible task of treating each person individually.
Without the tool of generalization, humanity would be languishing in its pre stone-age state of development. It is the faculty of generalization, also present in other species, that obviates the need for identifying everything on a case-to-case basis. Hence, dogs are just dogs. In spite of their incredible variety of size and form, they are all grouped as dogs. One can approach them and tickle them behind the ears. No need to rediscover this information with every dog. Wolves are wolves. They are not dogs, although they may look like some dogs. One does well to avoid them and not attempt to tickle them behind the ears.
Racism is the misuse of generalization that some human groups employ to their advantage, even with the full knowledge of its unjust and evil nature.
Bi-directional racism is common among black and white people. Black and white people in the United States may feel antipathy toward one another, but may tend to express it in different ways.
This skin color based antipathy is seen among people who are greatly homogenous and vary only slightly in their skin color. Egyptians who have somewhat lighter skin colors, for instance, treat people of darker skin colors, although both are members of the same faith, with cruel discrimination.
Respect for the inherent dignity and well-being of each member of the human family is the foundation of freedom, human justice and peace in the world. This important principle is enshrined in the United Nations Charter (1945), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
What makes people different is not their biology, but the software that directs their behavior. There is ample proof to support the above assertion. A case in point is the present menace posed by the people whose life is programmed by the software of Islam: an ideology anathema to the universal declaration of human rights.
The results are self-evident. Hate, superstition, violence, and a raft of other inhuman beliefs drive these religious fascists. These captive followers of the primitive Islamic Charter are both the perpetrators and the victims of much suffering. The result is backward Islamic societies that are intent on dragging the rest of the world into the same sorry state.
It is most disconcerting that as non-Muslim world takes ever-hesitant small steps at stamping out racism, Islam has engraved institutionalized racism in its scripture with the full adherence to its racist and misogynistic teachings.
In short, the practice of generalization that takes the form of racism does a great deal more harm to mankind than the benefits that its heuristic use provides. Combating racism is critically important for creating a just human society where all people live as equal without prejudice of arbitrary stigmatization.
During my decades of living in the United States, I have not personally experienced blatant racism. Perhaps I have been spared this abhorrent treatment because I do not physically appear as a member of the populations generally subjected to this prejudice.
Racism, in all its forms, is evil and it is not confined to the color of people's skin. We do well not to forget the atrocities of the Nazis against the Jewish "race," and many more ethnic cleansings of various kinds in humanity's long ago and not too long ago history.
A major challenge in the United States is the perceived racism toward African Americans. There is, however, some evidence that racism is in decline in the United States. Nonetheless, the practice of racism is indeed a matter of shame in any nation. We need, all of us together, to exert extra effort to stamp it out for the good of all.
Realistically speaking, elimination of all the "isms" is a huge task before humanity. It seems as if, being an "ism" of one type or another is the default mode of our nature.
We need to realize that we humans are able to reflect on the past, learn from it and even predict the future, a gift other species do not have. We are minimally programmed by nature to behave rigidly as prescribed by our genetic endowment. We humans enjoy a tremendous degree of freedom of choice. Misapplying our choices, both individually and collectively, put us in great peril. Humanity's good achievements and progress are the results of making sensible choices as well as abandoning our mal-adaptive modes of thinking and practices.
Racism remains an intractable vestige of old humanity that is inflicting great harm on all within the ever-shrinking global village that brings all its inhabitants into close daily contact.
Actively fighting the pre-potent disposition of racism is among the ongoing and unfinished business of mankind.
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