The Malevolent Ambiguity of Racism.

Racism is as difficult to define as it is to eradicate. The cure therefore lies in transcending the plane of thought where racism exists altogether.

Words by William Cooper.

An artist’s mural dedicated to George Floyd, whose death in Minneapolis sparked race protests and riots around the world. (photo from CBC)

The Cambridge Dictionary defines racism as:

“The belief that people’s qualities are influenced by their race and that the members of other races are not as good as the members of your own, or the resulting unfair treatment of members of other races”.

The LEXICO Dictionary defines racism as:

“1. Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.

1.1 The belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another.”

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines racism as:

“A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

These definitions are two-fold. Firstly, they all outline that racism is the idea of collective superiority over another collective, with race being the determining factor in the legitimisation of that superiority. Secondly, they all outline how racism fundamentally upholds race as the primary factor in determining an individual’s qualities or characteristics; a method that unfortunately some people do use to gauge an individual’s temperament and traits, without having to actually interact with them.

However, it is from these entries that the definitional ambiguity of racism emerges. It is this differentiation that I wish to discuss.

Racism, for all its definitions, can never be truly defined. It is an extremely vague and ambiguous term; so much so that it proves nigh impossible to enforce effective countermeasures against it. Everyone has a different definition of racism, just like everyone has a different definition of every kind of discrimination or prejudice. Individuals experience different events in their lives which mould and hone their view of the world. Moreover, through an individual’s unique perspective do they place their own definitions, prejudices, and critiques of life. And because every individual experiences different events in their lives, their perspective will be slightly more sensitive to some events, and slightly more resistant or docile towards others.

Some people may have experienced racism from a young age, so their perspective will be slightly more resistant and almost de-sensitised when encountering racism in the future. However, for someone who has not experienced such racism at an early age, their perspective will be more sensitive and vulnerable. Again, this is where differing definitions only complicate the issue.

There are many determining factors that explain the exertion of racism, many of which are juxtaposed to one another. The main epicentre which I believe racism revolves around is the polarised conflict between the person’s inner beliefs, and the outside pressures of their immediate surroundings to conform.

Origins.

Unfortunately, for some people, racism is regarded as a legitimate form of discrimination. This is due to the environment in which they were raised in. Learning from their elders, a child will come to reflect the beliefs and ideas that they have been taught throughout childhood. Due to the natural absorption of knowledge which children seek from a young age, they have no filter as to what they absorb and what they do not. It is the elders’ responsibility to externally filter the information before the child can absorb it. Some are successful in this. Others are not so much.

The legitimisation of racism in the child is a fault on behalf of the elder. However, it becomes more complicated when an elder had been a racist all their life, a trait which they learnt from their own elders. Of course, their belief is utterly flawed and filled with vitriol, however if that is all they have ever known, then there has to be a degree of acknowledgement surrounding the context of their upbringing and education.

It is this issue which I believe proves that racism is solely environmental. The individual is a microcosm of the context of their surroundings thus far in their life. Some of these traits are biological, some are environmental. No one is born with discrimination or prejudice already built in. Those experiences come in time, exclusively from the environment which the child finds themselves being raised in.

However, racism can be either subconscious or conscious. It depends firstly on the temperament of the person, and secondly on the degree to which the person understands the ‘logic’ of the bias at its fundamental level, which in turn gives them the intellectual confidence (albeit formed on a vile and false premise) to apply it in real life. Originating from the environment, the type of consciousness that a person’s acknowledges when exerting racism is dependent on the depth which racism has settled in their mind.

Moreover, it is also dependent on the way that the child has been indoctrinated with racism. Has it been done explicitly by their elders, or has it been a gradual attrition of phrases and judgements which the child has come to subconsciously reflect? It must be stressed that these two degrees of racism differ in the strategy required to reverse them. A conscious racist is arguably easier to reverse because their racism is explicit; they already acknowledge the fact that they are a racist. A subconscious racist, which I believe amalgamates the majority of racism in the world today, is far more difficult to reverse, because before the racism can be reversed, the individual must be convinced that they are in fact a racist. This is how the environment can impact and contort a child’s life, sometimes to such a degree that the beliefs they hold as a child will remain with them throughout their entire lives.

Identity politics.

I now come on to how racism has been made worse by Identity Politics. It has collectivised racism, transforming it from individual cases of vile discrimination, to being ‘institutional’ or ‘systemic’. Personally, I do not believe that racism is neither systemic, nor institutional. Racism is a vile form of discrimination that exists in random context and times. It has no distinct pattern. Racism can exist anywhere, at any time. The only fuel that it needs is the presence of an individual’s internal racial bias, and the formulation of that bias into explicit action.

Identity Politics has caused society to be divided and almost anthropomorphised into political alliances; groups which are based on one common characteristic. And since Identity politics can only be fought between groups, the anti-racist identity has no choice but to target institutions and political systems. The fact is that everybody should be, and I believe the vast majority of people are, anti-racist.

But that belief should not be transformed into a political identity. Because, in giving anti-racism political life, one simultaneously gives political life to racism itself. After all, every action will have an equal and opposite reaction. This is the danger of the anti-racist identitarian movement. It has the potential to, and has already began to, revitalise the very thing it wishes to quash.

Moreover, it is causing both sides, the racists, and the anti-racists, to oppose each other more. Both have reverted back to their groups identities, and no one is willing to meet in the middle to discuss anything. The cure for racism will only come from discussion and gradual reform, caused by individuals from both sides. Unfortunately, Individuality, in its purest form has become a weakness. The issue now is that an individual’s group identity is their individuality. They are a living representation of their group.

Racism is an issue that has been hijacked so viciously by Identity Politics because it is such a divisive and binary issue. The race of the person is so obvious, stark, and clear; it is naturally the first characteristic that one notices about another individual. Thus, it has been adopted by the Identity politics players because it is such an all-encompassing issue. Everyone has a fundamental race, and so everyone can either be assigned as an ‘oppressor’ or a member of the ‘oppressed’.

‘A two-way street’.

Racism has always operated under the assumption that it is an oppressor/oppressed narrative; that ethnic minorities are the sole target of racism. This is not true, and nothing in the definitions above suggest this. Only the LEXICO definition suggests that racism is directed “typically [towards] one that is a minority or marginalised”. But “typically” is not an absolute.

Racism must not be interpreted by the Postmodern narrative that so many use today. Racism is when any internal bias is explicitly exhibited by a person, as discrimination or prejudice, towards another person, based on the way that person looks and the degree to which their physicality fits an internal racial narrative. This is a point that many have forgotten. Of course, ethnic minorities experience more racism than the ethnic majority. However, this should not make any racism towards the majority obsolete. It should be regarded in the exact same manner as an exertion of racism towards a minority.

Are there occasions where racist discrimination can almost be understood with some degree of logic, such as if the victim of a criminal or traumatic event develops a psychological ‘racial profile’ based on their experience? Firstly, criminality is not an issue of race at all. Acts of violent and crime are committed across the world every day, by all races. There is no racial exclusivity when it comes to crime. However, can it be reasonably argued that a victim, in the aftermath of the criminal act they were involved in, applies a recognition of the criminal onto the wider society, just like any animal would do to any predator. Does their perspective of the world become overshadowed by a projection of their traumatic experience?

It is the natural consequence of a violent and traumatic event; to avoid and fear a certain demographic of people they deem now as violent and predatory, based on the actions of one criminal. Of course, this resurrects the issue of collectivism; how one person can come to represent an entire demographic. Obviously, the only legitimatisation for this subconscious vilification of an entire demographic is based on one traumatic event with one or more people. You cannot, in the grand scheme of things, apply bias to every person who looks like the criminal, and yet it is understandable when a person does so.

(image from Pinterest)

We assume that an individual in this instance has the mental capacity and fortitude to ignore the subconscious bias they have constructed as a consequence of the crime and continue to interact with the person on an individual level. However, many people, especially after experiencing trauma, lack this mental strength, and understandably so. Therefore, a collective representation of the trauma is projected onto society, which then transforms innocent people who match the projection of the bias into an antagonism which the victim feels that they must avoid. This is such a complicated and difficult issue to discuss. Of course, the self-made projection that the victim placed onto their pre-existing perspective of the world is fundamentally flawed. It is undoubtedly racist to project a single experience of trauma onto a collective which is dispersed throughout society, solely based on the physical characterisation of the person who the victim views as the source or cause of the initial trauma. However, there is a distinct context surrounding such racism that makes it so difficult to reverse.

The Cure?

There are many people who argue that they ‘don’t see the colour, they see the person’. This is a terribly naïve and immature way of viewing individuals. Of course, you see the colour. It is part of the person. To see the person as a whole, you have to acknowledge the colour. And this is where many people go wrong.

They either see the colour, and apply their subconscious racial bias onto that person, as if that person is the representation of the actions and beliefs of all ethnic people everywhere. Or, they see the colour but make a conscious effort to ignore it, and so ignore part of the person’s identity.

The fundamental cure is to treat every person as an individual. To see the colour of their skin, acknowledge and welcome it as part of their identity, but then go deeper. Go down to the level of the individual itself; take interest in their ideas, beliefs, and interests. In doing so, one can transcend the fundamentally physical plane of characterisation, where a person is viewed through the prism of Postmodern variants: race, ethnicity, sexual proclivity, and gender. You can enter a higher, metaphysical plane, in which one, whilst acknowledging and understanding an individual’s most basic and obvious qualities, can begin to understand their inner self. It is in this space where true individuality exists.

But by treating people as individuals, outside their racial, ethnic, sexual and gender context, and competing and cooperating as individuals with different minds and ideas, on a higher metaphysical plane, the world can be a better place. The individual is the ultimate minority, so treat each minority with equal respect and genuine interest.

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All articles written by William Cooper | Psychology, Philosophy, History, Religion, Politics.