Racism in America
The more recent decades of world history have been highly consumed by progression and innovations in all fields of human life. This progress and development can be observed in categories ranging from medical and scientific advances, to legislative and social reform. Whatever the case may be, the 21st century has not been one of menial historical relevance: change is an essential component to the structure of modern society. With that said, we must ponder the question: why is something as outdated, primitive, and senseless as racism still prevalent in this progressive, contemporary, and innovative society?
Anti-racism counter-protest march in Charlottesville (Source: Reuters)
Why does racism still exist?
Racism has no productive place in modern society: it is useless and completely barbaric. However, the concept of believing that one's skin color is superior to another is still very much alive. Racism is an acquired trait — no person is born with the notion that they are somehow superior simply due to the color of their skin. In order to be a racist, one must first be taught how to hate, since racism stems from hatred, an acquired emotion. Therefore, if a person is unfortunate enough to be taught hate and racism, then they will probably be unfortunate enough to begin to believe that racism is socially acceptable. Not all teachings of this nasty practice are intentional — The New York Times quoted Jennifer Richeson, a social psychologist at Yale University, on her belief that racism stems from “the environment, the air all around us.” Richeson believes that people are taught to hate based on their social surroundings. In other words, people tend to follow the general flow of society, and racism has existed in American society since colonization.
Fear of 'the Other'
Most modern racism is developed from a sense of fear — fear of the loss of normality or control or supposed order in a given society. American racism, in particular, derives from a similar fear, and this fear has been inherently passed down through generations and into the present day. When African inhabitants were first stripped from their homes and brought to America, an incorrect notion that dark-skinned people were somehow "inferior" to light-skinned people was immediately instilled into society. Why? Simply because light-skinned people were afraid of people coming into their society — rather, being forced into their society — and then dominating the society of which they never asked to be a part.
It is human nature to be competitive in one’s desired area of expertise, and to want to be at least better than the next guy that comes along in all areas of life. No one wants to come last; therefore, people will go to extreme lengths to ensure that they are never outdone, and that they are always marginally better than the other guy. In the case of American racism, the extreme lengths were slavery, segregation, and the Civil War, and that "guy" was anyone in society who could be easily torn down, manipulated or taken advantage of. Generally, that "guy" would turn out to be someone of color, or of an origin other than Western European because it was easiest for the original intruders of America (I will not call them the original settlers because let’s not forget about the Native Americans who were also heavily oppressed by white people in America) to pick people of color out as being different, and this difference is frightening to people who are afraid of being beaten.
The Odyssey and Major League Baseball
Xenophobia and bias have always been extremely prevalent and visible. On Odysseus’ major journey home, he becomes stranded on the island of the Phoenicians and must be cloaked in some godly mist so that the people of the island will be friendly and welcoming. Without this magical mist, Odysseus was just someone who looked different: someone whom the locals had no interest in helping.
Jackie Robinson (Source: Baseball Hall of Fame)
However, this 'godly mist' does not exist in reality. Physical differences such as skin color, cannot and should not be masked, for the purpose of fitting into society's ideals and norms. In a completely different and much more modern context, the difficulty of assimilation is exemplified by the case of Jackie Robinson, who was the first African American man ever allowed to play Major League Baseball in America. Robinson immediately became subject to all kinds of criticism and false accusations. One reporter once even tried to claim that Robinson had an unfair advantage in baseball because Black people had longer heel bones, which helped them run faster — never mind about Robinson’s countless home-run hits. People tend to feel apprehensive about change of any kind; the fear of change is a basic human nature, but should that mean that people are treated differently because the color of their skin is different than that of a particular society’s ‘norm’?
How do we combat racism?
As stated earlier, racism is derived from a fear of being beaten — whatever that may mean in any particular situation. Since the first African slave was forced onto the soil of what would become The United States of America, people of European descent have believed that they, being lighter in skin tone, were better. How can we overcome this archaic idea? How can we combat these deep-rooted prejudices? The answer is so simple, but difficult to actually practice: all people must do is understand that they cannot control anything or anyone but themselves.
Through the years, people have slowly come to realize that a person’s race or ethnicity has absolutely nothing to do with their social capabilities and contributions. As the social scales have become more and more balanced, those people who believed themselves to be above people of color began to feel as if they were losing their monopoly over their society — a monopoly that never should have existed, but was sadly so real until reform started to take place. As this reform continues, more people are opening their minds to the truth that everyone is born with equal importance and purpose. However, as this total equality gets closer to becoming a reality, people who cling to a false sense of superiority and refuse to open their minds feel like they are losing more and more of the control that they crave.
Comparing oneself to another person destroys one’s own self esteem. With a diminished sense of pride, one is prone to jealousy, which soon turns into bitterness, and then into false supremacy. When a person is constantly worried about what another person is going to do and how that other person’s actions are going to affect them personally, things like prejudice, hate, judgment, and false superiority begin to appear. When things go wrong, we have seen throughout history how people of colour and other minorities are used as scapegoats, as it is convenient to project anger onto 'the Other'. In contrast, when a person is focused on how their own actions can positively impact those around them, things like happiness, love, compassion, and a sense of brother-and-sisterhood begin to take over.
Jealousy stemmed from the comparison of oneself to one’s neighbor is the world’s greatest antagonist. As soon as people are able to be happy with themselves and can stop trying to beat everyone around them at anything they can, then that is when our broken world will have found peace — that is when everyone will be able to appreciate each other and appreciate the amazing and beautiful differences between various cultures. This change of mindset is the key to combating racism - it's so simple, but also seemingly impossible.