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Race and Racism: The Continuing Problem of
Misdiagnosis and Irrelevant Prescriptions

Mention the words race or racism in this country and immediately people become uptight and angry: the racists because they deny it exists, or if they accept that it exists then they insist that they themselves are not racists; and the victims of racism because they are fed up with it. Yet, the irony is that, both, the racists and their victims have a very poor understanding of what racism really is, and how (or whether) it can be eradicated. Guys, what you need to understand is this: while we who live in a society such as this one are ALL affected by racism in one way or another from the time we are born, it does not in itself guarantee that we understand it fully. The fact is, racism is a very complex ideology and system of oppression. Its complexity stems from the dialectical interplay between structure, ideology, and behavior. (Note: in some societies--e.g. in the Middle East, India, and in parts of Africa--it is ethnicity/ethnicism that takes the place of race/racism.)
        There are six critical issues that emerge out of this interplay: (1) the mythical basis of the ideology; (2) the mode of its origins and transmission; (3) the variety of  forms it takes; (4) the role it performs in society; (5) its relationship to other ideologies of oppression: sexism, ethnicism, classism, etc., and (6) the problem of creating a racially egalitarian society in an inherently non-egalitarian society.

       1. Racism is based on a mythical conception of the category, race. You may find this difficult to believe, but the scientific truth is that there is only one race on this planet: it is the human race. Whatever racial categories societies have come up with are categories that have been created artificially by those in power in order to create a basis for "otherness" (see course glossary) as a means for justifying prejudice and discrimination. Before Columbus set sail from Europe there was no "white" race or the "black" race or the "red" race, or even the "yellow" and "brown" race. It is the European domination of the world unleashed by Columbus that allowed the Europeans to create these artificial categories. Before Columbus there were only ethnicities based on learned, not genetically determined, distinctions of language and culture, such as: in Africa: Akan, Malinke, Ngoni, Yoruba, Zulu, etc.; in the Americas: Aztec, Cherokee, Inuit, Maya, Sioux, etc.; in Asia: Arab, Berber, Han, Jews, Korean, Mongol, Indo-Aryan, Dravids, etc.; and in Europe: English, French, German, Irish, Spanish. Remember also that all human beings originate out of the same place, regardless of what you believe in: religious explanation (Garden of Eden [if you are a Christian, Jew or Muslim]) or scientific explanation (Africa). In other words: whether you believe in God or in science, both recognize only one race: the human race.

       2. In terms of origins and transmission, racist ideologies depend on the creation of stereotypes and their transmission through agencies of socialization. Racists rely on stereotypes to create otherness (you are not one of us), because stereotypes permit them to dehumanize their victims. These stereotypes can be, both, positive (intelligent, industrious, ambitious), and negative (lazy, dumb, thieving, etc.), but above all, in the arsenal of all racists three stereotypes are universal and salient: one has to do with dirt, the other with sex and the third with trust. For example, those who have monopoly of power and resources in this country, the English, have portrayed all these groups at various times in history as unhygienically dirty, animalistically oversexed, and highly untrustworthy: Native Americans, African Americans, Irish Americans, Italian Americans, Jewish Americans, etc.
       But where do stereotypes come from? They come from those who are involved in producing the content of what we today call the media (books, cinema, television, theater, newspapers and magazines, radio, museums, etc.): writers, actors, musicians, entertainers, artists, scholars, museum curators, travelers and explorers, etc. All of these people are involved in the creation, dissemination and maintenance of stereotypes. As stereotypes become widespread in a society over time, other agencies of socialization besides the media become involved: the family, the church, schools, and so on.

       3. Racism can take the following fairly distinct, but NOT unrelated, forms: dominative racism, aversive racism, institutional racism, and juridical racism.

      •    Dominative racism is racism aimed at dominating victims in order to directly exploit their labor, as in the case of the racist exploitation of African Americans in the South. Under conditions of dominative racism intimate interpersonal relationships between the racist and the victim are common. Not surprisingly, in the racist South of the past African American women often ran the household of the white master: from house-cleaning and cooking to child-rearing--and sometimes even child-bearing! (By the way, a similar situation obtains to day in the West [California, Texas, etc.], but with reference to Hispanic American women.)
      •    Aversive racism, as the term implies, denotes a racism where the racist wants to put the greatest physical and social distance possible between himself/ herself and the victim. For example: aversive white racists would never dream of permitting African Americans to enter their homes, let alone cook their food or babysit their children. The logical conclusion of this kind of discrimination from the perspective of the victim is genocide. The European Jews were victims of aversive racism. In this country, wherever dominative racism disappeared it was replaced by aversive racism; consequently, to day it is aversive racism that is the most common form of racism. At the individual level, the desire by aversive racists for as much physical and social distance as possible between themselves and other races stems from the incorporation into their psyche, through early childhood socialization, at the minimum the triple racist stereotypes of dirt, sex and trust (mentioned above). As you can guess, laws can not really overcome this form of racism. Why? Because it is too pervasive and yet very subtle to the point where, sometimes, both the racist and the victim may not even be aware of its existence at a given moment. A classic example of the latter phenomenon, in this society, is the subconscious belief by almost ALL whites (jncluding, ironically, non-racist whites) that their whiteness entitles them to a place above everyone else, regardless of what aspect of society is under consideration: employment, housing, health, religion, culture, language, etc., etc. The only whites who do not suffer from this "white is best; white is right" psychological disease are those whites who are actively engaged in struggling with themselves to overcome this disease in order to become normal and mentally healthy humanbeings.

      •      Aversive racism is not a monopoly held only by whites in this society. Other groups can and do exhibit this form of racism too. For example: Jews against blacks; blacks against Jews; blacks againt Hispanics and Asians; Asians against blacks, etc.; etc. While you are reading this article I want you to stop for a moment and ask yourself this question: If I am alone in an elevator would I be uncomfortable if a person from group X enters it? (Substitute group X with whatever racial/ ethnic groups you encounter in your daily lives that you can think of.) If your answer is yes with respect to ANY group you are a racist. Not only that, but think about this: it means that you a potential candidate for recruitment by a racist organization like the NeoNazis (under appropriate circumstances). How do you think a minority, the Nazis, in Nazi Germany were able to convince the majority of Germans to murder millions upon millions of people within a short period of 5 to 6 years? They exploited the existing aversive racism toward Jews that most Germans and many other Europeans harbored. So, if you are one of those who becomes "uncomfortable," when you encounter in your daily life a person of another color then you need to seriously consider psychiatric treatment--because you are mentally sick!
      •    Institutional racism, in this country, is closely tied up with aversive racism in that this form of racism depends upon the operation of social institutions independently of racists and their victims coming into direct contact with each other. Institutional racism originates from a past where juridical racism was the order of the day. So, for example, when inner cities--where the majority of minorities live because of historically determined, racist residential segregation--are denied access to resources (ranging from decent schooling through adequate social amenities to jobs and employment), then that constitutes institutional racism. The most pernicious effects of institutional racism to day for minorities is their lack of adequate access to proper schooling and jobs.
      •    Juridical racism, in this country, is closely tied up with dominative racism because it was racism that was instituted through law in order to exploit African Americans and other minorities directly. The slave codes and the Jim Crow laws are classic examples of laws that established a juridical racist society in the South.
       4. The role of racist ideologies in societies such as this one is that it assists the capitalist classes in doing three things (though this does not necessarily mean it is capitalists who create racism):
      • (a) Achieve political and economic stability by using racial/ethnic minorities as scapegoats for the severe problems that the activities of the capitalist classes as a whole produce: unemployment, falling standards of living, environmental destruction, scarcity of resources, etc. Racism helps to deflect resistance and rebellion away from the capitalist class and the capitalist system. (Note: in the absence of race, other ideologies of oppression become salient: sexism, classism, etc.)
      • (b) Permit the direct exploitation of victims through measures such as low wages, dispossession of their lands, enslavement, etc.
      • (c) Allow them to sow division among the working classes so that they can keep each other in check in their struggles with the capitalist classes. A classic example is the use of African Americans and other minorities to break up labor strikes of Euro-American workers. Historically, and up to the present, racism has been one of the most important tools used in this country to buy the allegiance of white workers by capitalists. By allowing white workers to exchange their whiteness for a few privileges, the capitalist classes have kept all working classes from demanding a fundamental change to the entire political and economic system for the benefit of all. Racism creates an us and them mentality, whereas genuine progress in a society is only possible under conditions of cooperation and mutual respect.
    5. Racism does not operate in isolation from other ideologies of oppression, but rather a society or an individual often experiences it as part of a nonhierarchical, multidimensional, system of oppression. The best illustration of this fact is the case of African American women: they are victimized, at the same time, by classism (because of capitalism), racism (from white women), racist-sexism (from white men) and sexism (from black men). To take another example: victims of racism (e.g. Jewish Americans or Asian Americans) will also perpetrate their own racism on other minorities (e.g. African Americans). One more example: the emerging African American middle-class, who themselves are victims of Euro-American racism, will perpetrate classism on fellow African Americans. A good example of this are African American Republicans who support racist legislation aimed at barring the means to overcome or mitigate institutional racism: such as, affirmative action and welfare programs.

    6.  We live in an inherently inegalitarian society. Why? Because this is a capitalist society. In any capitalist society equality is a concept that is severely circumscribed by a pyramidical social structure that capitalism demands. Not everyone can be a capitalist, otherwise who would do the work? You have to have a  working class too, who necessarily are below the capitalist class. Within this context what kind of racial equality is possible? The answer is: one that simply reproduces identical pyramidical social structures across all races, where race is substituted by class distinctions. Yet to struggle for this form of racial equality is to demand that the historically racially privileged white middle class (to take the example of this society) shed some of its privileges and join the ranks of the black working class on an equal footing. Which member of the white middle class is going to agree to this? (We can also apply this same reasoning to the white working class. Which one of them would be willing to join the black underclass?) The political difficulties involved are best illustrated when we see the frequent inability of, say Jewish Americans and Asian Americans (many of whom are middle class) to come together with, say, African and Hispanic Americans (many of whom are working class), and yet they all face racism/ ethnicism to varying degrees.

       We have spent (or will spend) a great deal of time in this course discussing issues of race/ethnicity and racism/ethnicism. It is important that I strongly emphasize that in doing this the objective has not been to try and prove that whites are an evil and nasty people or that this society as a whole is an evil and nasty society that is beyond redemption. Rather, the objective is to try and understand what racism/ethnicism is, how it originates and what role it plays in this society, in order to see how we can work toward a society where such forms of prejudice and discrimination no longer exist.
       In advocating a society that is free of such prejudices and discrimination I am not only concerned with issues of morality and social justice, but my position is that, in the long run, such a democratic and civilized society is good even for the racists, sexists, etc. themselves. Remember: that a society that tolerates and even encourages discrimination (in whatever form: racist, sexist, ethnicist, etc.) in the end only hurts itself. Since no single group has monopoly over intelligence and creativity, imagine how far advanced this country would be to day if it had from the very beginning given all minorities, including women and the white working classes, every opportunity to realize their fullest potential. To further underline this point: a racist society is in one sense like a racist individual. Such an individual has a very narrow and shallow life experience because he/she denies himself/herself access to the rich tapestry of cultures, love and friendship that non-racist/ non-ethnicist contacts with other racial/ ethnic groups permit. For example: a Euro-American who wants to be truly a racist should refuse to be a Christian, because Christianity is not a European religion, it is a Semitic religion. Take another example: a Euro-American who wants to be truly racist should refuse to listen to rock (because rock has its origins in African American music), or eat tomatoes, potatoes, chocolate, and so on because they are not of European origin. In other words, racists do not realize how rich their lives are because of the contributions of the very people they reject; but how much richer their lives would be if they gave up their racism. To immerse one's life in hate (as opposed to love) surely is not only unnatural, but mentally unhealthy--perhaps requiring psychiatric treatment.
       To engage in prejudice and discrimination is to engage in self-hurt, but let me go one step further and state that it is also to engage in self-destruction. The best example I can give here is that of the Nazis in Germany: in the end their racism/ethnicism brought on to themselves nothing but death and destruction. Think about this: Hitler and many of his henchmen eventually committed suicide.
       If you are a racist (whatever color you may be), or a sexist (whatever sex you may be), etc., I hope that you will work toward eradicating this prejudice in you and in society; it is not good for you and it is not good for society.