Different but equal: Understanding race, prejudice
TO mankind’s credit, we have come a long way from the days when the colour of a man’s skin was the sole determinant of his rank and station. Those were the days when Jews thought they were God’s only chosen people, when Africans thought of Caucasians as leprous and toeless aliens, when Europeans thought of colonialism as the Whiteman’s civilising “burden”, and when Adolf Hitler preached his poisoned gospel of Aryan superiority. Today, with China and India among the world’s fastest growing economies and a man of African descent as President of the United States of America, those days seem like eons away. Yet every now and again, the world’s racial prejudices re-emerge in bold relief as if only carefully hidden away – not truly discarded.
For instance, as Poland and Ukraine prepared to host Europe’s soccer elite in the Euro 2012 football showpiece, organizers were once again drawn into serious security and media concerns over the fate of the growing army of Black, Arab and other ethnic non-European players (and fans) who were expected to attend the events. In both Poland and Ukraine, there were sizeable numbers of persons who would not hesitate to chant racist slurs or throw bananas at Black athletes in the 21st Century! Similarly, it has recently emerged that there are several U.S. police officers and units who would profile, harass or even shoot unarmed black males for no reason other than their colour. Even the U.S. Congress has lately appeared to go out of its way to sabotage the Obama administration’s foreign policy initiatives on Israel and Iran, for reasons widely believed to be motivated by racial (not just partisan) considerations.
They are called Far Right, Neo-Nazi, Conservative or “Nationalist” elements. In French politics, they account for about 18 per cent of all votes, most of them supporters of the National Front which espouses ultra-conservative views on matters like immigration. In 1996, the founder of the National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was quoted as saying that the French World Cup winning squad of 1998 was “not an accurate reflection of French society” because it contained too many non-White players. Such elements exist all over Europe and indeed the world. Across colour lines they are called racists. Within the same colour spectrum, they are ethnic jingoists, regional champions or sectional warlords. They preach division and exclusion in a world in dire need of collaboration and cooperation. They loathe the presence of others with different physical attributes, beliefs, languages or practices. They espouse the superiority of their kind over others. That they still exist in significant numbers in today’s post-modern world is an affront on human intelligence and civilisation.
It is self-evident that the world is made up of different but equal peoples, each with their own unique gifts and contributions to the universal pool. To Africans, God gave strength, athleticism, passion and a soul for music. To Asians He gave fortitude, spirituality and discipline. To Arabs and the peoples of the Middle East, He gave two of the world’s great religions and abundant mineral wealth. To Europeans He gave the gifts of daring, adventure and discovery. To Native Americans He gave the gifts of tranquility, patience and contentment. Within each race, gifts are similarly apportioned to different ethnicities, regions, groups and individuals. Just as no one is tall and short at the same time, no group has all the gifts concentrated in its genes to the same degree.
As with virtues, so with vices: Africans appear blighted by a shortage of vision and leadership, and a weakness for self-aggrandizement; Caucasians by greed and an inordinate desire to dominate others; Asians and Native Americans by excessive self-indulgence and shyness; and the peoples of the Middle East by intemperance, extremism and intolerance.
In giving different peoples different strengths and weaknesses, the divine purpose, it seems, is to encourage humility, interdependence and co-operation for mutual advancement. But it is clear that mankind has chosen otherwise. That is probably why the world is not at peace, and may not be for a long time to come.
Racism, like sexism, ethnicism, religious bigotry and other psycho-social constructs that attempt to categorize mankind on the basis of “superior” and “inferior” groups, is essentially an attempt by insecure people(s) to gain or preserve psychological, social, political, economic or material advantage over others, especially in the face of fierce competition. It is a subconscious reaction of the weak and vulnerable, manifesting via a process of denial and compensation, as “superiority complex.”
Consider the action of, say, an English soccer fan who cannot kick a ball to save his own life. Yet he throws a banana at the soccer maestro, Mario Balotelli. Underlying such behaviour are elements of envy, inadequacy and ignorance which may never be admitted to. Such was the secret affliction of Adolf Hitler who, confronted by Jewish industry and accomplishments, concocted the evil Nazi philosophies of Aryan superiority and anti-Semitism. Not only was he shamed by the heroics of a Blackman, Jesse Owen, in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he was later to lead the world into the Second World War, his country to ruination and himself to suicide. These were the ultimate proof of the mortal error and poverty of his judgment.
Nature clearly made all species to be in diversity – from whales and elephants to ants and micro-organisms. Imagine an African elephant telling an Indian elephant that it is superior. Or a Polar Bear saying to a Grizzly Bear, “You are inferior.” So too no man or group can say to another, “I am better.” For, clearly, nature gave each person and group gifts it did not give others. And he is clearly inferior who cannot grasp the limits of his own abilities or see the genius in others.
Thus racism, along with its other derivatives, is a proposition that is neither supported by history nor empiricism; neither by logic nor science; just plain, old fashioned self-centeredness and delusion. Anyone who considers himself superior to another (on account of colour, creed, tongue, gender or stature), by virtue of that consideration, proves himself to be truly inferior – in wisdom. For no one chose or earned where he was born, when, by what parentage and to what race. So, if anyone is unable to appreciate that everything he is, is merely a gift and not an entitlement, then such a person genuinely deserves our pity – not attention.
- Victor Anazonwu, an ideation practitioner, is CEO of Elipses Projects Ltd., a Lagos based marketing and advertising consultancy.