For a society inching towards equality, racism has proven to be one of the monumental obstacles in its path to righteousness. Evolving over centuries, it has taken an insidious form veiled under the cloak of logic and reason. This has resulted in police brutality and unequal opportunities, fueled by prejudice that is centuries under the making.
In its most basic sense, racism is essentially the manifestation of a person’s tendency to attach significance to an individual’s race. It developed out of humanity’s innate instinct to categorize the external world, later evolving into racism by a few who exploited the physical differences between groups to gain power over them.
The whites and minorities were constantly reinforced with the idea that whites are superior to non-whites and that non-whites are not full-fledged human beings. Having thus characterized non-whites, a racist could justify mistreating them without the feeling of guilt or empathy that generally accompanies a person while harming a fellow human being. This notion often takes the form of stereotypes.
Racism is an extreme form of derogatory stereotyping. For example, in the minds of slave-owning Southerners (in the US), the institution of slavery preserved social stability by ensuring privilege for the whites and eliminating poverty. Therefore, stereotypes about the blacks were perpetuated and justified through faulty logic and pseudoscience; over centuries of reinforcement, it took the form of racism.
People often learn negative stereotypes about other races and minorities as children. These profoundly affect the child’s development of identity. That is, they help to develop the notion of self and others. The interrelationship between self-identity, social identity and racial beliefs is so complex that a person’s beliefs about different races, once learned, are highly resistant to change.
Moreover, racism has also continuously evolved over the centuries, shifting from dominant to aversive. During the era of slavery, the blacks in the US were brutally treated and forced to undergo inhumane conditions. They were subjected to dominant racism wherein the whites openly oppressed them. Once slavery was abolished and there was a rise of multinational companies in the US, they attempted to attract black consumers by attempting to make the market appear free of racism. The rules limiting their mobility from one caste level to another did not disappear; they merely became much less detectable. This led to the rise in aversive racism.
Aversive racists innately believe in white superiority but feel guilty for holding that belief.
The difference between a dominant and aversive racist is that an aversive racist’s mind will not allow itself to entertain the raw racist messages from its subconscious mind, because it is morally ‘wrong’. The racist messages manifest themselves under the guise of logic and reason to avoid the scrutiny of the conscious mind. Thus further exacerbating the problem and making it difficult to eradicate.
Talking about people who believe in racism, while most of them do it by choice, many others do it to blend in. Racism, like any other form of behaviour, has its reasons and factors.
Racism mainly stems from “hatred” and “personal insecurity”. The hatred is based on fear of “being in danger” and results in participation for social support. One groups up with people like him/her and alienates others going with the status quo instead of questioning. Compassion becomes reserved for people of the same group. Other reasons for racism are projection of flaws in oneself onto others to “feel better” and poor mental health.
There are 7 factors of racism that are intertwined with each other. These factors can be seen as steps to create racism.
- Categories: Humans are taught to categorize people into groups based on race and ethnicity. This perpetuates stereotypes and later leads to factions.
- Factions: Categories lead to factions when people are expected to show loyalty towards their group and fight against other groups.
- Segregation: Being segregated from other groups often makes it difficult to empathise with them and further increases feelings of animosity.
- Hierarchy: Gives power to people of certain groups.
- Power: The power imbalance created by hierarchy further exploits the racial divide and affects the distribution of resources and wealth.
- Media: Representation, whitewashing against or in favour of said groups.
- Passivism: It is the “Bystander effect”. Overlooking racism and ignoring it results in the sustenance of racism.
As widespread as racism is, it can be prevented. Creating a system of equity is one of the major steps to halt the growth of racism. Racism must be given attention and acceptance of other races must be taught at a young age. The most important step is “patience”. We need to have faith in all the small efforts we make. Racism evolved through the ages and therefore will take no less to be uprooted.