Racism does not exist. Racism has never existed. These may seem like bold assessments considering how the word ‘race’ is used today, but when we explore the meaning of the word ‘race’ it becomes clear that this word has been grossly misused. To apply it the way it has been applied for hundreds of years is to give scientific credence to a lie based on hatred, greed and ignorance. This is not a ‘post-racial’ argument. It is a semiotic argument that recognizes the power of language. I am not arguing that hateful bigotry and prejudices do not exist. I am arguing that the ‘racism’ is not the appropriate word to use in describing them because it encourages barriers rather than breaking them and helps to reinforce prejudices.
When starting such a conversation it is always important to research the definition of the word being discussed. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has several definitions for the word ‘race’. It describes ‘race’ as: “A group of people, animals, or plants, connected by common descent or origin.” The OED also describes race as: “A set or class of people who share a characteristic attitude or other feature” or: “A class of animals, plants, or things having a common quality or characteristic.” When looking at these definitions it becomes clear that the human race is a single entity. There are no biological divisions present in any human that differentiate that person from all other humans. All humans, regardless of geographical location, religion, skin colour or sex, share a “common quality or characteristic”. We are all “connected by a common descent or origin” and therefore are all members of the same race. Therefore, to suggest that somebody whose skin may be a shade darker or a shade lighter is a member of a different race is to ignore the fact that we share a common origin with that person and in turn suggests that the person in question has an origin that is different than our own. That is not the case.
Then how did the word come to be used in the way it has been used for centuries? It is a lie that started some centuries ago, when Europeans first invaded Africa in search of slaves, though it is likely to go much further back than that. It is not a morally easy task to put another person into slavery, so it must be rationalized. The Black people of Africa were defined by Europeans as belonging to a separate race. It was suggested that Africans were of foreign origin, and that they did not share common qualities or characteristics with Whites. This, as the ignorant argued, is made clear by the difference in the colour of their skin. So this lie was accepted as truth, allowing Europeans to dehumanize Africans. In the ensuing centuries, slavery was handed down from generation to generation, and with it the lie that the colour of one’s skin makes one a member of a different race. Even when slavery was abolished, the lie of race continued. When Americans entered Vietnam, they defined the Vietnamese as members of another race. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the same occurred. The combatants were dehumanized. During the American expansion, the Natives were defined as members of a different race. I give America as an example, but it is not the only nation guilty of such travesties. It was a moral flaw inherited by the mother country, who was no more the author of it than were the Americans.
It was hard to let go of the word race and the associations that came with it. Sometimes people who perceive themselves as belonging to one group see another person as being somehow “other” and use the word ‘race’ to differentiate themselves from that other. Subsequently, people begin to make generalizations about these other groups deemed as members of a different race. Sometimes these stereotypes are outwardly flattering, other times insulting, but are never true. One group might be uplifted as being brighter, or as being better at math or science, while another group may be labelled as lazy or cheap. A stereotype can be something as seemingly harmless or trivial as a food preference. However, the heart of the stereotype —whether ostensibly positive, or ambiguous, or insulting—undermines our self-determination and so, even when flattering, is extremely problematic. These generalizations are not examples of racism. They are examples of bigotry, ignorance and prejudice. They are not racist. To call these stereotypes racist is to suggest that they are in fact based on the fact that there is a difference in origin, or that there are no common qualities or characteristics shared between the person being unfairly judged, and the person doing the judging. To call bigotry an example of racism, or to call ignorance an example of racism or to refer to prejudice as an example of racism is to suggest that these things are based on a biological difference that simply does not exist and so, lends a scientific credibility to an argument that has no scientific basis. It is important to note as well that ‘race’ is not define by what is different, but rather, by what is common. It, as the OED says, is defined as something based on “common qualities or characteristics” or “common descent or origin”. These commonalties are what defines somebody as being a member of the same race. It is not the differences that define us, but what we have in common that defines race.
Hate is hate. Ignorance is ignorance. Bigotry is bigotry. Prejudice is prejudice. None of them are examples of racism, because none of them have any scientific basis. None of them are based on a difference of origin, because there is no difference of origin. They are not based on the fact that there is a lack of common qualities or characteristics, because there is no lacking of common qualities or characteristics.
We have placed imaginary walls between each other that have no reason to be there. They are walls of needless estrangement. To suggest that they are based on anything other than fallacies is to suggest that there is some sort of scientific merit in them. And these walls do not only apply to parts of humanity that we may perceive as ‘other’, but to parts of nature as well. Everything on this planet shares a common origin, and that is a belief held by everybody, be they people of science or people of faith. The decency we need to extend to other members of humanity, or if you like, other members of the human race, is decency that we should also extend to the natural world.
I hope the next time you see a person extolling behaviour that can be defined as prejudiced, or ignorant or bigoted, you can stop and think, and recognize that behaviours that fall under these categories are not examples of racism, but rather examples of prejudice, ignorance and bigotry. Do not lend scientific credibility or merit to such grievous examples of hate and ignorance because it will only help to perpetuate hate and ignorance. There is only one human race, and the only true racist is a misanthropist.
Note: I do realize that language is a fluid, growing thing and that the word ‘race’ carries a social meaning that is very different than the prescribed meaning found in dictionaries or biology textbooks. This is perhaps a polemic argument, but one that I think can be fairly and reasonably applied by anybody with an open mind, and one that will expose flaws inherent in attitudes that are falsely perceived as racist.