longread | 25.06.2020
A month ago, yet another black man was murdered by the policeman in the US. The protests that have shaken the world have once again attracted popular attention to the subject of racism and have made people delve deeper into its history. To make it easier for you to navigate the rich flow of information we will closely examine racism from the moment of its inception to the present day.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
— taken from the speech of Martin Luther King Jr.,
an American Baptist preacher and the most prominent leader of the black civil rights movement in the United States
What is racism
Racism is a body of ideological views based on the inequality of human races. Racism implies that a person belongs to one or another race, which has a decisive influence on their intellectual and physical abilities. The ideology of racial inequality also places the history and culture of one race above others. In classic racism, biological characteristics (skin colour, facial features) give rise to discrimination. Over the course of history, this has led to social and economic inequalities. From the 15th century onwards, the ideology of racism has essentially consolidated the legitimacy of slavery, and, by extension, the absence of rights, freedom of choice and the segregation of certain groups of people.
Racism differs from xenophobia (the perception of others as unpleasant and dangerous) in that it has a developed system. This is not a spontaneously induced emotional state but a whole worldview that is based on beliefs and upbringing.
The first article of the UN Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice states that all people belong to the same species and have a common origin. People are born equal in dignity and rights, and they are all an integral part of humanity. The declaration (Art.2) also contains the basic principle of combatting xenophobia:
“Any theory which involves the claim that racial or ethnic groups are inherently superior or inferior, thus implying that some would be entitled to dominate or eliminate others, presumed to be inferior, or which bases value judgments on racial differentiation, has no scientific foundation and is contrary to the moral and ethical principles of humanity.”
Despite the declaration that was adopted by all of the participating countries, despite dozens of other international laws and official documents, racism continues to exist in modern society.
Causes and motivations of racism
Free labour in the form of slaves and the desire to make a fortune are two main reasons for classic racism. Pseudoscience, religion and society further developed and reinforced an ideology that was most beneficial for slave owners. Racism was used to justify the ‘superiority’ of the white race, who were represented by colonists, large landowners and owners of plantations. Racism was at the heart of statehood in most of the countries of the New World, which likewise helped to promote it in society.
The reasons for modern racism include cultural prejudices and stereotypes with regard to certain nationalities and ethnicities. The basis for this, in turn, is classic racism, xenophobia, an inaccurate interpretation of historical and social processes, negative personal experiences, particularities of upbringing and education. The fight against these stereotypes has been going on since the end of the WW2.
Examples of pseudoscientific justifications of racism
- According to the theory of polygenesis, different human races descended from different ancestors. This theory was adhered to by one of the founders of the Aryan racial theory, Joseph Arthur de Gobineau. He was the first to formulate the theory of racial inequality in the 19th century and to explain the relationship between race and historical development. In his work Gobineau called Aryans, that is to say, the Indo-Europeans, ‘the superior race’ because it was allegedly more developed in the social and cultural domain. He believed that during migration the Aryans subjugated other people, created the first state institutions, and formed civilisations. Gobineau considered the equality of races to be a humiliation for humanity.
- In his work ‘Foundations of the Nineteenth Century’, Houston Stewart Chamberlain argued that Aryans are the founders of modern civilisation and therefore the embodiment of all of the best aspects that European culture has created. In his opinion, the Aryans managed to create a new glorious culture in the North of the disintegrated Roman Empire, whereas the Jews represented an ethnic group that humiliated the greatness of mankind, embodying the ‘racial chaos’ of the Roman Empire. The Aryan race was thus responsible for the spiritual salvation of mankind. Chamberlain's ideas formed the basis of the ideology of the Third Reich.
The English anatomist Robert Knox came to the pseudoscientific conclusion that people of colour had lower intelligence than whites due to the lack of nerve endings in the brain. His scientific work was based on the autopsy of solely one coloured person.
- In 1833, the British scientist Peter Galton founded eugenics — the pseudoscience of racial purity. According to eugenics, it is possible to develop a better version of a person by creating the optimal conditions for the reproduction of people with ‘clean’ genes and limiting the reproduction of carriers of ‘bad’ genes. The pseudoscience was used in social legislations to divide racial and ethnic groups and to limit immigration from Asia and Africa to the United States.
- In his work ‘The Races of Men: A Fragment’ in 1850, the English anatomist Robert Knox came to the pseudoscientific conclusion that intelligence is inherited. Knox came to believe that people of colour had lower intelligence than whites because of the lack of nerve endings in the brain. His scientific work was based on the autopsy of solely one coloured person.
Since the end of the 20th century, scientific racism has been criticised as being an obsolete phenomenon used to justify racist views and the belief that ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ human races exist. The UNESCO statement on the ‘race question’, for example, states that “The biological fact of race and the myth of ‘race’ should be distinguished. For all practical social purposes ‘race’ is not so much a biological phenomenon as a social myth. The myth of ‘race’ has created an enormous amount of human and social damage. In recent years it has taken a heavy toll in human lives and caused untold suffering.”
Methods of combating racism
Racism is physical abuse, discrimination in all spheres of life, daily insults, expressions of contempt. Each of the aforementioned actions have a profound effect on self-worth and self-esteem. After World War II, the UN developed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Modern racist ideology is not as severe as the classical one, but even now the views of racists oppose the articles of the declaration. According to Article 1, all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights. All people have the right to integrity and protection from discrimination. This is a fundamental right that racists knowingly, or unknowingly, violate.
In addition, a number of international and national documents were adopted to protect the rights of people at the legislative level. These are, for example:
- UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1963)
- UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination (1981)
For the record, according to this document, one of the possible reasons for the development of extremist views and the formation of terrorist organisations is acts of discrimination on different grounds: race, religion, political beliefs, nationality, etc.
- Declaration on the Human Rights of Individuals Who are not Nationals of the Country in Which They Live (1985)
Foreigners can enjoy the following rights: the right to life, personal integrity, protection from unlawful interference in personal and family life, the right to equality before the courts, to freedom of religion, to the preservation of their native language, culture and traditions, to decent working conditions, to health protection, medical service, social security, education and recreation.
- UN Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
- Non-governmental organisations against racism
They exist, for example, in France and have the right to initiate not only civil, but also criminal cases on the basis of the facts of racist acts.
How racism manifests itself today
Nowadays racism has become more veiled. It relates to the idea of social incompatibility of the cultures of different racial or ethnic groups for a number of the following reasons:
- prejudice towards representatives of other races, which is formed in the course of upbringing, education, history;
- the desire of the ethnic majority to preserve the national cultural distinction from national minorities. The introduction of restrictions for national minorities (for example, a ban on education in their native language);
- stereotypes that are developed by mass media and popular culture. In Westerns, for example, Indians are often portrayed not as defenders of their land, but as robbers, murderers and traitors;
Peoples and nationalities that constitute a racial minority within a particular country are subject to racism. There are also races and ethnic groups, which in some cultures have acquired a set of prejudices and preconceptions. Let’s bring to mind, for example, the common stereotypes about greedy and cunning Jews, black savages, sluggish and slow-witted Estonians. A grain of discrimination is hidden in each of these everyday jokes. Generally, modern racism no longer divides races into ‘dominant’ and ‘inferior’, it discriminates against representatives of different nationalities, religions and cultures, relying on popular negative stereotypes.
Amid today's protests in the United States that have been provoked by the assassination of the unarmed Afro-American George Floyd by a police officer, the subject seems to be even more relevant than usual. Protesters are fighting against racism and police violence. Rallies and demonstrations have already gone well beyond the United States and reached Western European countries, Australia, Japan and Argentina under the slogan of ‘Black lives matter’ and ‘I can't breathe!’ The latter represents Floyd’s repeated plea to remove the policeman's knee from his neck because he could not breathe.
"I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other."
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
The coronavirus pandemic has provoked xenophobia and the racial discrimination of Asians. In addition to being accused of spreading the virus, Asians have been publicly humiliated and sometimes even physically assaulted.
Additionally, discrimination against migrants is one of the main sources of modern racism. Today 3.5% of the world's population (270 million people!) live outside their country of origin. Migrants are discriminated against when looking for housing or work, in the sphere of education, in government agencies and administrations.
Even stranger things are happening – the Chinese government, for example, is forcibly re-educating the Uyghurs (a Turkic nation of the Islamic faith that lives in China). A monitoring system has been established for the unwanted minority, and the so-called ‘re-education camps’ of the Turkic people are actually brainwashing camps. You can be sent to the camp, for example, for wearing a beard that is too long or for possessing a photo of a woman in a burqa. Uyghurs have been victims of discrimination by the Chinese authorities for many years, which leads to protests and attacks in the region and beyond. The Uighurs were subsequently accused of separatism and religious extremism. The Communist Party of the People's Republic of China literally erases the national identity of the Uyghurs. China's actions to reeducate the inhabitants of the unstable region can be explained by the presence of oil and gas in the area, which the authorities do not want to lose.
Up until the middle of the last century, racism in education was legal in some countries. For example, in 2004, in the Southern states of the US, 31.8% of black children went to special schools for national minorities. And German students from the Turkish ethnic minority, according to the study, get lower grades than native Germans.
Racial discrimination in employment remains a problem even in the United States, where it is regulated by law. There is a special state commission that is responsible for equal chances of citizens in employment, the EEOC. Black workers make up just 13% of the US workforce, but racial discrimination against this group accounts for a whopping 26% of all appeals filed at the EEOC.
The quality of medical care is far lower for people of colour in the United States than for white Americans. The reasons being lower health insurance rates, communication barriers and racial stereotypes. African American men have the worst health indicators of any major demographic.
"All human beings belong to a single species and are descended from a common stock. They are born equal in dignity and rights and all form an integral part of humanity."
— Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice
Consequences of racism
It has been proven that discriminated groups have been more likely to experience health problems due to the stress they experience and their destructive emotional states.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has declared that racism is a social causative agent of health problems. A child's exposure to stressful conditions begins in the womb if they belong to any race other than white. This is reflected in premature birth, low birth weight and an increased risk of maternal mortality during childbirth. All of this happens due to a lower level of income, a lack of access to proper prenatal care due to the prejudice of the medical staff, and frequent stressful conditions during pregnancy.
African American boys between the ages of 10 and 15 who have had a history of racism are more likely to behave more aggressively than their white counterparts. During childhood, stress can cause heightened alertness and fearfulness in children who feel like they are living in a threatening world.
Instead of a conclusion
The delineation of boundaries between people can be justified by social, cultural, religious or geographic, but not biological factors. There are certainly biological differences, but it has been proven that human genes are practically identical, and differences in appearance are not evidence of our genetic differences or similarities.
Проблема в интерпретации, в переносе биологических особенностей в поле культуры. Люди создают ложные научные выводы, отрицающие единство человечества как вида, верят в них и убеждают других. Вот такой вот замкнутый круг, который, мы надеемся, скоро разорвётся.
There is a problem of interpretation in terms of the transfer of biological characteristics into the domain of culture. People create false scientific conclusions that reject the unity of humanity as a species, believe in them and convince others. This is a vicious circle, which, we hope, will soon be broken.
We have a dream.
- Oprah on Being a Recent Victim of Racism
- TED: How racial bias works, and how to disrupt it
- The Talk P&G Commercial
- Race & Privilege: A Social Experiment
- Blind People Describe Racism
- Netflix: 13TH
- What Dark-Skinned People Will Never Tell You
- Netflix: Explained | Racial Wealth Gap
- How to Talk to Kids About Race
- DW Documentary: Black Lives in Germany – racism hidden and overt
- TED Playlist: Talks to help you understand racism in America
- TED Playlist: The link between health and racism
- The Atlantic: My President Was Black
- The New York Times: The 1619 Project
text: gleb ovcharenko
translation: dasha evsina
photos: koshu kunii,markus spiske, clay banks, jurien huggings