Are we all racist?

Lubna Abdel Aziz, Tuesday 23 Jun 2020

Are we all racist?
Are we all racist?

Solitude may cause false impressions, fantasies or optical illusions. Were those tens of thousands of rioters appearing on TV a documentary, rehashing the 1960s Civil Rights Movement?

It took a while to realise that this was happening right now — around the globe — with crowds hollering and howling anti-racist slogans.

Racism has once again raised its evil voice, igniting the flames of hatred, violence and destruction. 

The killing of a black man at the hands of a white policeman is always inflammatory, regardless. It matters little that the black man was in prison nine times, suffered from Covid-19, had the drugs metaphetamine and fentanyl in his system, and the autopsy report listed the primary cause of death was heart failure — no, it matters not at all. The extreme rage exhibited by the white policeman is inexcusable and he must pay the price.

This was a heinous act, whatever the circumstance, which resulted in the loss of a human life.

The police force kills 5,000 black people annually. Prisons house five to one blacks. 

Does that mean that crime is higher in black communities? Yes.

Does that mean that police brutality should be excused? No.

While US citizens were roiled in daily protests against a white man killing a black man, in the city of Chicago 25 people were killed and 80 wounded on 31 May, the most violent day in violent Chicago’s history. They were young black men, killed by young black men. No rage, no riots, no fires, no fury. They were black lives — and Black Lives Matter.

In 1994, 800,000 black people of the Tutsi tribe were massacred by another ethnic group, the Hutus.

The systemic slaughter of men, women and children was perpetrated in full view of the international community. No international protest. Worse yet, the UN failed to respond, despite the request of the Human Rights Watch. No one was blamed.

“Something is rotten” in the state of our minds. Well- meaning protesters, sincere as they may be, have no idea that they are all racist, to one degree or another.

International scientists broadly agree that racism is a historically “specific phenomenon that varies according to place and time, because racism is everywhere, a deeply anti-human and sound practice, either in form, structure, process or effect.”

The theory of naturalism particularly illustrated by Godenot and Darwin in the 19th century, argues that humanity is divided into different unequal groups. The process of this natural difference has the function to transform the other into the other.

This is the basis of any bias or discrimination, being fearful of the other, not simply in colour, but in creed, faith, dress, food, culture, language — we have continued to be phenotypical.

The majority would object to being called racist but, welcome to the human race. It is a normal process about how all of us process information. Centuries of hierarchy has left its mark. It is a process embedded in the consciousness and impacted by centuries of bias.

History’s oldest hatred is that of the Jewish race. It is an ancient and deeply buried hostility that has driven them out of almost every country they have resided in. Alexandria was home to the largest community in the world. Anti-Semitism is just a name for a mystery. This was a race designated as “the chosen race”, perhaps that is the reason for their persecution. Here we must stop to differentiate between Judaism and Zionism.

Slavery existed in the ancient world, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, the bastions of our modern civilisation. None has taken slavery as far and as long as the British. Cheap labour was needed as they expanded their dominions. British history of colonisation is replete with bias and discrimination against the other. They ransacked the wealth of India, Africa, the Middle East, degraded Jews, Scots, Irish, Arabs, or whoever was not British. Despite protestations, it still exists to some degree. 

The Brits brought slavery to their American colonies, which contributed to the very vivid racial discrimination, because it is so recent. 

Who amongst us would admit they were racist? No one. Yet we all are. You may call us closet-racists. We are educated, open-minded, informed, who believe all men are created equal, but our innermost thoughts can be dark and ugly.

Many prefer white over black, young over old, thin over fat, able over disabled. Such biases exist and we must admit it in order to improve it.

A test developed in 1996 by several sociologists and psychologists, the Implicit Association Test, is available on Google. You can take the test whether you are white, black or whatever — you will turn out to be a racist.

Bias lies deep in our brain and “methinks” those rioter “dost protest too much”, since they, as well as all of us, harbour implicit bias that is difficult to eradicate. 

Rioting may well be an expression of their guilt for the feeling that consciously or unconsciously lies deep within.

What we need is equality, justice and love for the other. Loving is hard but we must try. Perfection maybe unreachable, but progress is possible.

God created us differently, that we cannot change.

Just in case it did not cross your mind, all lives matter. 


“There are things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)


*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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