Write Out of the Margins!

What Is Racism?

Racism and Anti-Racism
Some Examples of Racism
What Is Racism?
Roots of Racism
History of Anti-Racism
Methods of Anti-Racism
Individual Change
Legal and Political Change
Addressing Root Causes
Economic Change
Sin and Salvation
Psychological Healing
Twelve Steps for Racists
Behavioral Therapy
Who Has the Most Responsibility for Change?
My Ideal Society
Ideal Economics
Ideal Culture

"Racism" almost always conjures up visions of white suppression of non-white peoples. There is a long history of "racism," however, among "white" peoples toward other "whites" and among "non-white" peoples toward other "non-whites."

Some Examples of Racism

Some historic "white versus white" racism:

There is racism in Iraq and Syria against ethnic Kurdi, in Pakistan against Tamil, in Indonesia against ethnic Chinese. In India, there is still conflict between Hindu and Sikh; in Indonesia, conflicts between Christian and Muslim – in Maluku, Poso, Mataram, Medan, etc. – have continued for the last 2-1/2 years.

"Racism" refers to discriminatory practices by the predominantly white social majority against Maoris in New Zealand, against aborigines in Australia.

In the mid-East, "racism" defines the treatment of Israel and Israelis by Arabs and Arab states, and the treatment of Palestinians within Israeli borders, as much or more than "religion" does.

The current conflict in Northern Ireland is a complexity of religious, political and emotional issues. Like conflicts in the Middle East and the Balkans, the violence on each side is fueled by bitterness over violence by the other. The root of the conflict goes back to the days of English oppression of the native Irish – institutionalized racism.

The intolerance of Serbs toward Albanians in the Balkans made world headlines. Less dramatically publicized is long-standing racist treatment of the Roma (gypsies) in the Balkans, and elsewhere in Europe. In the Holocaust of Germany's Final Solution during the Second World War, Roma were targeted for extermination as viciously as Jews.

Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, the descendants of the "conquering" empires – Portugal and Spain – rank higher socially and economically than descendants of the indigenous peoples. Latin America also has its own share of racism toward Blacks.

Basque nationalism is proudly racist, defining "a pure Basque" as free of any "taint" of Spanish, Jewish or Arab blood. Sabino de Arana y Giori, founder of the Basque National Party, even developed a new Basque language purged of all Spanish words.

The Basque racism, in turn, is a reaction to Spanish racism: the enforcement of one culture, one language and one people, or as Franco put it, "España, una, grande y libre."

Africans suffering drought, famine, plague and war have claimed that racism obstructs U.S. aid, most recently in the matter of AIDS vaccinations.

Patterns of racism change over time. In the early days of the U.S., Irish immigrants were heavily discriminated against. Both World Wars heightened racism toward "Krauts" in the U.S.; and World War II saw internment of Japanese-American citizens by the U.S. government. Tibetan exiles fleeing the racism of the Chinese invading Tibet found racist treatment in many host countries, too. Islamic students in non-Islamic countries have often experienced racism; it has gotten worse as the actions of Islamic extremists in the mid-East gain more attention.

What Is Racism?

A more universal definition of racism is "Prejudice or discrimination by one group toward others perceived as a different 'race', plus the power to enforce it." Groups may be almost identical physiologically, yet be divided against each other on the basis of culture, language, religion, nationality, or any combination of the above.

Racism requires four elements:

  1. The belief in separate, definable and recognizable "races."
  2. The belief that one "race" is superior to others.
  3. Possession of power by the "superior race" to act against "inferior races" without effective defense or redress.
  4. Action that is both arbitrary and harmful.

Prejudice that remains an attitude can be emotionally painful and demoralizing, but it is not racism until it is put into action. The actions of individuals, in turn, are harmful to the degree that they are supported by power. Imagine, for example, that a Muslim applied to rent an apartment from a Hindu landlord. If the landlord hates Muslims personally but rents the apartment and treats the tenant on an equal basis with any other in charging rent, maintaining the apartment, etc, that is an example of prejudice but not of racism. If the landlord refuses to rent the apartment to a Muslim, the landlord's action is individual racism, but can be only a temporary setback if it is not supported by the society. If, however, the rest of the tenants and neighbors support the landlord's decision, if no local media find it to be news, if the applicant finds no official avenue for appeal or redress, that is institutionalized racism.

Roots of Racism

Historically, almost every group of human beings who managed to cultivate a cultural identity did so partly by defining themselves as better than any other group, setting sharp boundaries to how much they would interact with other groups (including intermarriage) and limits to how much of their resources and power they would share.

Groups that were isolated by natural borders – like the Klingit (Eskimo), native Caribbean tribes, and Australian aborigines – did not have to develop traditions of hostility to strangers to protect their tribal identity. Natural obstacles provided all the hostility to invaders they needed; the people themselves could be generous and hospitable to the survivors, who often ended up absorbed into the tribe.

Those with extremely strong cultural identities – as, for example, Jews and Roma (gypsies) – have been able to exist within other cultures without behaving with hostility, although they have often suffered hostilities. This behavior has changed, however, in the rare times when such a group has found itself in a position of power. In Moorish Spain and in modern Israel, for example, Jews have demonstrated that they can be as violent as anyone else in defense of "cultural identity" – persecuting heretic Jews as well as non-Jews.