Attacking racism does not stop racism

This year – 2016 – has to be one of the most politically divisive years in recent history. In the UK voters opted to leave the European Union, many clearly hoping to end immigration, and in the USA voters opted to elect Trump, again many hoping to end immigration. In both cases polls before the elections proved to be largely incorrect, and whats more, the principal of the silent majority seems to be the cause.

I’m not going to spend long arguing this point, but it seems clear to me that a lot of people in both countries didn’t admit how they truly felt and so also didn’t admit what they were going to vote for. After the election seemingly legitimatises how they voted they pretty much always say they hate being labelled racists and they feel like their fears and arguments are shut down as being racist. They usually end up by saying this vote means they are the majority and they are in fact not racist at all.

It is clear a majority of these voters feel ignored by the ‘establishment’ and feel that they are not represented. They are correct. The establishment has ignored them. Mainstream political parties don’t know what to do with them.

In both elections the winning slogans have been succinct and obvious: “Take back control” and “Make America great again”. They are anti-progressive rallying calls and the left-wing and centre-ground response is to call people who agree with them ‘a basket of deplorable’s’, ‘racists’, ‘sexists’, ‘homophobes’ and ‘transphobes’. They are correct. These people really are motivated by these emotions.

It is thus both true that these people are ignored and that they hold racist views. The mistake that we make is to demonise these people, to attack them and to call them racist – even if it is in fact true. Unless we’re planning on disenfranchising these people because they are racist then elections will continue to be lost and the “new right” will continue to grow – condemning them makes them more angry and more likely to vote for people like Trump who legitimatise actions which they think will make them feel better.

Recently I fell out with a close friend because his reaction to racism in America was to attack people who happened to be white – calling them racists (“all white people are racist”). Rather than engage with these people, hold civilised debate, he called white people “saltine crackers”, he accused them of having no culture, and he accused them of not having friends who weren’t white. Such a reaction is obviously completely bonkers because it does nothing to actually end racism and discrimination. It only angers people further, and emboldens them to spread their unacceptable views. Its like fighting a house fire by throwing bombs at it.

What we need to do is accept that racism is natural and very human. Instead what happens more often than not is that we assume that racism exists only because white people are ‘inherently’ racist, which is in of itself racist! The irony should be obvious. We should seek to understand racism, accept that its a perfectly normal thing for people to feel, and educate ourselves on how to not take racist actions.

It is not hard to see why we’re all capable of having racist views. Humans evolved to survive – just like every other creature on earth. As such when we interact with people who look or act significantly different to ourselves we react in fear – because that is what kept us alive for the past few million years. Its a perfectly logical response. I will call upon Star Trek to better illustrate my point:

QUARK: You never pulled a stunt like that. You’re smart enough to know that people don’t want to be reminded that you’re different. Who wants to see somebody turn into goo? I hope you don’t do that around Kira.

ODO: Why shouldn’t I?

QUARK: If she’s anything like me, she’d rather you didn’t. Don’t you get it, Odo? We humanoids are a product of millions of years of evolution. Our ancestors learned the hard way that what you don’t know might kill you. They wouldn’t have survived if they hadn’t have jumped back when they encountered a snake coiled in the muck. And now millions of years later, that instinct is still there. It’s genetic. Our tolerance to other lifeforms doesn’t extend beyond the two arm, two leg variety. I hate to break this to you, but when you’re in your natural state, you’re more than our poor old genes can handle.

ODO: So what are you saying, Quark? That the Klingons couldn’t help what they did because of their genes?

QUARK: I’m not trying to excuse what they did. I’m only telling you why it happened.

from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season 7 Episode 14 “Chimera”

Now, some people might think Quark and I are justifying racism. What we’re doing is justifying racist feelings not actions. Feeling fear and disliking people that are different from you is normal. What matters is the actions you take based upon those feelings and logical thought. We don’t teach this though. We simply condemn racism, and in the process, confuse and anger most human beings because we’re not making it clear that is is perfectly normal and acceptable to feel fear and dislike about people who look or act differently. What is NOT acceptable is intentionally acting on those feelings.

 

This is the difference between childhood and adulthood – learning to accept emotions and not just acting directly on them. What we need to do is encourage people to express how they feel and take positive action rather than voting for a narcissistic sexual predator who has no problem saying we should act on our fears because… “we have no choice”.

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