Wednesday 11 January 2012

We're all racists

‘We’re all racists,’ Bea Campbell said to me, way back in the day. At the time I was affronted.  ‘How can I be a racist?’ I spluttered defensively. ‘My adopted father is part aborigine and my foster sister is West Indian.’ I nearly went on to say, ‘and I have loads of black friends and if I don’t have a black boyfriend it’s not for want of serious trying’ (but, thankfully, I stopped myself).  Bea just looked at me and sighed. 
It took me nigh on twenty years to realise that she was absolutely right. We are all racists.

Of course, on a physiological level, racism is totally absurd, quite risible.  Peel away our skin and you’d have to be a forensic pathologist to tell the difference between us. Our rational, civilised, nice psyche baulks at it too - and quite rightly so. But on a deeper level, psychologically, it’s a very different story.

Of course you’re already spluttering; already planning your defensive/appalled/caustic comment.  Because that’s what we do. We make up our minds before we have even read something through to the end. We jump to conclusions.  We do what I did with Bea Campbell.  And, (particularly when it comes to racism) we tie ourselves in knots (I read Liz Jones’ piece on the Diane Abbott affair with a deeply furrowed brow – in fact I read it three times and still can’t make head nor tail of it).  

I've thought about writing this post several times but over the last few days I've watched the old game play out on the Authonomy forum and so I figured it was time.
Anyhow, let’s pull back a bit and look at why we make these boundaries, why we put ourselves in groups, why we have this urge to divide. In fact, let’s not even talk about black and white to begin with…let’s start with something a little less …emotive.

‘Why do you feel so strongly about being Welsh?’ I asked Adrian back during the rugby world cup or whatever when he was in full Cymru am byth (Wales Forever!) mode.  Again. 
‘It’s my heritage,’ he replied with a shrug. ‘It’s what I am; it’s where I come from.’
‘But, see,’ I said.  ‘If you came from the borders, back in time, you would have been – alternatively – Welsh and English.’
‘Well…politically,’ he conceded. ‘But I’d still be Welsh.’  Is that racist?  In that the corollary is ‘and thank feck I’m not bastard English’ then yes, of course it is.  J
But what does it mean to be Welsh?  I looked up ethnicity online and it seems nobody really knows why we do this; there is no *real* reason for our tribalising.  It’s a societal thing. There are a whole bunch of views and, to be very honest, none of them really answered my question.  Take this…which probably came the closest.
"Constructivism" sees both primordialist and perennialist views as basically flawed, and rejects the notion of ethnicity as a basic human condition. It holds that ethnic groups are only products of human social interaction, maintained only in so far as they are maintained as valid social constructs in societies.”

So having tribes helps us hold together as societies. Really?  But it still doesn’t really answer my question.  And then, see, a few days later Adrian was at it again… ‘Bloody South Waleans…’ he muttered.  Not sure what they’d done this time, apart from existing and being south of Dolgellau. ‘Bloody Cardiff. ’  Yup, even the Welsh (a small nation for sure) can’t help dividing itself further – North v South.  And in Llandudno, Adrian’s home town, they do it too.  ‘Oh they’re from up the valley…’ said with a certain element of scorn. ‘Llanwyrst.’ With an eyeroll.
I see it here too – on Exmoor – within our tiny towns.  Dulverton v Bampton.  Within Dulverton itself – cliques, groups, sub-divisions.  If it’s not race, it’s class, or sexuality or politics or – shit knows – football teams, werewolves v vampires. 
So I started looking into sociology and social psychology and there aren’t really any definite answers there either.  We humans compete for material resources or for social rewards, I’m told.  We have a ‘natural inclination’ for aggression and if that aggression is not unleashed on an agreed ‘enemy’ it turns inwards onto our own societies. 
Rene Girard saw ‘collective violence as sacred’; as the ‘great remedy’ for communal life.  He talked about the scapegoat as ‘absorbing all the internal tensions, feuds, and rivalries pent up within the community…a deliberate act of collective substitution.’ Scapegoat?  Yes. We have lynched and burned and gassed the scapegoat many the time before.  Hold that thought – I’ll come back to it. 
But really, why is conflict latent at our core? 
Psychically, I think, it’s because we’re set up to divide things into two. Me and you; us and them.  Difference is part of the human condition. If we didn't feel different, we would be One. We wouldn’t be here.  We’d have moved on.  We see the world in twos so we can make choices; so we can say No.  Two is freedom.  Yet, paradoxically, it is also irresolvable conflict, standoffs, stalemates, obstinacy.  So One is impossible and Two is a pain in the arse. Is there a solution?  Think about that word and hold that thought. 

Meanwhile, back on the Authonomy forum a big brave knight jousted a dragon (I mean, a filthy racist).  Did he ask the dragon what it was doing? Did he seek to understand why the dragon said what it did? No.  Instead he chose to hit the ‘report abuse’ button and incited the mob (I mean, other members of the forum) to do likewise.  And, because racism is such an emotive word and we’re all so damn scared of it, people did just that and the government booted the dragon off the site. 
'Hurrah,’ yelled the crowd, waving their pitchforks.  ‘We killed the dragon.’ 
‘No,’ said the brave knight, polishing his spear. ‘I was the dragon slayer.’ 
And then it all got very messy indeed as, having made one scapegoat, they felt better for a bit but then a few people went, ‘Huh?’ and so they hunted around for another one and found another guy (this time he just happened to be black) and started all over again with him. 

But really.  Why do we scapegoat? Because it’s far more comfortable to point a finger at someone and go ‘Look! Filthy racist’ than to confront the racism, the separation within ourselves.  There was an opportunity, on that forum, for people to feel the discomfort in what they saw as racism and to explore that feeling; to try, maybe to understand its source rather than just push it under, squash it down…again.  This is contentious, I know, but truly – have our other ways of dealing with racism worked? 
I believe there was an opportunity to look at the ‘field’- what Arnold Mindell calls the unconscious, collective, polarised patterns that lie behind racism and collective conflict.  To engage in ‘worldwork’, working with the psychosocial fields that reach beyond boundaries of race. To use a little deep democracy (in which all voices are heard – both those around us and those inside us – often they’re the same!).  As Mindell puts it: ‘Deep democracy is based upon the realisation that everyone is needed to represent reality. A sense of justice arises only in connection with community, with inner peace of mind, sustainable ongoing relationships, and worldwork that processes the tensions between groups.’  
It’s interesting stuff – check out The Global Process Institute & Worldwork website at  I’m not sure I agree with all of what he says but it’s a bloody good start.
But people didn’t question; they didn’t look within. More correctly, they didn’t look between.  In alchemy, separation is the process of establishing Two.  You and me.  Us and them. The next stage is Conjunction.  People mistake this – they see it as the two becoming one. No. Conjunction is reaching Three – you, me and Between.  Yes, it’s subtle, I know. But just think about it.  I reckon it’s the saving grace.

Meanwhile, about that particular filthy dragon.  Is he a racist?  No more than you or I.  And, actually, if people knew his ancestry, they might be very very surprised. J

Okay, I've said my piece...over to you... 


Sessha Batto said...

Being from Belfast, I'm all too familiar with the 'us' versus 'them' mentality you speak of. Thankfully, age has leached any desire for separation based on location/religion/race/age/etc. out of me - I uniformly distrust everyone ;)

Zoë said...

I vividly recall being called anti-semetic by an Israeli Jew, because I didn't agree with the Israeli stance on Palestine at the time. The irony of the slur was lost on them because he was totally unaware of my background, and simply assumed I must be some filthy gentile! I played this game for weeks, watching him get angrier and angrier with me. No one else bit though, most knew my background and let the silly sod hang himself (metaphorically).

I've always been an advocate of the melting pot idea - but as you put so well, even if we were all one colour, then tribalism/religion etc would have us breaking down into groups.

When I used to moderate on AOL back in the 1990s, it was interesting to see how communities grew, and developed, until they seemed to develop a critical mass, and then all hell would break loose, and the community would split into various factions. These in turn would grow until they in turn imploded. I think it is the nature of the beast, we don't function well beyond a certain size of community and then we begin to look for difference. For some reason beyond my ken , we seem to feat it, rather than embracing it, because difference makes us stronger.

Rachel Selby said...

I don't think it's about dividing, it's about belonging. And I don't just mean the feeling of belonging, but shared background, customs, experience, etc... There's nothing wrong with establishing your group. The trouble begins when you start sneering at any other group(s).

There is also a fine line between wanting to live among your group and becoming territorial. Territory is potentially a far greater source of evil than either racism of even religion, although they are all conected of course.

Anonymous said...

Soon after 1066, Normans invaded my part of West Wales, and pushed my ancestors up into the north of the county. The Normans built a set of castles, defences against the peasants revolting, and, if you join these castles up on a map, they forms a line known here as the Landsker.
Until about 40/50 years ago, most people born north of this line were Welsh speaking, as I was. We regard ourselves as Welsh, in what has become an English speaking, tourist and 'incomer-settling' county.
The thing is, I remember what things were like 50 years ago. The peace. The lack of development. Life before the crowds. It's hard here to hang on to who we feel we were, and to not associate the changes with people who are relative incomers.
I'm sure this feeling exists in many of the more rural counties in England - particularly those at the edges - Cornwall and Norfolk. But the people who moved in there usually had a common language. Locals were not made to feel bad because they spoke their own language in public. Speak Welsh here now and people accuse you of being deliberately hostile in front of them. In what language should I speak to my family but that of my childhood?

Tee said...

Oh, no. He got kicked off again!!!??

All jokes aside, and that wasn't even a very good one, racism runs far deeper than the colour of people's skin. It is social, economical and nature. Yes, nature.

A lot of the time, I think people fear what they don't know.

People deny it because they are ashamed to admit they make snap judgements based upon the colour of someone's skin, eyes, hair colour, ethnicity. And then there are those who don't hide it at all.

As for US vs THEM. Does that not come down to mob mentality. Or, ironically, a sense of community. It's actually the same reason people on forums like authonomy band together. Some people do it simply because they don't want to go against the crowd. Why would anyone want to rock the boat?

Here's the irony for me, all of the abuse I have suffered thus far in my life has come from the hands, mouths, minds of white people. LET'S GET THEM!

Err. Oh wait.

As I am Canadian, I don't really have an us vs them mentality. Who in the world would I go up against? Of course, I see it with the other Canadians, us Canadians against those Americans.

Actually, isn't the whole world against America these days?

Which is just another example of racism, isn't it?

I've been touting a whole love everyone, frollick through the wildflowers attitude for a while now...It's ideal, I think, to move forward and evolve. And we really need to evolve some.

Personally, I am not a fan of racism, sexism, anti-semitism...or, classism. Which I've sort of learned a lot about by conversing with you lot over the pond.

If I'm being honest, I love the Cockney accent. And you all sound the same to me anyways. How there is division based off the way people talk sort of baffles me. But then again, I'm Canadian, we all sound funny. ;)

Ashen said...

I agree, Jane. And there's some way to go. I'm committed to work on it in myself. What C. G. Jung called individuation points towards the development of an integrated individual, someone who can separate emotionally and intellectually from mother and family, but also realise how parental figures are projected outward. This potentially aware human being could join any family of mind and heart, give and take, until it was time to move on. Such individual could tolerate insecurity and celebrate difference, not having the need to justify their worth and right to exist. They'd accept their unique function in the world. This testing path goes against the grain of deeply established social patterns. Whether one finds meaning in this concept or not, the speed of migration around the world is actually forcing us to explore the beauty of difference.

Expat mum said...

The racism over here (USA) is both blatant (the Klan still exists) and subtle, as in the criticisms of Obama. Never before has a President been asked to show his birth certificate when it's been proven that it's bone fide; it's never even come up. John McCain, who ran against Obama, wasn't born in the States. He was born on an American military base, which counts as American soil, but most people in the USA wouldn't have known that without having to ask or look it up. But no. Not a peep.

There are people (including politicians) here whose platform is just to get Obama out. What's that all about? They don't even refer to the particular policies they might oppose; they just want him out. Hmmm...

Gerald D. Johnston said...

Thought provoking, engaging and intelligent. (Like I expected otherwise :P). While reading I can SO hear your voice. You're quite right, of course - about everything - and I'm sadly surprised I, too, haven't evolved far enough to have moved past similar events, history, and ongoing prejudices in my own life. (If you knew, Jane, you'd laugh your ass (arse) off at me.) It's a story over 100 years in the making...

Marilyn Rodwell said...

Good post! Not sure I agree with all of it, but food for thought certainly. I'm sorry about that dragon being kicked off the site, and agree that people can be easily drawn into gangs to kill of one single member. Not good. Not fair. Not nice. But are we all racist? Maybe the answer lies in mixing up the genes a little more. How can we hate our mixed race children? How can we see ourselves as superior to them? That is instinctively impossible. I don't believe we are all racist. Not when our hearts are from different genetic pools. Just my opinion.

Alison Cross said...

I like this post, Jane. I think it's just part of our survival mechanism and lodged deep in our Old Brain that you seek to preserve Your Tribe - Today that might mean family, town, country, football team, political party etc

It once kept us safe and when we feel threatened today, it still pops up. A bit like one's appendix - once it was useful but now no-one really knows what to do with it :-)

Ali x

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. Racism and Prejudices in general still exist in society, I agree. Society as a whole is still racist and prejudice. I wouldn't feel comfortable (personally) saying all people are racist as some really don't even know what racism is and truly don't see people for their skin color. I think it really is just a projection by some. Just because someone is prejudice doesn't mean all people are. I will say this, though. When I was 16, I realized racism is still an issue. Before that, I lived in diverse towns where no separated based on class, race, etc. In school, history books told of a time of separation and we were all (Student body) were perplexed. What was this world they spoke of? It seemed to us so much longer ago than I now know it really was. When I was 16, I moved somewhere where there was more racism going on. My thought? ARE THESE PEOPLE FOR REAL?! But that's when I realized it wasn't really a dead issue. So yes, as a society, all of our societies still battle racism (and other prejudices). but as individuals, I don't agree all people are racist. If a person were to be blind and live in a diverse society, with people with all kinds of accents and from all walks of life, I highly doubt they would judge anyone based on skin color. And many people might as well be blind to skin color, even if their eyes are perfectly fine. I know for those who find racism in their hearts, however, it might feel better to say everyone is a racist. They just don't know it. But I still think we have to face that might be a projection or mere wishful thinking.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps The US Government need to take a look at Elvis Presley's "too much monkey business" before Steve Games realises it's still

Hair's a Elvis chuckle.....

word veri =