What is racism, and why does it exist?

sazuna45 asks: I’ve been asking a question of people I trust. Kind of a survey: What do you think about racism? How unnecessary/ necessary do you think it is? And what can be the results?

Hi sazuna45 –

Okay, let’s start with a definition.  I define Racism as a particular form of prejudice, in which one makes judgments about a person or group of people based on their race, and not on actual facts.  And usually those judgments are, in some way, negative.

Let me explain what I mean by “usually, in some way, negative.”  Today, one of the most popular sports in the world is basketball, and in my country (the United States), there are many professional basketball teams.  The vast majority of the incredibly talented athletes on these teams are black men, descended at least in part from Africans.  Now there’s nothing racist about noticing this – it’s simply true.  But it would be racist to assume that because someone is an African-American male, he is thereby talented in, or even interested in, basketball.

Now you might say, “But what’s negative about being good at a sport?”  Nothing, of course.  But assuming someone is a great basketball player might carry with it the assumption that they’re not mentally qualified to be a great doctor or scientist… or president!

Racism can come in all sorts of ways, from very subtle (assuming someone has a certain job due to their race) to horrifying (such as genocide or slavery).

But whether it’s mild or harsh, innocent or hateful, Racism always has one particular quality:  It’s STUPID!  If you’ve broken your leg, and you can choose which of a number of doctors should fix you up, and you base your decision on the color of their skin, or where their ancestors come from, or what religion they follow… or anything other than their actual qualities as doctors, you’re an IDIOT!

Imagine that you are assigned to book some musicians to perform at a club for two nights – one classical, one soul.  Two women come to you, hoping to perform.  Both appear pleasant and smart.  One is an African-American woman, and the other a shy white British woman.  Do you choose the black woman for soul?  Oh that’s too bad.  She’s Condoleeza Rice, the former US Secretary of State and an accomplished concert pianist.  And the white girl, oh that’s Adele.  That’s what you get for being racist: you could have had two sellout shows; instead, both will really stink.

Now I have to admit something here: almost everyone in the world is at least at some times guilty of racism.  Including me!

When I was a puppy, I was attacked very roughly by a furious dog with long black hair who was about twice my size.  And today, if I see a Newfoundland (a black dog which is about twice my size now), I roll directly onto my back in terror.  Is that racist?  Sure.

But it’s harmless.  The reason it’s so important for you humans to be aware of any racism you might have is that you’re so powerful.  No dog ever enslaved a people, or perpetrated a Holocaust.  We’re not able (not even with cats or squirrels, which lots of us would be very happy to do!).  But you are.  You can make life miserable for the people around you because of your preconceptions.  You can make your own life worse by making poor choices based on stupid beliefs.  You can hurt people’s feelings by using old prejudices in the way you deal with or refer to them.  Or you can make the world better by refusing to do any of those things.

So, sazuna45, you also ask if Racism is necessary.  Well, I suppose some sort of pre-judgment can be healthy at times (you can probably assume that a newborn puppy will be safe to play with, while a growling snarling dog with a foaming mouth might be best to avoid), but overall, no, I just think it’s stupid.  And every time a person – or a dog – makes a decision based on facts instead of Racism, the world becomes just a bit healthier place.

For all of us.





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The Cold Safari - December 22, 2012 Reply

Hello, i personally think that racism is very unnecessary because everyone is different and that’s a great thing because we can learn from each other such as our customs, traditional food, environment and many more! At school i have many international friends, I have a friend from Russia, Africa, Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, America ETC.

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