Opinion Prejudice

Racism: Can we cancel it?

What is Racism?

We all think we know what racism is right? Well it’s actually a hotly debated subject right now. Some people consider “racism” to mean any prejudice, or differential treatment, of an individual or group, based on their race or ethnicity alone. To other people it means the ongoing oppression of “people of colour” by “white people”, over many generations, leading to an unfair system that disadvantages “people of colour”, from birth until death. In my opinion, the definition of racism is the former definition, and the latter is actually “systemic racism” specifically, previously known as “colonialism”. Everyone has their own understanding, as with any other word, and personal experience will play its part. In fact “people of colour” are only disadvantaged systemically in certain parts of the world, primarily those dominated by people of European heritage (including Eastern Europe and Russia, with Russia being the most racist “white country” on Earth). I personally find the terms “white people” and “black people” distasteful and polarising. “People of colour” is not much better, in truth, and “Caucasian” is very problematic, as it was coined as a term by a group of people who are thought to be “white supremacists”, and refers to the Caucus region of Europe, which is actually a very small area. It is a controversial term, despite being in common usage in the United States of America. (We love Wikipedia!)

Is referencing the appearance of an individual, in describing their entire being, that necessary in general? Is it only useful when attempting to document differential treatment of individuals, based on their ethnicity? We are seeing terms like “reverse racism” and “positive discrimination” crop up, to both describe mistreatment of “white people” by “people of colour”, and occasions where advantages are being given to “people of colour” by “white people” in power, respectively. We are also seeing the term “white privilege”, which describes the natural advantage that “white people” appear to enjoy, in comparison to “people of colour”, in countries where “white people” are in the majority. In India, their archaic “Caste system” is still felt to this day, although not initially based solely on skin colour, those with darker skin are still treated very badly in their society, and India is statistically the most colourist/racist country in the world. (Is that some more Wikipedia?)

In my opinion, the term “racism” is no longer very useful, in fact it is harmful. In Biology, there is no such thing as “race”. There are actually only seven taxonomic ranks, these being kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. We are all human, and we are all the same species from the point of view of Biology. Ethnicity belongs more in the field of Anthropology, which is closely related to Geography, History and Sociology. There are many ethnicities of Europeans, Africans, Americans or Asians, and there are new ones being discovered all the time. The human genome project, and other endeavours such as 23andMe, have isolated thousands of distinct Ethnic groupings. We all have very minor differences in our DNA, some produce differences of appearance, and some mean we can or can’t drink milk or alcohol. Some differences give us major strengths, such as surviving high altitude conditions without succumbing to altitude sickness. Some people even have a gene that makes them run faster for longer, and this has been found in many professional athletes, from various ethnic backgrounds. Mutation is what causes these genetic differences, so we are all mutants. Some of our ancestors mutated lighter skin, some of them became shorter on average, or comparatively taller. Some of us are more prone to adipose development, some to muscle development. Some of us are near sighted, some of us are far sighted, and some even have perfect 20:20 vision. Curly or straight hair, blonde, brunette, black coloured hair, and of course gingers, who could forget the noble gingers, with their hair colour anywhere from strawberry blond to auburn.

Is Ginger a race?

Okay, lets pick on gingers for a moment, only because it is still safe to do so politically, and I actually count many redheads in my family and friends! Only around two percent of the world population is ginger, a true minority ethnic group, however in Ireland it is as high as ten percent. Most people with red hair are also fair skinned, and many of them have freckles. Gingers don’t go grey, they go blonder, they can go bald however! Ginger-haired and fair-skinned people are also usually very UV sensitive, burning easily in the sun, but they also produce a lot more vitamin D with little exposure to sunlight. In order to be a ginger, your parents both have to be carriers of the genetic mutation, as being ginger is a recessive trait. Most gingers will have brown eyes, then in order of mathematical likelihood, hazel, green, and rarest of all is blue eyes (ginger hair and blue eyes is the worlds rarest hair/eye colour combination), as being blue eyed is also a recessive trait. Ginger haired people have been treated badly throughout history, being buried alive by the Egyptians as a sacrifice to Osiris, being hated and feared by the ancient Greeks as vampires, being murdered en masse across Europe for practising black magic (from 1400-1700AD), and more recently, being banned from marrying each other by Hitler, he believed that they were demonic and wanted to prevent their demon infested offspring from being produced. (Oh look, a another Wikipedia link!)

These days, we know that redheads don’t really come from hell, they are not soulless beasts of Satan, we know that they are from somewhere in central Europe, probably near Hungary. They were known as Celts, or Picts by the Romans, and they mass migrated as a tribe from central Europe to Scotland and Ireland. There is a great deal of academic controversy around their origins, as, pre-agrarian peoples, being largely nomadic, they are difficult to trace.

The appearance of having red hair is mentioned in Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt and even Mongolia. (Wait a minute, that’s not Wikipedia!?!)

It is therefore very difficult to pin down what period of history that the mutation occurred, and the characteristics of having red hair, fair skin, and freckles, producing more vitamin D, more likelihood of being left handed, and not going grey, appeared, either all at once, or gradually over a period of thousands of years. The Celts also developed a language that has survived until this day and is spoken in Scotland and Ireland as Gaelic (although there are differences between Irish and Scottish versions of this language that have occurred over the past six thousand years). They have a rich culture, with music, art and dance, and cuisine that is kept alive to this day, and has been shared with all people who have come to settle on their lands. They were one of the first peoples to settle on the British Isles, and have strongly influenced the culture of Britain and Ireland.

Okay, that’s enough about gingers, what does this have to do with racism? Well, gingers were historically marginalised, and still are to this day. They have been historically prejudiced, have suffered genocide, eugenics, have been despised, hated, feared, and mistreated. They still are mistreated, and suffer from prejudice, and they have done nothing to deserve this.

Is gingerism as bad as racism?

Although being redheaded is still not considered a race, or ethnicity by standards used to determine Racism. They demonstrate the fundamental issue behind the majority of prejudice, the cause of it, and maybe even the best way to deal with it. Before you continue to read this article, take a moment to remember that this is all my own opinion, and is in fact only that, if you disagree, that is completely okay by me. Please feel free to leave a well thought out and argued comment.

Okay, let us continue in good faith. All prejudice is a form of tribalism, a desire to belong to part of a whole, a larger organisational structure than just ourselves and our family. It originates within the family, and the extended family, and extends to the neighbouring families. We like being part of something, being included, and being one with our community. The other side of that shiny coin, is the dull, unpolished side, the fear and hatred of the “other”. We fear, and come to despise those who do not resemble us or our kin, if they are not our kind, we are not kind to them. We can even be cruel to them, and kill or enslave them, without the same moral repugnance of doing so to someone with a similar outward appearance to ourselves. This is natural, and instinctive. It has been normal for millions of years and it has kept us all very much alive, and also in separate tribes. If it was not for this compulsion and drive, we would not have spread across the globe, and evolved to be so different from each other in the first place.

Prejudice was incredibly powerful as a force for migration, and also as a tool to create a closer and tighter community, united in fear of the “other”. We learned cooperation, and coordination as a result, and as an evolutionary driving force, there is no other single instinct that has driven the development of civilization further than hatred of the “other”. One may argue that the technologies and inventions of man have been turned into weapons of war after the fact, but the drive to invent useful tools has always been to give us an advantage over the “other”, be that large predators of other species, or competing tribes of humans. Farming was developed to feed our community from the territory we hold, as we can’t enter the territory of the “other”, the hated, feared and despised “other”. This is just one example, and I could probably hypothesise how every invention that improves quality of life, or reduces labour, actually was driven by the need to compete with the “other”.

In the modern age, this is now a defunct and unnecessary throwback, and is regressive and repressive to our collective development as a species. We now need to work together on a larger scale than the small tribes we evolved to live in, we need to work together as a species, on a planet wide scale. We need to learn a new trait: “tolerance”. We have been learning this new skill for less than a century, only three generations. Some people are already getting really good at it, and I would like to include myself amongst them, and some people are still pretty bad at it. Overcoming our basic instincts, through education and training, is possible. The overwhelming majority of “haters”, or “people of hatred”, were just not reached in time, they were already exposed to positive re-enforcement of their hate, and maybe even negative feedback in reaction to their tolerance. They were taught not to play with those children when they were young, and heard them referred to with a hateful tone of voice, and slurs. Over the past three generations, the terms we use to describe different races have changed rapidly, and despite this article being one of historical information, I am not going to mention the terms or slurs that are no longer politically correct, and are now considered offensive. If you are truly interested in finding that information, it is available on other websites, and can be found easily. In my lifetime, the terms that are acceptable in polite conversations have changed at least twice, I am only in my mid-thirties and I struggle to use only the correct terms. I fully empathise with those who are older, of my parent’s or grandparent’s generation, and older, who simply can’t remember which of the many terms they have used is now the correct one. In fact, you could argue that to expect older people to use the currently politically correct term, and to think and behave like the society of the day, is ageism. I will probably write more about this in another article.

I feel like the term “reverse racism” that is currently being used by some “white people” to describe their poor treatment by “black people” is incorrect. I don’t doubt that after years of suffering from oppression from “white people”, some “people of colour” may still consider all “white people” to be their oppressors, despite not participating in the oppression directly, simply benefiting from their “white privilege” and having “white guilt” and treat them with disdain. This is still racism. Racism is not a word that is singularly describing “white to black” mistreatment or ill will. “Black people” can be racist towards “White people”, or even “mixed race” individuals. Genuine “reverse racism” is when an individual or organisation would treat “Black people” and “White people” the same, despite there being a good and valid reason not to. A great example of this is actually healthcare. Minor variations of genetics have given us minor variances of our physiology. I am not simply talking about height, weight and shoe sizes, there are genetic diseases, and weaknesses, that modern medicine often does not take into account when diagnosing illness, or treating it. Gender is also largely ignored, and the same treatments that are prescribed to men are often prescribed to women, despite their obviously different physiologies. That would be “reverse sexism”. More on that story in my piece about gender, sex, and everything in between your legs. There are differences in insulin levels, average blood glucose levels and even blood pressure between various ethnicities. Body temperatures are different between ethnicities, and certain medicines are more or less effective or harmful based on ethnicity. Ginger people require more anaesthetic to put them under for surgery, and yet less morphine to reduce pain from injury. The fact that western medicine does not always take this all into account, or even commission studies to find out more about it is an example of “reverse racism”. The idea that studying the differences between ethnicities is racist or eugenics is not new, it will usually eventually be compared to the work done by German scientists under the Nazi regime. In order to not be “racist”, medical science has become “reverse racist”, treating all ethnicities the same with medical treatment, often to the detriment of the patients.

A more relatable example of “reverse racism” is that most “European white people” don’t eat food that is quite as spicy as those on other continents, and to accommodate for this, when they order food from a restaurant in Asia for example, they may be asked if they want it local style or more mild? This is to make sure that they can actually eat it and enjoy it. This is “positive discrimination” in a way. They may even offer European or European American patrons a fork, knowing that they could struggle to eat with chopsticks. In less touristic areas, a white European or European American visitor could be served food that they can’t comfortably eat, with utensils they can’t use, and left hungry and in pain! This is of course based on real cultural phenomena, yet the basis is apparent ethnicity or race. We are trying to “cancel” racism, remove it entirely from our global culture, yet it is deep seated, and woven into it. It is difficult to extract something that is such as fabric of our reality, but we are still trying to pull it, kicking and screaming, from our world, and it is a painful process. I suggest, humbly, that instead of this painful excise of “ethnic prejudice”, we try to focus on teaching the next generation tolerance. Tolerance is the skill that is lacking in the world, and it comes naturally with understanding. We need to spread understanding, help people understand that they are actually more similar than different, that they have nothing to fear from each other, that if we cooperate fully, we will prosper together.