On “Racism”

I have something to get off my chest and it’s been bugging me for a couple of days now. Really grinding me.

Oh my word – a racist!

Why is it that people are surprised that Racism exists, still exists? Of course it exists. It’s a physical recognition of biomorphic physical differences. Look around, it’s a competition out there – for survival. The problem is when survival is misconstrued as dominance.

Transforming the future

Is the current generation hedging their bets that the world’s future offspring will reveal a better side to human nature because evolution will take care of the details. Will the next generation (work in progress) garner a different outlook to their parents, elders, teachers and community leaders because it is the right thing to do? I think not.

Racism vs Ethnicity

What should be more concerning is that ethnic tolerance is nowhere near what all good democratic people advocate. Isn’t that what ‘all good people’ are these days – democratic? And, aren’t we all democratic these days?

Racism is different to ethnic intolerance in that racists actively use their different status (perceived or otherwise) to exert control over another racial group that they believe is inferior. Racism is a considered course of action to cause harm to other people. You could call it the tipping point to the worst side of the human condition.

I was thinking that it’s sad that while companies like Apple can churn out multiple versions of its devices in an 18-month period these days that nothing much advances in the same timeframe in terms of cultural and racial tolerance – yet the topics of Transformation and Tolerance receive so much attention. But culture, traditions and customs is not what denotes Racism. Race is about the recognisation of different physical characteristics. This is where the Race debates and discussions often go astray as the concepts of Race and Ethnicity are used interchangeably.

There is nothing you can do about your Race. You are either Black, White or Yellow. There is no dominant Race. All races share 99.99+% of the same genetic materials which means that division of race is completely subjective and based on visual awareness of another’s skin colour.

You can change your ethnicity over time through migration, voluntary or not.  One of the main differences between race and ethnicity is that race is whole. A person can belong to one race only. You are of just one race but can have multiple ethnic connections. Race is socially imposed whereas ethnicity is not socially imposed (rugby jokes aside).

There is no globally accepted classification of Race but there are 2 common approaches:

Meyers Konversations lexikon (1885-90)

  • Caucasian races (Aryans, Hamites, Semites)
  • Mongolian races (northern Mongolian, Chinese and Indo-Chinese, Japanese and Korean, Tibetan, Malayan, Polynesian, Maori, Micronesian, Eskimo, American Indian),
  • Negroid races (African, Hottentots, Melanesians/Papua, “Negrito”, Australian Aborigine, Dravidians, Sinhalese)

Carleton S. Coon (1962)

  • White/Caucasian
  • Mongoloid/Asian
  • Negroid/Black
  • Australoid

The United Nations, in a 1950 statement, opted to “drop the term ‘race’ altogether and speak of “ethnic groups”. In this case, there are more than 5,000 ethnic groups in the world, according to a 1998 study published in the Scientific American.

The straw that broke this camel’s back – the 2012 US Elections

The amount of hate speech on social media channels during the US elections this year was a slap in the face of all those who shelter behind the idea of what democracy will deliver. The very unnecessary Black vs White debate superseded the programmes of the political parties concerned. Give me a break. Have we lost the plot completely? But racism isn’t based on hate. It is based on the power to discriminate. Hate is an emotional choice, an expression. Racism isn’t based on what you feel but on your power to use your racial status to control others. Some people just have bigger mouths (and perhaps bigger online followings) than EQ, self-esteem and common sense.

These are some of the typically racist statements that came out this week – it’s very clear here that people are boxed by colour:

The following statements could just be relegated to ignorance in action but the content leans to lack of ethnic tolerance, not sure if these people realise what they’re doing when they support Taco Bell or get Chinese takeout…

These are spineless follow-the-leader statements:

And there are many Black tweets like these about White people too in case you were wondering…

Yeah, yeah – everyone is unique – just don’t be different…

I’m going to level with you here; I don’t agree that everyone in this earth HAS to like everyone else but I do believe in respecting and acknowledging that there are people with different opinions, views and outlooks to how we navigate our way around the planet together. Prejudice isn’t the same as Power.  You don’t get Power by putting others down.


So lets talk about Respect… I read somewhere (most probably on Pinterest) “You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to attend”. I don’t know who the author of this quote is. Simply, it is just bad manners for anybody to make degrading racial slurs or any other degrading slurs to another person.  When did respect fall off the agenda? Since when did it become okay to be rude in public?

And the point is…

Can we afford to be racist? – Politically, Socially, Economically? No.

Can we get away with voicing our ethnic prejudices? Yes. If addressed politely and being cognisant of the context of the conversation you’re in.

Are we all “democratic” these days? No. Because even the definition of democracy varies from person to person. Is it wrong not to be democratic? I don’t think so. People have opinions. People have preferences. People are people.

Why are we surprised when someone publishes a slandering racial statement online (drunken brawls don’t count)? Because we know it serves no good and that it is an embarassing mark on our collective existence.  While we have progressed in terms of broadening our thinking and consideration set, what we perhaps lack is the ability to acknowledge that we could be more different than we thought.

Some feedback from FaceBook:

Trish Hamilton I wasn’t surprised when I saw that collection of racist tweets directed at Obama. I was angry and annoyed but not surprised. We live in a society that is structurally racist so people expressing racist ideas is to be expected. Is it acceptable? No. But I see it as a sign of what is wrong with our world, with our system, that racism (along with other -isms) is institutional and a core part of how things are organised. Racism isn’t just an individual expression of hatred that we can stamp out with love and kindness. Its end requires a systematic overhaul of the world we live in. And I’m not sure the people who benefit from the status quo will be that keen to see its demise.

12 Replies to “On “Racism””

  1. I love history. Today you taught me a lot on a important subject. Thank you for the information. If people understood race and culture then racism would be gone in this world.

  2. Great Read Melanie

    I am not sure ethnicity can be changed. This is a list of ethnic groups:

    It’s possible to move countries, learn a new language and change your cultural and everyday habits, I think that then makes you a part of more ethnic groups, instead of just your original one.


    I honestly think that the best way to end racism is to stop talking about it. We should stop labeling people by race and ethnicity.. We should stop referring to anyone as a member of one race or another. We should stop using it as a political card or to assign blame with it.

    We need to stop having limitations and labels of groups like “The Black Lawyers Society” or equivalent white / coloured or Indian groups. Why not just call yourselves ” the lawyers society”.

    By labeling ourselves and our groups, we encourage segregation as being OK.
    It isn’t ok, it creates a “we are different & you can’t join us” culture.

    I believe that each time the media, public or government defines race and constantly uses race in news, debates and politics, we sustain racism.

    In one generations time, we would dent racism, just by teaching our children to be colour blind. Teach them not to define other people by colour or race.

    Racism is a learned trait. My children don’t think twice about what colour a person skin is, they just see everyone as people.

    We are not classified by eye colour or hair colour or height and it should be the same with skin colour. It doesn’t matter if you are black or white or whatever skin shade, language or culture you come from. .

  3. “Why is it that people are surprised that Racism exists, still exists? Of course it exists. It’s a physical recognition of biomorphic physical differences. Look around, it’s a competition out there – for survival. The problem is when survival is misconstrued as dominance.” – not really. Example Jews are considered White, yet arent they genetically similar to Arabs – more complex than seeing biomorphic signals – a good read is Igantiev’s ‘How the Irish became White’

    ‘Racism is a considered course of action to cause harm to other people. You could call it the tipping point to the worst side of the human condition.’ Research points out that most racism nowadays is committed by declared non-racists. It is is propagated by unconscious biases that we all hold as we are taught the racist narrative even in non-racial schooling, This comes about because in those setting the default is White and the rest Other. SO while race is never mentioned, it is present by centering of Whiteness.

    ‘But culture, traditions and customs is not what denotes Racism. Race is about the recognisation of different physical characteristics.’ Racism is cultural – as you pointed out earlier is is about dominance. Some neuroscientists point out that the brain works in pairs and that is precisely how culture drives racism. A study of Taiwanese found that the most racist towards Blacks were most exposed to American film and its portrayal of Blacks.

    I am also not sure how you change ethnicity. That would seem more fixed.

    So in closing I disagree, because the premise that there racism is the recognition of physical differences does not quite fit with reality and ignores completely the cultural power aspect.

    1. Thanks Thabo. Your closing statement struck a chord with me; everything works best in theory. The reality you speak of is, well, reality. Human nature always comes into play. I think it’s what makes things interesting or complicated depending on how you view things. Appreciate your feedback.

  4. I was born in what was then Rhodesia, schooled in Zimbabwe, my parents are of Irish & South African (English speaking) descent, and I live in South Africa, where my own children were born.

    My family farm in Zambia, and are spread around the world, in Jozi, Cape Town, Durban, Mozambique, Oslo (Norway) … extended family members in Canada, the US, Australia, the EU.

    I see myself as African (yep, that’s another debate that shrieks emotive) … and I wholly identify with the New South Africa (though not so much its politicians many of whom lack vision & integrity). In fact, I’m proudly South African, and I’m saddened by Zimbabwe’s demise. I love Ireland, its lilting accent, warm people and picturesque emerald landscape.

    And to add insult to injury, I am a digital citizen, which cuts across all race and ethnic boundaries …

    All in all, a multi-faceted world citizen, complex in make-up, wanting to see a better world for my children, walking the road less travelled, and taking things a day at a time.

    You’ll notice I haven’t said much about racism per se .. and I don’t intend to. I tackle it when I see it, and I strive to rise above the issue. Sometimes I do this better than at other times.

    It is an attitude that I hope my children see, and aspire to.

    1. I like your approach. Racism shouldn’t be the be all and end all of things. And it shouldn’t be what ultimately defines a person.

  5. Excellent! I like the distinction between ethnicity and race. I wish more and more people can read it…its an ongoing debate that must take place, especially in South Africa. True, it comes down to respect for the other. I will tweet it again!!

  6. to me its so simple – we are human. Race should be irrelevant. But as human beings we have different beliefs and cultures and then there’s just respect for those as long as another human being isn’t harmed due to your beliefs and culture. possibly I am just too naive. and it will probably take an alien attack to to pull us together as a race of humans.

  7. Great Post Mel! The differentiation between ethnic groups and people of different backgrounds is natural – what is NOT natural is when such natural differentiation (ie noticing the difference) is accompanied by hatred, disdain and intolerance. The second state of mind (ie hating the difference) is born from an internal lack in a person’s ability to accept and respect others for the unique God created creature they are! Well written!

    1. I think what I was, very clumsily, trying to articulate was that one is an observation and the other is a choice. Observations are part of life. Being malicious is a failure of the human condition. Thanks for reading and commenting Stef.

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