What if we viewed the root of racism as a competition for a perceived lack of resources?
On the surface, racism appears to be about hate based on the colour of a person’s skin. I’m not quite convinced hate is the root of racial discrimination. It may play a role, but it comes about as a natural by-product of man’s separation from each other through ‘tribal-like’ power struggles.
The Ancient Egyptian angle
Almost five years to the day, I wandered into the Ancient Egyptian museum (Muzeo Egizio) in Turin, Italy. I literally stumbled upon it because I had no clue where I was. Not wanting to look like the lost female solo traveller that I was, I decided to go into this museum to look at artefacts while I figured out my next move.
Most curious of all the artefacts were the translated letters between people of those times. You got the sense that they were just like me and you. These letters revealed that people experienced issues with their parents, bad career choices and mounting debt. Although that’s for another post.
To protect the artefacts, some were placed behind glass, and others were roped off and heavily guarded. It felt weird that an Italian security guard was protecting Egyptian artefacts. Why was it weird? Because these were Egyptian artefacts in Italy.
On the one hand, you could see it as a European celebration of Ancient Egypt’s history and culture. And that’s great. It’s heartwarming to see one nation appreciate another.
Coming from a business background, I tend to be more ‘economical’ of people and their motivations. The artefacts clearly serve as a tourist attraction. Perhaps even as a basis for an academic research centre. All of which bring people, who bring pocketfuls of spending money.
There’s been a lot of modern debate about whether these museums and their foreign artefacts should be considered stolen property. I won’t go into that. I’ll just say that while the transaction might be legal they were probably obtained under unfair conditions. One of those conditions might be colonialism.
Colonialism and racism
In Colonial times racism was more blatantly practised. The systems, beliefs and practices of the colonising-country were forced upon the colonised people. By various systems, including restricting trade with the coloniser, native resources were reserved for the powers that be.
Colonisation began in the 15th Century and by as recent as 1914, (that’s just last century), Europe controlled 84% of the entire world.
The subjugation of races to another is of course not confined to European colonialism. History presents many different situations of one race dominating another. Often on intra-racial or inter-tribal levels like the Roman Empire or the English conquering the Scottish tribes. The same occurred in African Kingdoms and South American Kingdoms of the pre-colonial era.
How the preference for white skin began
European colonialism was the most recent and most widespread occurring from the 1600s onwards. Its fingers reached from the eastern continents of Asia to Western lands of America and down towards South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.
Undoubtedly, the most expansive and given its recent time in history, the most influential. Hence, directly influencing the preferred and most privileged skin colour of modern times ie white skin.
The allocation of resources clearly went to one race who claimed a superior right over the other based on race, nationality and skin colour. Many scientific studies were performed to compare the colonising race to the natives. These same studies were also used to justify gender roles that still have their sticky fingers in humanity’s collective mindset today.
Needless to say, these scientific inquiries were rigged to serve the ruling opinion of the times: that white was superior to black.
The 20th Century shook things up
The devastation of the First and Second World Wars triggered colonial powers to backtrack out of their territories, granting new-found independence to colonised countries.
And with the US Civil Rights movement racial equality became a foundational institution of leading nations, eventually having a domino effect on South African Apartheid.
It is easier to re-write an entire governmental system than to re-wire the human mind. Just because things seemed to change for the better doesn’t mean things are better or that people’s minds are re-programmed.
Even after the ink has dried on the new legislation, people still hold on to their beliefs about the superiority or inferiority of their race. Both mindsets are the result of centuries of propaganda and brainwashing.
Some who benefited from racist systems feel it slipping away and become defensive. Rallying against affirmative action labeling it anti-white and lashing out at any pro-black movement.
It isn’t hate that drives people to do this. Not really. It’s fear. Fear of not being able to enjoy the privileges and resources they once had easy access to: like better jobs, better education, and better living conditions. There are only fifty places left at an esteemed university or one seat left on the bus. In the old days, it used to be reserved exclusively for whites.
Psychological effects of colonisation
Lighter skin is viewed as more trustworthy, more attractive, more intelligent. Less dangerous. Whatever. I refer to the aforementioned ‘studies’ of colonial scientists. This isn’t just across the white-black divide but within darker-skinned race communities too. Hispanics, Indian and Asians have shown to favour lighter skin for beauty.
Beauty is another discriminatory factor that allows you easier access to resources. Ever heard of the saying that she’s so beautiful she can get away with murder? It echoes the truth because more attractive people have access to better jobs, better partners, and they are perceived to be just better overall.
We’re still talking about perception. In reality, neither skin colour nor beauty or lack of it, (nor gender) gives any reliable indication of a person’s intelligence or capabilities. Nor does it justify assigning privileges based on nothing else than superficial criteria.
But people don’t fight or wage wars against so-called ugly people to the extent that we wage war against other races.
War and conflict is a grapple for power. Which gives rise to hate. We naturally want to secure the best resources for ourselves. We extend this desire to our own family. By ensuring that our race is guaranteed the best, we secure it for ourselves on a larger scale. We reduce the competition by cutting out whole sections of humanity effectively reducing the pool of candidates.
It matters if your forefathers ate at the king’s banquet
Under hundreds of years of white authority and dictatorship, people start to believe that if they were white, their lives would be better. They wouldn’t be slaves. This mentality was compounded on a daily basis for hundreds of years, generation after generation. Kids grow up listening to dinner conversations about the other.
Depending on what table you were seated at, the other was superior. The proof was in the fact they lived in the best houses and wore the best clothes and you worked as a slave for them without any choice in the matter.
Or if you ate at the king’s banquet, the other was naturally predisposed to error and of lower intelligence and thus in dire need of a higher race to rule over them.
Just because it happened in another century doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an impact today.
If Egypt can’t get back their artefacts dug up in their land crafted by their ancestors, due to a transaction made decades ago; then why do we think the psychological effects of colonialism would disappear at the scratch of democratic pens on anti-racist legislature?
One quick look at my social media feeds and timelines, where people get on their virtual soapbox or express comments they think nobody else reads, is enough to prove to me that people’s perception of black people (and darker-skinned people in general) hasn’t changed significantly. Not only that, but people’s understanding of the modern-day struggles of those who come from a previously disadvantaged race-group is politely shallow at best.
How it affects us today
The opposite of love is not hate. It’s fear. And what’s fueling dangerous racist behaviour is persistent, low-level fear of not getting the things you need like a job or a house. In a world of that has become a melting pot of different races in one country, it is easy to fall back on outdated beliefs of racial superiority and inferiority to ensure on some level that certain resources continue to be reserved for the former colonial race.
This low-level persistent fear gives rise to fear of the ‘threatening’ other fueling unfounded beliefs such as ‘black men are inherently more dangerous‘. In heightened fearful states, we react in one of two ways to fear: fight or flight. Aggression is driven by fear. So is self-preservation. Perhaps this is what drives racist aggression.
One person’s fear of black skin due to systematic generational social brainwashing is the tip of the iceberg of the effects of our accumulated human existence.
Most of that existence was defined by dominating one another and securing resources for oneself. Something which still continues under modern political and social systems.
Only because, essentially, humans haven’t evolved beyond a continuous quest for power over others.
4 thoughts on “The root of racism may not be hate”
That’s an interesting and thoughtful article, Fatima. You’ve constructed it well.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you, Penny. My family were affected on both sides by colonialism and racist political systems, so I have grown up around some of those dinner table conversations and witnessed the psychological impact it has had on previously-disadvantaged people.
Very well written and thought out article. Thank you, I thoroughly enjoyed reading.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you for your comment. I truly appreciate your thoughts about it!
LikeLiked by 1 person