21 March, 2014

I AM NOT A RACIST, BUT… and WHERE DO WE GET RACIST ATTITUDES

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Category: Discrimination, European Action Week, Racism
Gubaz Koberidze
6 pm

ZebraBy: Iana Minochkina

With lots of international documents that outlaw and condemn racism and other forms of discrimination and many anti racist national / international campaigns coming out every year, why is racism still an issue? – and why is its popularity growing?

Recently I was asked a similar question by a 15-year old student at one of the No Hate Speech Movement training events. –“If so many people know that racism is dumb and so bad – why there are still so many racists”?  – he asked.  I took a while. I asked if anybody in the class thinks that he or she has racist thoughts or he/she knows anyone, who behaves racist. I was simply put astounded by the answers – most of them started with “I am not a racist, but …” or “I don’t want to discriminate against anyone, but I don’t like …(migrants, Muslims, people with darker skin, gypsies etc.)”. As well, they gave me plenty of reasons why they don’t like certain types of people, still being quite convinced that racism and discrimination are bad.  Interestingly enough, most of these reasons I have already heard on the local media or on the street.  Many of the young people do not like people from Caucasus. I was fascinated though when one girl stood up and started to deny one by one the stereotypes about this group of people. Her father was a geologist and had taken her to expeditions to this region; several times she was hosted by local families and met friends there, with whom she was still in touch.  It was a shifting moment in the class; there was restrained laughs but then another boy revealed that his grandparents are Muslim and the stereotypes about Muslims have nothing in common with reality.  We then had an amazing discussion about how do we actually become discriminators without even thinking about it.  So often we hear “I am not a racist, but …” that we stop paying attention; it becomes a social norm that some groups of people are in general not liked, not welcomed or become an endless target of jokes. Sometimes we even believe that it is for a greater good – we see ourselves as protector of national values or patriots. Well this is where racism and discrimination start. Yes, it is racist to think that somebody is worse than you are just because he/she is a representative of another social, religious, ethnic etc. group. Moreover, the easier the attitude of people to claims “I am not a racist, but …” – the more deep-rooted and dangerous will be the consequences of actions behind this justification.

While reading this article, please, close your eyes for a while and take a time to look inside yourself – is there any group of people towards whom you have negative emotions, with whom you would not want to start talking or to shake hands? There is an interesting theory, that there is a racist inside everyone of us – some of us started to feed this “small racist” and it grew up, some of us found the way to silence him of educated this “inner racist” to change his mind. We are not born with this “inner racist”, we learn about “his dislikes” from our environment – family, friends, neighbors, and media. It becomes a natural part of identity building process to define ourselves through “we” and “others” – we laugh at jokes about other nationalities and cultural stereotypes, but there is always a moment when “othering” starts to hurt.

There are many studies about the sociological nature of racism, but it would be boring to discuss them here. I would rather share the things that I learned from the children at that training and many other trainings and I will be glad if you continue the list. So why do we have racist attitudes?

WE LEARN THAT SOME GROUPS OF PEOPLE ARE NOT THE SAME FROM OUR ENVIRONMENT

We learn most things when we are young – and if we hear from our parents, friends, neighbours and other people who have influence on us that some groups of people are worse than us, we take these views for granted. If we don’t address these ideas through practical experience or learning later, they stay during the lifetime – and we transfer them later to our own children. Many things come so natural that we don’t ever argue them – I was quite a social and talkative kid and tried to communicate with everyone, so quite often my attempts to socialize were cut off by my mom: “Don’t talk/play with these homeless people, they are dirty and for sure have infections”.  She did not mean something bad towards them; she just wanted to protect me (and herself from curing me afterwards). When I started to volunteer for human rights one of the first projects was working with homeless people. I was surprised to face how many negative stereotypes I had about them and how much effort it cost for me to re-educate myself.

WE ONLY HANG AROUND WITH PEOPLE “LIKE US”

Nothing is wrong with enjoying spending time with people with similar views, interests, backgrounds, culture and language. On the other hand, sometimes it might lead to “othering” of those people, who are different from us. I think we all notice how different attitudes have those people in our native communities, who never travelled or were not involved in intercultural communication. Just like a girl from that training, who had a chance to experience different culture and after it was able to deconstruct most of the typical stereotypes. It’s an ideal that we would like every new culture that we face – some traditional practices would probably shock us or at least totally make unenthusiastic about. Educating “your smaller racist” is not about forcing yourself to like everyone around – it is about educating yourself that there are no good or bad cultures, there are good and bad people and attitudes in every culture including our own.

In the context of the No Hate Speech Movement not talking about my deep respect to people who are involved in it, I totally admire those, who actually work with “haters”, because I believe that they face the major challenge. No doubt, it is challenging to teach about equality and harm of hate speech, but it is much more challenging to open yourself for discussion with radical nationalists – probably you will never change their minds, but it is still possible that you will make them doubt superiority of their ideas.

STEREOTYPES MAKE LIFE EASIER

Stereotypes play a crucial role in everyday life – they make our judgments easier and serve as a good justification for the ideas and attitudes. “Her parents are migrants and work at the market, so she does not need to study hard and go to university” or “everybody says that Greeks are lazy…” Teach yourself to start doubting all statements that start with the words “always”, “never” and speak about the group of people as a whole. Once you get a chance to communicate with people from that group, you will be surprised how many things in common you might have.

IT IS CONVENIENT TO BLAME OTHERS FOR OUR PROBLEMS

People who have different culture, views, appearance, language etc. are always easy to be defined and targeted – as well as to be blamed. How often do we hear that “migrants steal our jobs, commit most crimes in the city …” and so on? Try at least once to see the statistics for representatives of your own culture. This can be an unpleasant experience that opens eyes to many things. If we talk about crime rates, usually the numbers are much higher for crimes committed by locals – but usually they are treated as a part of normal situation in every community. Once the crime is committed by a foreigner – especially from a traditionally marginalized group, it would be certainly mentioned in media. Speaking about jobs – I come from Russia and immigrants have quite a tough life there. When somebody says to me that immigrants stole his job, I simply laugh; statistically, most immigrants work in low-paid construction, cleaning services or as sellers and lack all kinds of social guarantees; these are usually not the places where the person I was talking with want to work. When I see a person from an immigrant background in highly-paid or senior work, I feel deep respect and know that he/she was really better than the rivals from my country since this person had to meet higher requirements and face bigger challenges than locals.

WE PROTECT OUR IDENTITY AND NATIONAL VALUES BY “OTHERING”

It’s quite a cool justification that makes us patriots, nation-lovers and people talking about taking care of future generations. This one is also loved by politicians – that’s why we see a rapid rise of nationalist movements in Europe – it comes as a natural side effect of economic crisis, migration flows and globalization – when the amount of everyday contacts with people from other cultures grew up significantly during the last 15 years. If you think deeper about it, it is actually quite easy to use and handy to manipulate with the feeling of patriotism and a natural wish to provide your family with a safe future by “othering”. If you still have doubts, just for curiosity check the regular accents on your national mainstream media.

RACISM … is SELF-DEFENSE

There are a number of psychological studies that focus on people with radical nationalistic and racist views. Interestingly enough, most of them claim that the members of these movements and supporters of racist ideology are not self-confident and fear facing reality. They create brutal and violent images and join radical movements / racist websites / etc. to hide their own fears and increase self-esteem by molesting other people. Doesn’t that sound low and sad?

So, coming back to the beginning of my post – close your eyes for a while and take a time to look inside yourself – is there any group of people towards whom you have negative emotions, with whom you would not want to start talking or to shake hands? If yes, ask yourself how convincing your reasons are – probably, some of them you have already found in this article. Racism does not make sense – there is actually only one race as proven by genetical studies – race cannot be identified in our genes, we all belong to the same hominid species, Homo sapiens. So, don’t allow yourself to be narrow-minded and manipulated – be open to diversity!


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