venerdì, luglio 16, 2004

More thoughts on Racism.

This has all lead me to consider a little more what we mean by racist. I gave a definition earlier in this Blog that describes the meaning as; "someone who believes that other races are not as good as their own and therefore treats them unfairly". Obviously, there is a bit more to it than that, as we are including Muslim and Jew as racial descriptives now in our everyday speech and thought - certainly the words and thoughts of the popular media and the 'ordinary' person in the street. But, are we? Are we conflating the terms for race and religious belief because we are confused? or is it more for political expediency? I would consider the latter as the principle reason for this conflation of terms. The fact that followers of the Jewish faith have long being considered as belonging to a racial group - when patently that is an absurd idea, given the wide ranging mix of ethnic groups that are represented by Jews around the world - has caused confusion in the public eye. A Jew is still considered by many to be a member of a single racial group, despite all of the evidence to the contrary.

Of course, we must consider that with the hyperbole that is surrounding the current fear of terrorism that is affecting the judgement and thought processes of many people in the western world now, we cannot really expect a rational appraisal of race or racism. The US administration has launched a campaign to try and stem the number of attacks against anyone of Arab or Muslim descent or name in the US. A similar situation has been happening in the UK - more especially in the North of England, where the BNP has long had notable support.

Religious wars have long been a feature of life, from the days of Christian persecution during the Roman Empire - and long before, even - we have created our own groupings of like minded people and been prepared to sacrifice our lives for that belief. In the UK, we have seen the religious differences between the Catholics and Protestants being used to define the two sides of the troubles in Ireland. Most rational people there would conside the difference to be slight - certainly not a reason in itself for any kind of civil war. But it is used by politically inspired people to create a division that can be used to their own advantage - to give them a definable power base, if you will.

The desire to see things in an oversimplified way brings us back to the racial definition of a Muslim - or even a Jew - again. People of one racial group are not particularly adept at seeing a great deal of difference in people of other groups. Take the traditional western view of someone of East Asian origin. We see tham as 'Chinese' or 'Japanese'. We don't find it easy to characterise someone from, say, Japan as being of Japanese race. Although in the context of someone of Japanese origin, they would be horrified to be considered to be of anywhere other than Japan. I have an acquaintance living in Japan that is married to a man whose Grandparents originated from Korea. He was born in Japan - his parents were born in Japan - he speaks only Japanese (and English) but does not have a Japanese passport because he is considered to be Korean.

Racial stereotyping is something we all tend to do at times. I mention our own inability to see specific racial differences in East Asians. If you were from that region, on the other hand, you would feel the same way toward Caucasian types - whether of Anglo-Saxon, Nordic, Celtic, Slavic, Latin or Arab extraction, the difference in your eyes would be indistinguishable.

So, is racial difference something we 'make up'? Something we create for the purpose of allowing us to see ourselves as being something different? Something special? I consider myself a Welshman - although, in point of fact my father was Scots and my mother Welsh. I used to, when I was younger, have black hair and an easily tanned skin, making me look very 'un-English'. Why do I mention that? Well, in my time at school I experienced what it was like to be taunted because I 'looked different' - even though my own ancestors had been in the UK for considerably longer that my taunters. Our society seems to thrive on a percieved difference in order to make it feel more confident in itself.

Returning for a moment to the question of what is race. Perhaps race is no more that a group of self-identifying people declaring themselves to be different? Going back to me again for a minute, I said that I had black hair and an easily tanned skin before. I spent some time in the Middle East many years ago, gaining in the process a tan, which together with my moustache that I then had, meant that I looked and was constantly mistaken for a native Arab. What racial difference was there then in reality? I could 'become' an Arab by simply getting a suntan? Doesn't that rather lend the lie to a racial difference in any case? Of course, the principle difference between me and the local inhabitants was my religion - or rather, my lack of it.

Back again to the question of race then. What is it and why do we make so much fuss about it all when we can't actually tell what race someone is a member of, other than in remarkably broad sweeps of the coloured pen?