Monday, 8 December 2014

Are We all Inherently Racist?

Today, in Western society, we consider widespread racism to be an issue of the past: that only a minority of the population are still participants in such behaviour. Yet, is it that uncommon to hear an ethnic community area in a large city being suggested as a ‘bad’ or dangerous area? Or for airport security to harbour more suspicion over Middle Eastern or Muslim passengers? No, it isn’t and still we claim that racism is a notion of the past, that it is no longer present in the mass population. Perhaps we can claim that conscious or chosen racism is fast becoming outdated, but there appears to be an inherent tendency within everyone to paint every other ethnic group with one, fatal brush.

Okay, perhaps you are sitting there still doubting my question. Well let me perform a test on you. Imagine an African child: the setting, its clothing. Don’t just continue reading; actually take a second to form the image in your mind. When I was asked to do this as part of a lesson, only two in the class did not imagine a black child in large baggy clothing, many envisioning the child to be suffering from illness as well. Only two envisioned something other; one imagined a child of Egyptian descent, the other a white African. This approach, or image, the majority holds is not necessarily their fault; rather, it is a result of the media's input in our lives. Every year, we see impoverished African children crying and ill on our screens in multiple charity appeals (such as the Band Aid Thirty appeal, which Georgina Buckle examined in her article last week). How can society truly move forward from these mindsets when the images and stereotypes are being fed to us almost constantly?

On the news, most nights, we are told stories about ‘Muslim countries’, even though using this one label to describe them all is extremely inaccurate. This particular issue came to my attention through social media: a clip of Reza Aslan, scholar of religions and professor at California University, condemning the use of the term ‘Muslim countries’ by CNN news reporters as ‘stupid’. His argument is clear: the use of the term ‘Muslim countries’ does not represent the truth. “They have had more female heads of state in Turkey,” Aslan argues “than [they] have had in the United States.” Which, when we use the term ‘Muslim countries’, we say is exactly like Saudi Arabia, “one of the most, if not the most, extremist Muslim country in the world”. Aslan
counters, “in the month we have been talking about Isis… Saudi Arabia has beheaded 19 people.” The human flaw seems to be this trend to take one fact we hear and then understand it to mean that every country under that same religious majority does the same.

When I consider this argument, I begin to wonder ‘How do people in these other ethnic
majority countries view the UK and the USA?’ I wonder if they see us as exactly the same, while
within the two countries, we see ourselves as utterly and completely different. This, I believe, is
the way in which we need to consider countries to the East that seem so foreign and dangerous
on our television screens. How do they see us? Are they as different to each other as we are to
our allies? Once we begin to ask questions, we become open to answers rather than just
accepting rumours or the preconceptions of others. We may not choose to be racist, but we can
choose to learn the truth. Hopefully, soon, enough will turn to the truth that we can finally ask
the question ‘Why was humanity ever racist?’

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