Roots of Racism rejoined

This piece is a rejoinder of David Matthews’ reply to my piece in which I criticized two of his commentaries on race and racism. Dear Mr Matthews, Thank you for your speedy and frank reply. I reply in kind. No, I was not “clearly deeply...

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This piece is a rejoinder of David Matthews’ reply to my piece in which I criticized two of his commentaries on race and racism.

Dear Mr Matthews,

Thank you for your speedy and frank reply.

I reply in kind.

No, I was not “clearly deeply upset and morally offended by [your] interpretation of the origin and nature of ‘racism’”.  I was and still am saddened by it because it fails to reflect much beyond opinion based solely on your ‘lived experience’. You need not be “sorry” about disturbing me. I enjoy discussion and debate.

I do, however, take offense about your characterizing my arguments being based on outraged emotion and lacking in calm objectivity and assessment of “facts”.

Furthermore, the only “self-inflicted” aspects of my life are 12 years of post-school education and study in evolutionary biology and another 30+ years of teaching and research conducted on five continents and being relevant to my considered and objective argumentation.

Perhaps the most fundamental difference between us is how we discuss intergroup differentiation. You are correct in identifying the ancient ‘otherness’ that occurs between peoples who ‘evolved’ separately and subsequently live in close geographical proximity. Indeed, the multi-millennium-old Khoi word “San” means: the “others” who live a hunter-gather lifestyle as opposed to one based on pastoralism.

“Race” is a profoundly different way of negatively categorizing the ‘others’. In extreme instances, it denies their humanity to ‘justify’ genocide.

You are not correct in assuming that, because most (all?) peoples exhibit some form of prejudice against ‘others’, that “there [is] likely to be a good biological reason for this”. Identical twins reared with different ‘others’ are almost certain to acquire the prejudices of the community within which they develop.

In short, you’ve got to be taught to mistrust, hate and fear.

Perhaps in the ‘bad old days’, trying to live a life characterized by a hybrid culture was non-adaptive.  These days, it’s the kids who pick and choose attributes amongst cultures that succeed.  The use of race, virtually without exception, has been designed to enshrine and subsequently protect unfair privilege.  We seem to agree on this one.

Given my advanced age, high unfitness and unfettered retirement lifestyle, I don’t “eagerly jump” to anything, let alone to “entirely false conclusions”.  I don’t for a minute believe that you believe that racism or even race is “a good thing today”.  It’s just that you maintain that it might have been in the past.  This is the kind of ‘Zilleism’ that anti-white racists jump on to denigrate ‘whites’.

If you are condemning me for saying that there is no “virtue” and “morality” in believing in “race’ and using it to justify racism, I am guilty.

If the thesis fundamental to your argument is “that everybody is racist to some degree or other”, then you have lost the debate or, worse still, have played into the hands of anti-‘white’ racists.  It is untenable for anyone to prejudge a person’s character based on his/her ‘racial’ characteristics.  Racism, like pregnancy, is not a sometime or ‘bitsy’ thing.

You go on, like fallists, to insist that “social science [whatever that is] really has to explain in rational terms just why it is that every human being, or, pedantically, every normal human being, possesses this [racial] particular behavioural predisposition.”  That’s no different from the ignorant Fallist student who demanded that physics must adapt locally to explain how a witchdoctor can summon lightning.

Yes, most (maybe all?) “human being[s] [are] predisposed to be suspicious or averse” to ‘those’ people – the ‘others’.  But it is inhuman/immoral to act on this suspicion/aversion to that person’s detriment without substantive supporting evidence.  It’s even worse when one ‘justifies’ such nefarious actions because that’s what society “naturally” does.  My Irish volk are not half-black bog-trotters.  Melanistic humans are not ni**ers or ka**irs.  Melanin-deficient people are not crackers or honkies.  Southern Europeans and Middle Easterners are not wogs or gyppos. People from India are not c**lies.  Tutsi are not cockroaches.

The ‘real’ fundamental thing is that, neither from a biological perspective (on which I am a widely-published expert) nor a cultural one (just Google – Crain Soudien) are there arguably “significant differences” between geographically definable human entities.  The closest to that are various peoples from Africa, especially the KhoiSan.  But even they fall far shy of ‘making the grade’.

I freely admit that I have atavistic “prejudicial feelings” against ‘Englishmen’ (you?), because they ruthlessly colonized Ireland for seven centuries and deliberately caused the deaths of a million of my compatriots and the emigration of a million more.  Just to give you a crystal-clear example of that ‘racism’, my 92-year-old grandmother justified the fact that my cousin was dating a ‘black’ boy by saying: “Well, at least he’s not English.” I also resent the artificial hierarchy that UCT inherited from the ethos of certain English universities.  Having said these things, I helped to dismantle that legacy at UCT and I don’t immediately distrust every English person I encounter.  And, yes indeed, some of my best friends are Englishmen!

Contrary to your assertion, I have made it my business to learn “what all others feel” about ‘others’ since I’ve educated university students from 32 different countries, 23 from Africa alone.  More locally, a close relative by marriage was a friend of Hendrick Verwoerd.  When I nursed him during an illness, we had robust debates about the ‘merits’ of Apartheid, but we remained good friends until he died.

You are correct in asserting that no one is “totally without any prejudice”.  But, only self-identified individuals without sins can cast racist stones.  I don’t damn people without good reason (e.g. Hitler and his close kith), but I will not tolerate even nuanced racism.

Now to your “second fundamental argument”: racism has existed “throughout the whole of human history”.  Sadly, you’re wrong again.  Although slavery (resulting from conquest) goes way back, ‘true’ racism (denigrating the humanity of a ‘diagnosably different’ group of humans) dates to at most, to the 16th Century.  This historical fact is recently outlined succinctly by Alex Taylor.

Race and racism are also not the social norm in all societies on Earth.  It was, and sadly remains, a phenomenon developed largely by Western Europeans.  This historical fact is recently outlined succinctly by James Tyner.

I can’t speak for “everybody”, but during my nearly seven decades on Earth, I have met very few people who defended the views that it was ‘expected [for them] to be racist’.  Most of these people were fellow soldiers (from the US south) I met during the Vietnam War and hard-core Apartheid activists some years later.  Having said that, several of these individuals have, after thinking the matter through, recanted.

Yes, since the 1970s in the USA and the 1990s in South Africa, there has been at least a “very brief current period of [non-racialism if not] anti-racism”.  This is a very good thing.  Sadly, racism in South Africa is rearing its ugly head once again, even at my beloved UCT.  But, now most of the racists are “Black Nationalists”.

As you close your reply, you refer to the “historical fact” of the “moral enlightenment” some (even South Africans) “benefit from today”.   Thank God, Nelson Mandela, Helen Zille, whoever (maybe even ourselves?) for this.  But, I won’t let you get away with suggesting “that racism was socially approved of for so long simply because it had served a biologically positive function”.  It didn’t make sense in 1652.  If anything, it makes ‘less sense’ today, no matter the “different social circumstances”.

I have been described by some as “emotional and dogmatic”.  These are, generally, opponents in debate once they run out of rational, fact-based arguments.  Others, mainly fallists, call me “Jim Crow”, “eugenicist”, “Apartheid activist”, “killer of black people” or just plain “racist”.   Luckily for me, it’s been ‘other’ members of UCT’s “silenced majority that have fallen prey to fallists’ sticks and stones.

Mr Matthews – I don’t “damn” you or characterize you as “immoral”.  I simply maintain that your arguments are fallacious.   ‘Racism’ is simply a “moral crime or aberration”.  Those who argue that it ‘once-upon-a-time’ made contextual sense are wrong at best or, at worst, racial recidivists.  Those who continue to practice (or wish to resurrect) racism, regardless of however they self-identify, should be exposed, counselled and, if necessary, punished.  ‘Racism’ cannot be “rationally considered to be an inherent (or maybe acquired) social predisposition” today or 400 years ago no matter what the “historical circumstances”.  It was inhuman then as it is now.

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  1. Russ Wood Reply

    Back in the 1950’s in Northern England, my first contact with a non-white person was a Nigerian trainee engineer who was in my first-year engineering class at what is now called a Technikon. His name was full of consonants and unpronouncable to us Lancashire guys. So, rather than call him by his given and garbled name, he reckoned we should call him by his second name “Sambo”. (I learned later that this is a Nigerian word for ‘second son’). But SHOCK! HORROR! “That’s an insult – we can’t call you that!” “Why not? That’s my name!”. So, the class went on through the years, with this guy distinguished – not because he was black – but because no-one there could pronounce his name.

    There’s no inherent colour classification in people – if a culture doesn’t make that distinction, there isn’t any. I, like many others, was hoping that Mandela’s ‘Rainbow Nation’ would start erasing these classifications by colour. But sadly, the politicians running the country needed a ‘class enemy’ and so resorted to re-distinguishing by colour.

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