Racialism is a major social problem in the West today, and as such is necessarily condemned morally by society at large. As a social phenomenon, however, there are two fundamental aspects of racialism that have escaped the attention of social scientists. This has lead them to explain its actual cause moralistically, as a moral crime or aberration, rather than in scientific terms.
These two aspects are, first, the fact that everybody on earth is racialist to at last some degree or other. To be entirely without any racial prejudice, an individual would have to regard people of social groups other than their own in exactly the same way that they regard people of their own social group. Looking into yourself, you know that this is not ever going to be likely.
The second aspect, is the fact that throughout the course of human history and in every society on earth, everybody was expected to be racialistic, right up to the middle of the 20th century. Racialism has until very recently always been the norm in all human societies, and it is current Western non-racialism that is the social anomaly calling for an explanation, rather than racialism itself.
If every person and every human society has been inherently racialistic right up to the present, as certainly appears to be the case, then there is clearly much more to racialism than being simply a moral aberration. Exclusively moralising the problem by declaring it to be a moral crime calling for punishment and public recantation, as social scientists are wont to do, is grossly simplistic and precludes the understanding that is required if racialism is ever to be fully understood or eliminated. There is a reason why anti-racialism has come to replace racialism, and the reason is not simply that we today are more morally enlightened than our ancestors.
Before offering a possible explanation for the historical prevalence of racialism, it should be noted that ‘racialism’ is, in fact, not simply a prejudice against the physical or phenotypical aspect of other people, but a far broader prejudice against what is significantly different about them in respect of their culture, religion, language, beliefs, and behaviour, among other things. What we call ‘racialism’ is better described as ‘cultural prejudice’. The term ‘racialism’ focuses excessively on the physical, which is not the essence of the problem, even while it is the most visual marker of potential difference.
The reason that racialism has historically been the social norm is in all probability because, right up to the 20th century, and unlike today, it actually served a positive rather than a negative social function. To explain: we all like and prefer what is familiar to us, but are generally averse to things or circumstances that are significantly different to what we are accustomed to. This predisposition of ours is possibly an ancient, protective behavioural adaptation, like the fight-or-flight reflex, acquired for a reason over the millions of years of hominid development when our ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers, in small family and clan units. This enormously long period was undoubtedly the most formative in the development of our human nature. What (for our hominid ancestors living in a hazardous environment) was significantly different to the familiar and tested – in terms of food, other animals, the environment, circumstances, and strangers – was always potentially lethal, and so therefore to be treated with suspicion or aversion. Under those particular circumstances, it paid well to be inherently averse to what was different.
This inherent and negative dislike of the different, which lies at the heart of racialism, is paradoxically reinforced by what could be regarded as its opposite behavioural adaptation: the positive process of human socialisation and individual self-identification that binds each individual to their community. Every human early identifies closely with their own family, clan, tribe, and nation, feeling that these possess a particular virtue not necessarily shared by the rest of humankind. This is an important and vitally necessary process for human social cohesion. It is, however, a behavioural adaptation that unavoidably promotes what we now call racialism, because when we come to believe that the members of our particular community are superior in certain important ways to the members of all other communities, then, by implication, if ‘we’ are superior, ‘they’ must be not just different, but inferior.
An appreciation of this fact leads to the understanding that if racialism is ever to be eliminated, either the causal connection between the positive and negative aspects of individual socialisation must be severed cognitively, or else people must no longer be permitted to believe that their particular communities are in any way superior to all others.
To return to the earlier observation that throughout human history and until the mid-20th century all societies were naturally racialist: what happened, then, in the 1950s to so radically change the West’s attitude towards racialism?
The likely answer is that the change of racial attitude was the consequence of numerous geo-political and technological developments over the previous two centuries, which resulted in and facilitated relatively large-scale external population movements to the Western democracies in the early 20th century, so upsetting the homogeneity of their populations. The process had started with the 18th century slave transportation from Africa, but culminated in a reverse-colonisation, with the early 20th-century migration of non-white people to European and North American cities from the ex-European colonies in North Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, and Asia. Ever-increasing Western urbanisation and democratisation further promoted the process of change via the ballot box. This migration continues today.
The racial mixing that was now unavoidably taking place in the Western democratic societies led to increasing internal political conflict. Accordingly, under the pressure of rapidly changing social circumstances, racialism, or cultural prejudice, was transformed from being the positive social factor that it had been historically in respect of homogenous communities, into a strongly negative factor in regard to the increasingly racially heterogenous Western communities.
In order to maintain domestic social cohesion and order (and also to bolster their attempt to win Third-World support in their strategic competition with the Soviets), the Western political leaders were compelled to reconsider and alter their racial attitudes and policies regarding the new, urbanised racial minorities. The social conflict that racialism or cultural prejudice gave rise to could no longer be ignored or tolerated. The process of amending Western legislation started in the 1950s to accommodate the new political reality, and cultural prejudice was duly anathematised under the ambiguous and strongly emotive term ‘racialism’. Very suddenly, what had been for so long morally acceptable became morally unacceptable.
If ‘racialism’ is an inherent human behavioural adaptation, as suggested, rather than simply a moral defect on the part of individuals, then it follows that we are all, in varying degree, ‘racialist’. Because racialism has been popularly categorised as a moral crime or aberration, however, anyone who acknowledges feeling any degree of racial prejudice automatically labels themselves as evil or morally defective. This obviously discourages honesty and frankness. It also strongly discourages a rational understanding of racialism.
While it cannot be proven that everybody is ‘racially’ prejudiced to at least some degree or other, it is obvious that at least a large percentage of the world’s population clearly is. Either a large percentage of the human population is therefore morally defective, or alternatively, it is possible that everybody is in fact inherently predisposed to prejudice, with the prejudice becoming evident only in testing circumstances. The online, Harvard Implicit Association Bias Detection Test results suggest strongly that the latter is the case.
But you can judge the issue for yourself. If you frankly and honestly assess your own feelings regarding those significantly different to you culturally (and ‘racially’), do you regard them in exactly the same way that you regard those of your own cultural group, or not? To be able to claim rationally that you are completely unprejudiced, you must be able to answer ‘yes’ to this question. If you cannot in all honesty do this, then, considering yourself to be a normal person, you may reasonably choose to conclude that you are not morally defective, but rather, that it is more probable that everybody else is also likely to be culturally prejudiced, but for obvious reasons is unwilling to acknowledge the fact.
Racialism is unequivocally morally wrong today, for the reason we have seen, and it is necessary that it be categorised publicly as such. Exclusively moralising the problem, however, is counterproductive. By “moralising the problem,” is meant accusatorily claiming that anyone who is racially prejudiced is morally aberrant, and should be punished and forced to recant, on the implicit grounds that ‘racialism’ is solely a function of moral aberration. The aim of moralising is not to explain or understand something, but rather to gain political or moral advantage by declaring somebody guilty of a moral crime, as defined by the moraliser.
If, on the other hand, racialism is analysed rationally, and it is understood that it is inherent in humans for certain biological reasons, which are no longer beneficial, there is a fair chance that a solution to it can duly be found by addressing its underlying causes.
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