Sunday, March 30, 2014

Racial discrimination

The subject that I want to tackle today is one of major controversy: discrimination. The kind of discrimination that I'd like to mention in particular is racial discrimination. Until the age of 18-20, I was in some kind of bubble. I was raised in an environment that praised multilingualism and multiculturalism very much, and so taught me that whatever country you come from, the language you speak, the culture or religion you have are a blessing. I used to foolishly think that everyone who was not a 100% from one country should be proud to say that he/she is not, since it's an incredible source for enlarging your vision. Oh! Don't take me wrong, I still believe it is so... The only (and crucial) difference is my awareness that the majority of people don't feel that way.

Please... Nearly nobody wants to be called a racist... The usual speech is something like "I'm definitely NOT a racist BUT...". And then you can have many variations... I'm not a racist but I don't like x race, x religion. Or I'm not racist but I do believe that there are less and less whites, etc. We all know that kind of speeches, we hear them on a daily basis, sometimes overtly, but mainly in a somewhat hidden form, mostly in the form of stereotypes. Strangely, stereotypes make us believe that it is ok to criticize a certain group of people since it is so obvious that they have a "problem" that it has become "common known". So we get to hearing things such as "Arabs are thieves", "Jews are stingy", "Australians are materialistic", "Greeks don't work", "Latinos live by fiesta and siesta", "Northerners are cold people", etc. If you do believe that some of these are true, just think of what stereotypes say about your own ethnic group. Do you like how it describes yours, and thus how it describes you? Sometimes stereotypes actually do look funny. Being half Greek, I know that Greeks used to cope with the saying that they're lazy, don't work, and know only how to drink proper coffee. But with the crisis and all, people there feel like this "funny" stereotype has become somewhat annoying, since this is the way the world actually sees them, even though most of them are now crawling under multiple debts and taxes, lose their jobs, and when they do manage to keep their job, it is under unbearable conditions. As I am half Belgian, I can also refer myself to Belgians. They are seen as rigid, seem friendly but are actually sneaky. They can't dance, and are cold people who don't know how to laugh and have fun. Now... Sometimes those do ring a bell, because we can associate some people with it. But is it really because they are Belgian? Or is it because I live in Belgium, and half my (huge) family is Belgian and so I have a tendency to "see" these characteristics in them as a fatality of being Belgian rather than simple characteristics all people in the world could have?

For those who are interested, I have found a very good description of the sociology of racism: 

It is very important not to underestimate the impact stereotypes can have. And it also very important to keep in mind that those are not true. Maybe you do see some characteristics that you believe to be representative of a group's feature, but to what extent don't we overcategorize people into those stereotypes? And to what extent don't stereotypes make us judge people before even knowing them? And furthermore, to what extent don't they make people of a community repeating these characteristics in order to conform to the general idea of that particular community? Many such cases were proved all through history and can still be perceived now... Ethnic groups that are discriminated embody the image that the society reflects of them so much that they become what the society thinks they are... There is a self-shame process that takes place and that makes people discriminate themselves even more radically than society does, making them accept any form of inequality they face because they have internalized a feeling of "I deserve it" to a point of no return. Which then makes society reinforce those stereotypes, and so on and so forth. It becomes a vicious circle. 

That is why I ask you to be aware of what you do when you discriminate people just from looking at them, and assuming that it is their ethnic or racial background that makes them the way they are, because what those stereotypes do is to make you see all the differences in people. And of course there are, as we are all different, I'm not denying that. What I just want us to remember is that people are people, no matter what race, cultural background or religion. And even if people of a same community have some common features, it doesn't mean that we should draw a unique image that will suit all the people of that same community. Despite possible similarities, all people are different, and everyone deserves to be treated as a unique human being, and not as a representative of a community we suppose him/her to belong to. Bare in mind that when you discriminate someone, he feels something, just like you do, and generally it hurts. So basically what you do is that you hurt, consciously or unconsciously, people without knowing them, and without even giving them a chance. Now, how would you like that? Doesn't everybody deserve the benefit of the doubt? You might think that you wouldn't mind for stereotypes because you have that self-confidence that everybody needs to have, and that you don't care about what people might say about you. Well I can assure you that that is a foolish thing to think, and it clearly shows that you were never discriminated to the point where you cannot get the job you want, or the school you dream of, or were lead to feel ashamed of yourself because you are different, etc. Discrimination isn't funny, it is disrespectful and unfair. 

This is the video of a youtuber that I like, who is Muslim, and who did a little experiment on Google to see what were the common things said about Muslims. I'll let you see for yourself the consequences that stereotypes can have, and I'll let you imagine how you'd feel (if you don't already feel that way) if you had to live with such statements made about your own community. 

If you'd like to read books about stereotypes and how people identify with them, I recommend you read a novel named "Andorra" by Max Frisch, which is the story of a boy who as been told he's a Jew, even though he isn't, and who internalizes all the stereotypes that he has heard about how Jews are. I also recommend that you read "Native Son" by Richard Wright, which is the story of a young black man who becomes a killer and a rapist because he's been told his entire life that that's how black men behave. Both books are more than 50 years old, that's why the examples are so cliché and seem outdated. But I do believe that they are both very representative of that kind of process of identification with stereotypes and its consequences, and are at the same time very realistic on how people were thinking of these two enthicities at the time. 

And finally, here's the link to a  video on how we need to talk about racism and why it's important: 

Have a great day, and keep you mind sharp!

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