The Universal Persistence of Racism
Racism: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.
There is a persistent sub-element in sociology believing that that racism is an aberration, a facet of society that can be eliminated with education.
That sanguine belief may be more hopeful than helpful in addressing racism.
Recent studies done by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto examined preferences of six- to eight-month old infants. In one study, after six months old “infants begin to associate own-race faces with happy music and other-race faces with sad music.” In a second study, published in “Child Development,” “six- to eight-month-old infants were more inclined to learn information from an adult of his or her own race than from an adult of a different race.“
Conclusion: Dr. Kang Lee, OISE lead author of the studies, noted “Race-based bias already exists around the second half of a child’s first year.” In short, racism doesn’t wait until preschool or depend upon invidious experience with other races. It appears to be a natural part of human socialization.
Another study in “Psychological Science” by Jordan R. Axt analyzed data from “hundreds of thousands of American participants completing online tests.” Conclusions inter alia were that “participants were most likely to prefer members of their own race…members of almost every racial group exhibited an implicit racial hierarchy of positive evaluations: White, then Asian, then Black, then Hispanic.“
The results underpin anecdotal (and historical) examples that illustrate “racism”:
- Chinese, when first encountering a Caucasian with red hair and green eyes, thought he was a devil, as Chinese folk legends so depict devils. Chinese continue to believe in their superiority over all other races/cultures as the Middle Kingdom.
- Despite protracted efforts by the Indian government to mitigate the abuses of the caste system, media carry a constant stream of horror stories of “upper” castes’ abuse against “lower” castes. Indeed, I remember a video filmed when I was an entering foreign service officer. It depicted a group sitting at an outdoor Indian coffee shop when one of the clientele identified himself as an “Untouchable.” You could only imagine that a grenade had been rolled under their table as the rest of those present exploded in their efforts to get away, overturning tables in their rush.
- Hutus slaughtering Tutsis in 1994; and Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims killing each other 1992-95. Or Irish Catholics and Protestants killing each other when distant observers (Asians) could see no difference between them.
Essentially, one might observe that virtually every group believes itself superior. One can imagine that Cro Magnon man looked upon Neanderthal with contempt. It is not a far step from such assumed superiority to beliefs regarding the Jews that could rationalize the Holocaust.
Indeed, a just-published book, “The Triple Package,” by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, stresses three qualities as linked with group success: sense of superiority, feeling of insecurity, and impulse control. They follow a number of successful groups, inter alia, from obvious high achievers such as Jews, Mormons, and East Asians, to less obviously identified groups such as Nigerians (particularly Ibos), Cubans, and Iranians.
Essentially, it is “racism”—sometimes blatant and sometimes less vocal—that is a key component of their success. These groups, even when downtrodden or disadvantaged persistently believe themselves superior and are willing to persist and sacrifice (“impulse control,” i.e., delayed gratification) to succeed.
Chua and Rubenfeld also hypothesize that these qualities previously characterizing WASP elements of U.S. society, notably impulse control, have substantially attritted, leaving a residue of anger and frustration against those they see as challenging their previous primacy and/or replacing them at the top of the socioeconomic heap.
The corollary can be seen in Europe. The European nations have professed colorblind and anti-racist attitudes and an acceptance of multiculturalism, but the flow of a million plus refugees who have not assimilated to European culture has put those attitudes to the test. Americans have noted that Europeans are now no longer so eager to tweak the United States about our concerns with illegal immigration.
One might say that tolerance is skin deep and a few centimeters down, racism rules.