Discrimination- beyond the American Context
Racism occurs on different levels. Racism between people is apparent in interpersonal interactions. Institutional racism refers to practices producing inequality linked to societal structures, such as services and operating approaches. Internalized racism refers to the beliefs or thoughts individuals internalize of their own or their group’s inferiority. The last one is the one that sits in our minds and spews hatred that creates injustice in the world.
In the recent years, there has been a surge in racial activism in the Western World, which has been a great sign of progression. People have come to support a cause that they may not have personally been inflicted by and the best thing is they have chosen to educate themselves about the brutality incurred on humans based on indifference. But what I’d like to shed light on here is to dig deeper within our own cultural discrimination and become aware about it. The point is cultural discrimination is prevalent in every nation, between two ethnicities, tribes, or even denominations.
Pakistan is home to unbelievable amounts of discrimination based on color and religion. In general the Asian peninsular has been iffy about having brown skin and consumerism just helped them boost this notion to the minds of young girls and boys. The idea of a perfect bride starts from fair skin and ends at being able to cook. That’s as far as it goes in terms of criteria in Pakistan. And of course how can we forget the caste/denomination based discrimination that occurs when arranged marriages take place. It was amazing to see how much the Black Lives Matter movement had allowed individuals come forth and speak about these nitty-gritty stereotypes that our communities have been fueling up for decades and just can’t get over with.
In Malaysia, the Tamil descent is casually prejudiced against every now and then as if they are the root cause for any crime committed in the nation. And this I’ve witnessed first-hand as well. It’s almost like, ‘You got robbed/scammed?’ ‘Indian man ah?’ Moreover, most vacancies and room rentals out rightly mention the acceptable races allowed and are surprisingly not questioned about this as much as they should be.
In the Middle East, racism is present on a structural level and this is alarming. Most employers have different salary quotas for candidates based on different nationalities and obviously the Asian-African descent gets the back seat once again, this is specifically present in the education system. And these are just few of the scenarios I have personally witnessed, there are so many more stories of countless encounters where people were stripped of respect or acceptance due to their color, race or religion, for a justification that is no more than just ‘how things have always been’.
Color and Stigma
So why is this stigma there to begin with? Well, where I see it from its one of those things that is brought in through history that has impacted social psychology.
According to research, in 1940, 60 percent of employed black women worked as domestic servants; today the number is down to 2.2 percent, while 60 percent hold white- collar jobs. In 1958, 44 percent of whites said they would move if a black family became their next door neighbor. And this is all less than a 100 years old. We’ve certainly come a long way but there is still a lot to work on individually internalized racism.
Additionally, the story of Cain and Ham from Jewish scriptures depicts the positioning of dark-skinned people. The scripture mentions that "[Cain was] cursed with a black skin and he is the father of the Negro people. He has great power, can appear and disappear. He is used by the devil, as a mortal man, to do great evils." This strengthened the idea that black skin represents evil and that they should be used as slaves to do “evil” things. And of course with the representation of a ‘white’ Jesus with the rise of Christianity, this white supremacy was further intensified.
1863. This was the year where slavery was effectively banned. It’s been over 150 years since slavery ended and a large proportion of the world still carries the same internalized classification and prejudice today. And of course how can we forget the general acceptance of casual stereotyping that is intensified by the “democratic” society we live in.
Based on the fact that more Africans are litigated for crimes, more often than not, if there is a crime, the first image to pop in your head would be a dark-skinned man, right? But why? Are ‘black’ people just more prone to committing crimes? Or are they prosecuted more than the average white criminal? Or are they just individuals that were neglected so damn harshly by the system that they had to find means of surviving in a nation where the people who were supposed to protect them, would gladly end their life? It is evident that the media has the power to convey a narrative that support the injustice in the world and unfortunately being media literate is not taught in our general education system and keeps the cycle of racism going.
The power of power
Racism occurs when an expression of Racial Prejudice emerges from a more powerful/privileged location in the hierarchy, and is directed at an individual/group in a less powerful/privileged location. Did you know, in 1971, the average African-American 17-year-old could read no better than the typical white child who was six years younger? This is where institutionalized racism strengthens the people in power with more privilege and those underprivileged with yet another set-back.
The fact that racism exists on so many levels makes us realize how much power has to do with it. And since the sense of power is internally distinct, egoism is generally the root cause for hatred against a minority or person of color. When an individual thinks highly of himself, it is more likely for that person to look down on others that are different. And this is not just on the basis of color. This is just the starting stage of narcissism and brewing xenophobia. One of the most common observations of clear cut xenophobia I’ve witnessed on a daily is when a salesperson of a minority group approaches an evidently rich man of power, the most common reaction is that they would ignore and walk past possibly with a shrug or frustrated eye-roll. But what I’ve come to realize is that more often than not, the behavior they project is not rejection of the product/service, it’s almost as if they would not even want to lend you a fraction of their second for someone like them. And surprisingly, watch how that behavioral response changes once you replace the salesperson from someone from a privileged race.
Being humble and grounded is profusely one of the best qualities to attain along with your success in this lifetime.
During the BLM uproar, I actively started noticing how I react with individuals in public spaces. Do I cringe when I walk past a man of color? Do I fear being in a closed space with a person of color presumably from an underprivileged nation? Yes I did. But I consciously reminded myself of how this almost reflexive mindset needs to change. And this unknowingly discarded this limiting belief and helped me walk everywhere with ease. The change is not universal, it is individualistic. Everyone should get rid of a mindset that no longer serves us or humanity, it may not even be noticeable but becoming aware of how you could be adding to the problem with an erred ideology could be an important start.
White privilege or Arrogance
According to Peggy McIntosh:
“White privilege was an invisible force that white people needed to recognize. It was being able to walk into a store and find that the main displays of products that were catered toward your hair type and skin tone. It was being able to turn on the television and see people of your race widely represented. It was being able to move through life without being racially profiled or unfairly stereotyped.”
A lot of noise was created over the concept of white privilege and as true as it is. Is it really the only way to allow white people to realize the discrimination? There is no doubt that getting through all the crazy phases of life for any individual who does not belong to a certain nation due to the lack of inclusivity and racial profiling, is a hard life. The last thing anyone would want is to not belong. It is essentially a sense of your identity, which is torn apart once you realize the harsh realities and systemic discrimination embedded in your residing nation. And therefore, as Martin Luther King Jr. rightly said, ‘Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed’.
It is not just white privilege that people need to realize, but also do a little self-check for any element of arrogance left in you. If you think people fighting for their freedom is an invasion of your rights or an ‘overreaction’, the level of ignorance and arrogance both surround your life to the highest level. Freedom is a fight we are all equally part taking, it may not be the same kind of freedom but it is a universal need. Whether it’s freedom from injustice against your people or family, an individual life circumstance, or possibly the arrogance in your mind itself. Both the oppressed and oppressor need to find what they are individually fighting for in order to fill empathy in their heart for others.
I’d like to conclude with a quote that really stuck with from a HarvardEX course regarding racism:
“Few of us seem to realize how insidious, how radical, how universal and evil racism is. Few of us realize that racism is man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking.”