If you're human you're prejudiced. It's how you deal with it that matters
No human being is innocent of some form of prejudice, but we can only grow by taking a stand against it - together
Will the smouldering fires of racial distrust, discrimination and animosity ever be extinguished in our lifetime? Is racism some sort of aberrant behaviour peculiar to white South Africans and something a person with a black skin is incapable of?
The one-word answer are No. Never. Why? Because everyone is a racist.
While racism is often defined in white-against-black terms, there are blacks who are racist against other blacks and whites who are racist against fellow whites. The same with coloureds against coloureds and Indians against Indians.
Intra- and inner-racism have been handed down for generations. The only measure is how much respect one accords one’s racial prejudices and what action one takes to implement one’s prejudices. It depends whether one minds one’s own business or uses one’s racial prejudices to harm others, thus getting into trouble with the law and the Human Rights Commission.So why are we surprised when Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema says Indian people are racists; Vicki Momberg unleashes a high-volume tirade at black police officers; an Australian minister says his government would consider fast-tracking “humanitarian” visas for white South African farmers; two black women are fired by a bank for their SMS interaction during office hours saying they are shocked that Mmusi Maimane’s wife is white; or when former Constitutional Court justice Zac Yacoob says “many Indians are racist, just as I believe that many Africans are also racist”?
Why are we surprised when an Indian woman recently used the k-word to describe a Kulula airline captain, or when former Springbok Ashwin Willemse insisted that racism caused him to walk out because he felt “patronised" by fellow presenters Nick Mallett and Naas Botha?
Racism, like its milder-mannered cousin, prejudice, often leads to discrimination. But they are not the same thing. Moreover, the conflation of the two is, I think, one reason we feel so pessimistic.
Through internalised stereotypes – which in turn influence behaviour – racism continues to exist in societies and among people, blacks and whites, who fundamentally claim to be non-racist.For the rest of fallible humankind, admit it – for someone, somewhere, you are a racist. Everyone – black, white, pink, yellow – possesses his or her own racial prejudice.
That is why I agree with Judith Lichtenberg, a philosophy professor at the University of Maryland, who wrote: “In general, white people today use the word ‘racism’ to refer to the explicit, conscious belief in racial superiority. For the most part black people mean something different by racism: they mean a set of practices and institutions that result in the oppression of black people. Racism, on this view, is not a matter of what’s in people’s heads, but of what happens in the world.”If we all agree that first it is racism, which is followed by prejudice and discrimination, then there is no doubt that racism underpins our everyday human behaviour. It is an essential, ancient evolutionary element contributing to anyone and everyone’s daily survival.
After all, why are there racial enclaves in our formerly white suburbs, corporate boardrooms and workplaces? It is because you are comfortable with someone who looks like you. It is because racial prejudice occurs in the context of everyday routines such as choosing a place to live, the shopping malls we frequent, the kind of public transport and restaurants we choose.
Black-on-black, white-on-white racism
There is black-on-black and white-on-white prejudice, whether based on religion, nationality, skin colour, sexuality, ideological preference or even one’s physical appearance. It is thriving and is just as harmful as white-black prejudice.
No human being is completely innocent of some form of prejudice. It seems innate to human nature to use our own ethical, moral or religious standards to prejudge others.
Whether we are talking about immigrants or about sport, there are various stereotypical assumptions made. For instance, if somebody makes a joke to a black or white person that they’ve got a good tan, or nicely plaited hair, they don’t mean to cause offence but they don’t realise they are being racially stereotypic.Which black or white person can put a hand on his or her heart and say they have never, ever sniped at someone and tossed in a mention of that German, or Moroccan, or Russian, or Nigerian, or French person or American? Who does not despise white skinheads?
Like every human being, black and white, I am bristling with my own racial prejudices. A quick survey of my own prejudices might include my hatred of one football team and love of another, my prejudice towards whites and blacks with certain hair styles and dress, certain types of cats, dogs and even my fear of visiting Hillbrow let alone Johannesburg’s city centre.
I possess certain prejudices against youngsters, black or white, who wear hooded tops in hot weather, hang around in large groups on the streets and wear their belts in the middle of their buttocks, smoke dagga and listen to rap music.
Future without prejudice
As humans we are also blessed with an even greater natural ability to love, a quality that can guide us toward tolerating, understanding and even appreciating our differences while hiding our racial prejudices.
Intra- and inner racism exists and it’s a horrible thing. In order to diminish it we must clearly demonstrate we want no part of it, even to the point of rejecting, by name, the support of racists and race baiters.Let us just admit that every race can be racist against another race. It’s a learned behaviour. We contribute to our children becoming racists by how we act towards other people. Children come into this world colourblind. They play, laugh and drink from the same bottle as any other child, regardless of race. We as black and white people have to teach our children how to respect and treat others, as we would like to be treated. It may not stop racism, but it will make a difference in the world.The truth is, everyone is equal no matter what they look like. We are all human beings and what makes us so interesting are the many different races and customs in the world.We learn from each other and can’t grow or survive without each other. Racism can stop and equality can only begin when society grows up and takes a stand.
We have to find a way of acknowledging that there is only one human race. It doesn’t matter if we are black or white, we all belong to the human race.
• Rich Mkhondo runs Mediaandwritersfirm.com, a content development, ghostwriting and reputation management hub.