15 April 2009 at 17:51
I feel compelled to clarify the definition of racism, its meaning and its context. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while because of situations which have arisen over the past couple of years while I’ve been involved in student politics.
Whenever the issue of racism arises in student unions and especially if it is in the context of elections the same themes, the same complaints, the same questions arise, time and time again.
Essentially they can be all answered if one understands the meaning of racism and its history. Once that is done, the answers to questions such as ‘Why don’t we have a White student’s officer?’ will become clear as well as an understanding of why, generally speaking, when we refer to racism in the West it is the discrimination of Black people as opposed to White people.
Firstly, a definition of race:
“subspecies: (biology) a taxonomic group that is a division of a species; usually arises as a consequence of geographical isolation within a species”
Of course, this is the scientific definition but it is also the definition which is the root to understanding the development of racism as it occurs in the contemporary world.
Taking the scientific definition we realise that the concept of ‘race’ has no validity in Homo sapiens. When the human species is viewed as a whole, underlying genetic variation and expressed physical traits exhibit gradients of differentiation, not discrete units. Therefore, humans do not fracture into races (subspecies).
So how then do we have ‘racism’ within the Human race?
This is where history serves its purpose. Racial classification is a modern phenomenon dating back to the 15th century during the slave trade when the Colonialists encountered sub-saharan Africans and referred to them as Negro (meaning Black in Spanish).
Maintaining that Black people were "subhuman" was the only loophole in the then accepted law that "men are created equal" that would allow for the Triangular Slave trade to flourish. The same logic was applied in order to further the aim of Colonialism beyond Europe. This notion seeped in to the recesses of the Western establishment as it was this fundamental reasoning which allowed them to build their vast Empires. The result has been a systematic oppression and discrimination of Black people since then.
So when a Black person suffers from racism – understanding it in its historical context, it is just that. Being thought of as a being from a different race, rather than that of the human race.
When a White person suffers ‘racist’ abuse, behind that abuse, the degrading idea of the person being sub-human is not entertained by the perpetrator which is why, technically speaking, White people don’t suffer racism. They could suffer from abuse but not racism.
The other issue which I suspect will increasingly become a common perception is that racism no longer exists or is no longer such a problem in society. The logic being that America has a Black President or some other equally naïve reason.
Racism still exists in big and small ways. In small ways …we still have ‘flesh coloured’ plasters in that one perfect shade of pinkish beige, the colour of human flesh (sic). ‘Default’ printer settings are clearly programmed with only White people in mind – try printing off your picture in black and white. In big ways…we are currently occupied in wars which are steeped in racist ideology. Black history is still not incorporated in to mainstream education.
The point is that racism is still very much a reality today and therefore the need for challenging and eliminating racism is still relevant. The responsibility to eliminate this particular form of discrimination falls more greatly on students who will be the movers and shakers of tomorrow’s world.
My suggestions for activists against racism would be to equip themselves with a thorough understanding of the history of racism and all its current formations. This will allow an informed campaign to materialise which will undoubtedly lead to a more effective campaign.