By Ben, Patrick Effiong
Racism is utterly bad at all levels of moral theorizing. But, do you know what’s worse than racism itself? It is when those who are at the receiving end of racial discrimination fight against it on one hand, whilst at the same time working to sustain racism by pandering to social practices that affirm racial inequality, thereby strengthening the argument for racial hierarchy. This is what most victims of racial discrimination do today, and it is this problem that I seek to address in this blog article.
Anti-racists movements and protests in recent times have taken the center stage of public discourse – and justifiably so – almost eclipsing the rampaging Coronavirus pandemic, spurred by the despicable murder of George Floyd by a Euro-American police officer in the United States of America. Racism as we know it, involves the discrimination against people on the basis of their skin color/pigmentation, ethnicity, historical origin and other peripheral differences. Fueled by both the fear of aliens within one’s society and the chauvinistic belief in human hierarchy, racism has earned the highest medal for popularity in our social space today second only to perhaps, terrorism. With its cheap accessibility by almost every human society, political and religious leaders and other transactional social groups today conveniently exploit the fragility of racial differences to stir up discord amongst peoples to achieve their negative ends.
William Julius Wilson, a sociology scholar in his 1999 book The Bridge Over the Racial Divide, argued that at the fundamental level, racism is “an ideology of racial domination”. This ideology of racial superiority socially built on external phenotypic foundations has been used to justify many atrocities against racialized groups, or the “racialized other”, throughout history. In recent times, specifically from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries according to Matthew Clair a Harvard University scholar, and Jeffrey S. Denis of McMaster University, the Europeans employed this notion of racial superiority to “justify and prescribe exploitation, domination, and violence against peoples racialized as nonwhite”, for the expansion of slavery and their colonial empires. The Nazi Holocaust which marked the peak of the barbarity of what the belief in a racial hierarchy can lead to remains arguably the most crystal reminder of the dangers of peddling the idea of one race’s superiority over another.
Two brilliant African philosophers have also problematized the origin of racial discrimination based on skin pigmentation. Kwesi Tsri in his 2016 paper, Africans Are Not Black and Jonathan Chimakonam in his 2019 paper, Why the Racial Politic of Colour-branding should be Discontinued, respectively exposed the sinister origins and unwholesome symbolic representations of racial discrimination based on physical appearance, as having its roots in ancient Greece in the works of Homer, Aristotle, Ptolemy and other early Greek writers down to Kant and Hegel in the 18th/19th century, where the skin pigmentation of the Africans was equated with having a “burnt face”. Chimakonam further argues that the reason why we categorize humans according to their skin coloration is to foster – “politics of division, discrimination and subjugation”. The truth of this abounds in our observation of the end goal(s) of the hierarchical racial divide as employed by religious and political leaders from Northern Ireland to Northern Nigeria, and from Hitler’s Germany of racist memory to the present-day Gaza Strip of bloody reality. However, little attention has been paid to the role of the victims of racial discrimination – or the “racialized other” – in sustaining the ideology and institution of racism. How is this done?
Across many religions we find images of God(s) represented as “light-skinned” and the devil depicted as “dark-skinned” being endorsed by dark-skinned peoples themselves; in TV commercials, the standard of civilization is measured by how Westernized an individual is; in the beauty industries, we have many products touting the “light-skinned” as the standard of beauty that every dark-skinned person should aspire to, this is evident in the massive “skin brightening/lightening” creams aimed at reducing the level of melanin in the dark skin for the attainment of the status of humanity; those who are not light-skinned and those who do not have long hairs are wearing wigs cut from and/or artificially made to model the hairs of those who are light-skinned and fixing artificial European eyes. These practices of trying to mould oneself in the image of the racists – or the socially constructed central race – without a doubt, entrenches the notion of a “standard, better and superior race” and defeats the logic of uniqueness of individual humans being fundamentally equal and worthy of respect amidst their differences.
One question that begs to be answered, which those in the “other” categories of the racial divide have been avoiding is this: can racism – say European-orchestrated racism – ever be defeated in a world where they use the category of European phenotype as the standard by which “other” racial categories should measure themselves against or aspire to as the quintessence of humanity? Can the line of hierarchical racial categorization ever be blurred in a world where the hoax claim to “Whiteness” is placed at the center of racial significance, while “others” constitute the fringes moving towards that center for the purpose of attaining relevance? The answer is a resounding NO!
Self-affirmation of racial inferiority implied and applied through a preference for the European imagery politicized as ‘white’, and anything but that which is associated with the culture/image of the victim of racial discrimination is the biggest stumbling block to the actualization of racial equality. And this is sadly entrenched by the racialized victims of racism themselves in the context of European/Euro-American racism, through their everyday practices that projects a fruitless aspiration to the false idea of “Whiteness” rather than self-awareness and respect. Racism cannot and will never end, so long as no Westerner, for example, takes pride in giving their children African names despite spending centuries in Africa and forcefully reaping the rewards of the continent’s great cultural heritage, yet many Africans take pride in taking on Western names and cultural practices, and projecting same as the standard for civilization that all should aspire to; so long as Africans keep worshipping European God(s), ignoring the cultural manifestation of God(s) in all societies, while no Westerner have regard for or thinks the African God(s) worthy of worship or respect; so long as Africans keep doing European weddings – the traditional marriage practice of the race they think into superiority by giving it utmost preference while relegating to second-class status their traditional organization of marriage.
The above are overt sociocultural affirmations of racial inferiority, one that projects the European/Euro-American race as the quintessence of what a human being should be, thus, reducing the human worth of the aspirants for this image to the category of a “racial other” – an inferior stock and imperfect representation of what a human being shouldn’t be. This self-affirmation of inferiority should be fought against at all levels as it emboldens the racist. Racism itself feeds off of its victim’s acceptance of inferiority to survive. Consequently, to fight it, one must not act in ways that affirm or feed the hierarchical narrative.
Inasmuch as the racist has a great task of unlearning negative social perceptions of peoples that informs the notion of racial superiority, a far greater task lies with the individual who’s racially discriminated against, to dispel this groundless ideology by desisting from affirming the existence of racial hierarchy, through self-negating practices that directly/indirectly aspires to the image of the racist. Without first purging the self of this fundamental racism towards oneself which is common among racialized groups, the fight for racial equality – which sadly, first acknowledges the existence of racial inequality – will become an exercise in futility.
The anti-racists purge must therefore begin from within!