With the protests happening all over the world in response to the police killing of George Floyd, a term is becoming increasingly center-stage which, I think, divides more than it helps.
The idea that a person should oppose racism wherever they see it. I’m not against the idea itself — racism is irrational, destructive and ultimately a sign of stupidity — I don’t agree with the term ‘anti-racist’.
Words are hugely important in defining your personal reality.
The words you say, hear and think have a direct effect on how you feel, and ultimately, how you behave. If I said ‘you look amazing’ I might incite a feeling of happiness within you. If I said ‘you look disgusting’ I would provoke a very different feeling and you might be ready to run, shout or even hit me.
By my mere choice of a single word I can make you feel either a highly positive or highly negative emotion, and you don’t have a choice whether you feel it or not. Once the word is said, especially in conjunction to yourself as an individual, you will feel its corresponding emotion.
The same applies for the words you think.
House and Home are two such examples; two words which have very similar logical meanings but with completely different emotional meanings. Home has an emotional connotation, house doesn’t. If you think to yourself ‘I’m going home’ as opposed to ‘I’m going to my house’, ‘going home’ has much more potential to spark an emotion in your brain, whereas ‘going to my house’ really doesn’t.
The same applies to both the words ‘anti’ and ‘racist’. They both possess negative connotations, both are negative by definition, but the word racist has an emotionally negative essence.
Anti means to oppose. Racist has a hateful implication. Both words imply division; when you put them together they mean ‘opposing division’ but with a highly negative association. Opposing division in a negative way is more likely to divide further, not unite.
Racism divides. The answer to division is not further division.
The problem with direct opposition, to anything, is that it very easily creates conflict. Conflict creates more division. In trying to change someone’s (the racists) ways, negative opposition is often costly and ineffective. A persons barriers go up and further conflict is created.
A situation already rich in conflict, overt or underlying, doesn’t need more conflict added to it. It requires understanding to be diffused. The only thing that can cure division is unity. The only thing that can cure hate is love.
Love and unity are natural, division and hate are learned.
This is why Mother Teresa famously said:
“I will never attend an anti-war rally; if you have a peace rally, invite me.”
- Mother Teresa
She understood the power the words you think and use have on your outlook and behaviour. An ‘anti-war rally’ very much has the focus still on war, because that’s the word eliciting the negative emotion in the minds of the people protesting. ‘Peace rally’ focuses on the positive, on the solution, peace, not on the problem.
If ‘anti-racism’ is too negative though, what’s the alternative?
Pro-respect might be a better term.
Like ‘peace rally’ instead of ‘anti-war demonstration’, the focus is no longer on negativity or opposition, but on respect and unity. The intention is the same, racism is still being opposed, but the connotation is constructive instead of destructive.
Telling yourself you’re ‘anti-racist’ is telling your brain to focus on the negative side of the spectrum, on opposition and conflict. Telling yourself you’re ‘pro-respect’ gives your brain a positive, constructive focus instead, even though both terms have almost the same logical meanings.
There’s a reason why ‘anti-racism’ sounds better than ‘pro-respect’, it’s because of our negativity bias. Our brains give more attention to negative stimulus than positive, it’s all to do with evolutionary survival.
The simple fact that Anti-Racism is negative and Pro-Respect is positive tells your brain to pay more attention to the former. Process the information using your rational mind, though, not your emotions.
Understand that racism is much better tackled with understanding, not conflict.
Connection and unity neutralise conflict and hate.
If you see a racist incident occur, switch your focus to ‘pro-respect’. Look to diffuse a situation, not add to its conflict. Look to maintain and increase the respect of the victim and to pacify or even understand the perpetrator. I know this is difficult to do, but conflict is resolved using calmness and understanding. I’ve struggled in the past myself in remaining calm but everytime I have, the situation was neutralised and sometimes even had a positive outcome.
True progress occurs through understanding of opposite positions and of each other as humans.
Be Pro-Respect, not anti-racist.
Understand the words you think define your reality more than you may realise. We all have the choice of whether the words we think and say work for us or against us.