Problem #1: Labelling people ‘Black’ or ‘White’ is an active exercise in Separation
I watched a documentary called ‘The secret life of 5 year olds’. The presenter was talking with two 5 year-old girls, one of African descent and one of European descent, both born in the UK. Or to label them, one was ‘black’, one was ‘white’.
‘You two are the best of friends, aren’t you?’
‘Yes, she’s my bestest friend’ they say to each other, smiling warmly & innocently as only children can.
‘Is there anything which makes you two different from one another?’
The two girls turned to each other again, this time looks of confusion abounding their faces. ‘Ummmmm’ they said in unison, racking their brains to find a single difference.
One of them suddenly perked up in a light-bulb moment and said ‘Yes, I like lemonade, and she doesn’t like lemonade’. Her best friend smiled and said ‘Yeah, I don’t like lemonade’.
‘Is there anything else which makes you two different?’ asked the presenter.
‘Ummmmm… no’ they both said, smiling and nodding in agreement.
We aren’t born seeing color. Love is natural. Separating ourselves from each other is learned.
The immediate problem with the categorization of ‘black’ and ‘white’ is that the world isn’t a binary place. Everyone can’t be neatly separated into 2 distinct groups, it’s entirely possible for humans to occur in many different shades.
Separating ourselves from others into categories like ‘black’ or ‘white’ creates an ‘us and them’ mindset. You’ll naturally feel rapport and sympathy with members of whichever group you’re in and a disconnect from the opposite group. Your mind magnifies the similarities between yourself and members of your group whilst exaggerating the differences from members of the other side.
This is called in-grouping and out-grouping, an age-old concept in psychology most famously shown by the robbers cave experiment. We have this capacity preloaded in our brains from millions of years of evolution, look at chimps, our closest evolutionary cousins for proof.
The mere act of using the terms ‘black’ or ‘white’ already implies separation from yourself and whichever group you’re not in. If you don’t identify with either and lie outside of the groups, using the terms ‘black’ or ‘white’ implies separation between yourself and both of them.
Even if you harbour no ill-will toward the opposite (as the vast majority of people won’t) or even if you actively want to help them, categorizing them into groups in the first place is the act of separating.
The Possible Solution
To truly understand another person’s position you need to be able to empathise with them. Focusing on the similarities between yourself and them is the easiest way of creating empathy, this is what allows us to appreciate things from another person’s perspective. Using binary labels like ‘black’ or ‘white’ differentiate people into categories, emphasising the differences between people, not the similarities.
We are all humans before we are different skin-colors. We are much more alike than we are different. We’ve been taught to separate according to color and using terms like ‘black’ or ‘white’ is part of that vehicle of separation. That teaching needs to be undone, and it can only be undone in the individual, within yourself. Like young children who don’t see color — it doesn’t even enter into their realm of reality, they just see other children — ‘black’ or ‘white’ don’t exist.
Problem #2: ‘Race’ is an Incorrect term
The word ‘race’ is used to categorise humans of different skin colors. This is, to put it simply, incorrect.
Race describes a difference in species. Cats are a different race from dogs, crocodiles are a different race from lizards, elephants are a different race from hippos.
A human with dark skin and a human with light skin are as different from each other as a black poodle is from a white poodle. They’re exactly the same breed of animal, the exact same species, the differences between them go as deep as the color of their fur. Poodles, as well as almost all dogs and cats can give birth to young that can have completely different colored coats. Like a meme that recently went viral of 2 dogs meeting in the street who were brother and sister from the same litter.
The different colors of our skin is due to how much melanin each of us possess. Melanin is a skin-pigment which protects against the suns rays, the more a person has, the darker their skin and the greater protection they possess against the sun.
‘Racism’ as a current term describes hate or prejudice from one human against another because of their level of skin pigment. Melanin is no indication at all of ability, value, self-worth or much of anything else, unless you want to know what strength sun-screen a person needs.
The Possible Solution
‘Different races’ is exactly what the ‘black’ and ‘white’ labels imply; 2 separate species of human. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We are all one race. The human race. We are so much more alike than we are different.
When using the word race, use it in it’s correct context; when describing a different species. Using ‘race’ to describe humans with different skin colors is like saying 2 billiard balls are completely different in inherent quality because one’s red and the other’s blue. If a person must be racist, they should be racist against a species which is actually different from themselves, like donkeys.
Problem #3: Being ‘Anti-Racist’ doesn’t make things better
‘Black’ and ‘white’ are inherently separating labels. So are ‘anti’ and ‘racist’. Anti is negative by its definition, it means to oppose. Racist has a wholly negative and hateful implication. Both words imply division; when you put them together they mean ‘opposing division’ but with a negative connotation, coming from the negative implications of both words. Opposing division negatively is more likely to create further division, not the opposite.
Racism divides; the answer to division is not to divide further. The idea of anti-racism is to tackle racism where it’s seen by opposing the racist. The problem with direct opposition is that it very easily creates conflict, and conflict creates more division. In trying to change someones (the racists) ways, negative opposition is often costly and ineffective. A persons barriers go up and more conflict is created.
A situation already rich in conflict, underlying or overt, 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. As I’ve said above, love and unity are natural, division and hate are learned.
The Possible Solution
If ‘anti-racism’ is too negative though, what’s the alternative? Pro-respect might be a better term. 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 positive and constructive instead of destructive and divisive.
‘Racism’ needs to be tackled with understanding, on both sides of the spectrum. Connection and unity neutralise conflict and hate. True progress occurs through understanding of opposite positions and of each other as humans.
The Words You Choose to Use Define Your Reality.
You may be thinking ‘why the hell would it matter if a person is ‘anti-racist’ or ‘pro-respect’, they mean the same thing anyway’.
The reason is almost philosophical. The words you say, hear and think are connected to meanings in your head. They’re also connected to your emotions.
If I walk up to you and tell you you look amazing, you may feel momentarily happy. If instead I told you you look disgusting, you might feel anger or hurt. I would’ve elicited either a positive or a negative emotion out of you simply from my choice of words.
The word ‘amazing’ is considerably connected to positive emotion, whereas ‘disgusting’ is heavily connected to negative emotion. Hearing, saying or thinking either word in conjunction to yourself elicits it’s corresponding emotion, and you cannot choose whether or not to feel it.
The same is true of the words you use within your own mind. The words you think have an effect on what you feel.
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.
The words we think with define our realities more than we realise, and we have the choice of whether they can work with us or against us.