Some Thoughts about Race and Prejudice

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Like it or not – races exist. Even if useless, the concept of ‘race’ is legitimate. Humans are a species, defined as “… individuals that resemble one another, are able to breed among themselves, but are not able to breed with members of another species” (Webster, 1997, p. 1832). ‘Race’ is defined as “an arbitrary classification of modern humans … based on … a combination of physical characteristics, as skin color, facial form, or eye shape, and now frequently based on … genetic markers, as blood groups” etc. (ibidem). It is crucial to understand this difference. Adolf Hitler did not. In his book “Mein Kampf” he wrote: “Every animal mates only with animals of the same species. … The consequence of this general natural drive to keep races clean, is not only a sharp distinction from other races but also their consistent nature within themselves. The fox is always a fox, the goose a goose, the tiger a tiger etc. …” (p. 310 ff, translation and emphases by me). Foxes, geese, and tigers are of course species and not races. It is amazing that the intellectuals of the time never noticed this basic blunder.

The definitions of species and race apply to humans, animals, and plants alike. The fewer characteristics make up a race, the weaker its identity and stability as a set. Races can change or even disappear when they mix with other races. If the defining characteristics become too few or only one, like e.g. skin color, the concept of ‘race’ becomes absurd. Reducing ‘race’ to ‘skin color’ makes the concept completely meaningless since too many people have e.g. dark skin to qualify as a “race”. The alternative, to call non-white people “colored people” infers that White is not a color. And just like “black people” aren’t really black, “white people” aren’t really white either. In my view, the entire habit of referring to people by a skin color they do not really have, should be abandoned. It is unfortunate that people of sub-Saharan African descent keep calling themselves “Black”, as in “Black Lives Matter”. But since this is what they call themselves, I will continue to use this term here when referring to people of sub-Saharan African descent.

Calling yourself “black” or being called “black” puts a person at a psychological disadvantage. Language is a system of symbolic interaction and the meaning of words is not only often not what they literally say but humans also like to speak in pictures, metaphors, and symbols, and attach connotations to words that refer to emotions like fear or joy. In particular, colors carry symbolic meaning. Blackness is associated with darkness, i.e. the absence of light and clear vision, darkness is associated insecurity, the inability to orient oneself, to see clearly, to be able to anticipate dangers, to feel safe. The name for dark-skinned sub-Saharan Africans is “black” in many languages. The term “Negro” comes from the Latin “niger”, which means ‘black’. The French “nègre”, the German “Neger” (now politically incorrect) or the Spanish “negro” are all derived from the Latin word for ‘black’ and they all originally mean just that: black. The reference to darkness that is implied in the reference to dark skin also subconsciously implies the connotations of fear, insecurity, disorientation, or being afraid. Negative non-reassuring emotions associated with darkness. And that is mostly international and trans-racial since, no matter what we call them, persons with dark skin are subconsciously associated with the symbolic meanings of the color “black”. Even in China, where “black” is also the color of glory, of Winter and of North, it is still also the color of death, albeit together with the color white. Among the Western Nations there are significant differences concerning the symbolic meaning of certain colors. Blue in German means drunk but also faithful; in French it means inexperienced, dumb; in English it means depressed, not happy etc. but the basic meanings of black and white as representing fearful darkness and cheerful brightness are much the same throughout the Western World and much of the rest of the World with the exception of China. See the color symbolism comparison table below:

ColorChinese MeaningEuropean Meaning
RedJoy, good, wealth, bright, summer, southDanger, forbiddance, war, romance
YellowEmperor, earth, middle and ChinaCaution, envy, avarice, cowardice
BlueAlgid, ill, immortalitySky, water, reliable, authentic
Black“Color of death”, darkness, glory, winter, northDeath, darkness, mourning
WhiteMourning, bad luck, age, autumn, westCleanliness, brightness, hygiene, virginity
BrownMisfortuneLaziness, old-fashioned
GreyCheap, dullElegant
GoldGlory, royal, wisdom, perfectionMoney, sun, nature, friendliness
GreenLife, vitality, spring, eastNature, hope

Since these symbolic connotations of colors are deep-rooted symbolic realities that are based on objective physical realities, it would probably be in everybody’s best interest to simply abandon the habit of referring to any human by the (alleged) color of his/her skin, as the negative subconscious connotations associated with the color “black” are a portal to subconscious negative bias and racial prejudice.

This is where racism enters the stage. Judging any person by the color of that person’s skin is just plain nonsense. If you were to buy a car, you would not judge the value of the vehicle based solely on the body paint, would you? Stating real differences between humans or human races is not wrong. Attaching positive or negative values to such differences is racism. And that applies to all of us.

It seems that the desire to feel superior to others is a universal human trait. Here is a brief story that illustrates this. In 1977 I spent some time with a group of South American Yebámasa Indians on the Piraparaná River in Colombia, SA. The Indians had dance costumes that included an elaborate feather cap, called “majá joáro”. One day, I asked the local shaman about the meaning of the feather cap. He explained that the feather cap symbolizes the cultural accomplishments of the Indians such as slash-and-burn agriculture or manioc cultivation etc. “You see” he said “we live along the rivers and we have this wonderful culture and our feather cap represents it. The miserable Macuces do not have anything like this.” The Macuces are the Indians who live deeper in the rain forest and are hunters and gatherers. “Hm” I replied, “But I went to these Macuces and I saw that they also have feather caps much like yours.” He was surprised. “They do? Well, but their feather caps are ugly, ugly!” He had to find something that would allow him to continue to look down on the Macuces as inferior. He did it by attaching a value to a fact. “Ugly” is a value statement. This is a behavioral pattern found worldwide. In order to feel superior, you must find somebody you can consider inferior. You don’t enslave somebody you feel inferior to. Hence, if throughout history economic and/or political reasons lead to the enslavement of one group of people by another one, the enslaving group invariably came up with some ideology designed to explain their own superiority based on which they claimed their right, or even duty, to enslave the group considered inferior.

A typical example for an ideology manufactured for political and economic dominance is Richard Hakluyt’s book “Discourse of Western Planting” (1584), which laid the ideological groundwork for British colonialism and imperialism arguing that the people to be colonized are inferior and therefore deserve to be ruled by the Europeans. The Yebámasa shaman did not consider the Macuces racially different from his own folks, just inferior. Such prejudices of racial or other supremacy, while sometimes long-term traditions, are often engineered by their inventors, and must be implanted into the collective subconsciousness of those claiming supremacy or they won’t last. This is why they inevitably find their way into education, literature, schoolbooks, jokes and colloquialisms from where they percolate into the subconscious. Once there, they start influencing general public thought and opinion, even moral standard, behavioral rules, and the laws without most people even being aware of their biases.

Enter the Critical Race Theory. It got its name from the “Critical Theory”, the basic methodology of the Frankfurt School of Neomarxism. Marx believed that the “working class” would rise and physically fight against the “ruling class”. That did not happen. Dutschke, Baader, and other Neo-Marxist “Young Turks” made one last attempt at overthrowing the West-German capitalist order through violent revolution but failed again, because the German workers did not cooperate. When this revolutionary attempt failed, the Italian communist Antonio Gramcsi’s concept of “culture war” was revived. It aimed at destroying capitalism by destroying its culture. The culture warriors proclaimed the “long march through the institutions”, namely schools, teacher education, universities, colleges, courts, and government agencies (the deep state phenomenon). The main goal of the Critical Theory is to criticize capitalism and the market economy, its values and institutions, in order to destroy it from within. Critical Race Theory was named that way to underline that is was seen by its inventor, Harvard Professor Derrick Bell in 1980 as just another arrow in the quiver of the Critical Theory, using race as one of the cultural dimensions, which could be used to deconstruct (read: destroy) capitalist culture. As we have seen already, racial and other prejudices are often subconscious in individuals and find their way into cultural and social reality spreading silently like a cancer. To uncover these subconscious prejudices and their effects on our culture and social system is a perfectly legitimate task if this is done with a constructive intent, i.e. trying to improve our culture, society and relationships. However, as part of the Critical Theory, the Critical Race Theory has morphed from initially constructive and perfectly legitimate criticism of wrongs in our culture into a weapon of cultural destruction.

In 1977, I wrote an article in the German Sociology Journal “Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie” (Heft 1, pp. 180-136) about the role and image of the Negro (“Neger” – today politically no longer a correct term) in German children’s and youth songs. Here is an example from that article that illustrates multi-layer subconscious racial bias.

This is a children’s story: Two white boys are playing in the street. A black boy appears, who also plays in the same street. The two white boys immediately harass the black boy, teasing him and calling him names. This is observed by the “Great Santa Claus”, who enters the story as an authority of supreme justice. Says Santa: “What are you harassing this black boy for? It is not his fault that he is not white like you.” Obviously, Santa considers being black as some sort of deficiency, a misfortune. But the white boys do not relent. They continue harassing the black boy. This is when Santa appears with a huge jar full of black ink. He grabs the white boys and dunks them into the black ink making them black like the black boy. Obviously, Santa believes that being black is a punishment. The example illustrates that the two white boys carry a subconscious prejudice against black persons. Santa criticizes their prejudice, but his punishment shows clearly that he, too, carries the same subconscious prejudice since he considers being black a punishment. From today’s perspective of political correctness in Germany, one could argue that there is a third level of bias, because I used the word “Neger”, which is today anathema – but at the time it was not and to me it just meant “Black”. There is also the term “Schwarzer” or ‘Schwarze” (male or female black person) in German, but it had a palpable negative connotation, so I did not use it, and there was really no other term I could have used unless I wanted to say “black person from sub-Saharan Africa”, which seemed outright ludicrous at the time.

At the time, I was applying Critical Race Theory as a legitimate scientific instrument and I did not even realize it. This is the constructive role Critical Race Theory can play. To tell so-called white people that their entire culture must be cancelled because it was developed by – duh – so-called white people, is beyond illegitimate. It is either ill-intended or braindead. You pick.

Subconscious racial prejudices eventually make it into social institutions and the laws. The Equal Employment Opportunity Law is an example for this. It essentially mandates to give people of a certain race or with a certain skin color a break and to apply lower standards of performance to their employment or advancement. The implied assertion is that people of a certain race or with a certain skin color are less capable to meet objective performance or qualification standards than e.g. “white people” (whatever that is). It tells Blacks: you are not as capable as others; you cannot succeed without help. The ultimate racial insult, as this is the exact same prejudice that old-fashioned anti-black white racism touted.

But let’s not make the mistake to throw all bias and prejudice overboard. Without them we could not live, could not function. When you approach a green light at an intersection you are “assuming” that the green light might soon turn yellow or red. That is a prejudice. You must rely on it blindly because you have no way to verify or falsify it. When you board a plane to Atlanta you are assuming that the plane will actually take you to Atlanta at the scheduled time. Again, that is a prejudice, which you cannot verify. When you submit to open heart surgery, you assume that the cardiologist performing the surgery is actually a certified an experienced medical expert, but you cannot really verify this. You rely on it more or less blindly. That again is a prejudice.

Prejudice is necessary. We need it in practical life. We should just limit it to the absolute unavoidable and make sure we do not mix and mingle it with value judgments. And let’s all throw that skin-color thing in the trash. It serves no good purpose whatsoever.

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