Why can’t we overcome racism?
Updated: Jan 25
“Racism is the refuge for the ignorants.” -Pierre Berton
How did racism start?
Before asking why people are racist, it is crucial to understand that racism did not start with attitude. Harvard researchers showed that racism is a learned behaviour, and young children pick up on racism from their surrounding environment. In an interview with Professor Florestal, the cultural issues professor at TAV college - she stated that racism was created hundreds of years ago by white people to justify free labour for financial purposes. The prosperity of the Western world has been made by the blood of people of colour, yet, they were mistreated and dehumanized. This ideology passed on through generations has formed our current society with a deep root of racism that seems remarkably complex to overcome.
The psychology behind racism
Nowadays, racism is more discrete as we have put social and political pressure, yet that racist undertone is still everywhere. According to a recent study conducted by Steven O Roberts and Micheal T. Rizzo, there are seven contributing factors to racism.
The first three factors are categories - dividing people into categories and creating stereotypes; factions - people have to be loyal to their assigned group and stand against other groups and segregation - being separated from other groups which hardens one’s belief and stereotype about others. Putting people into categories, creating stereotypes, and segregating people based on their “assigned group” hardens and deepens the root of racism.
The last four factors being hierarchy - the system gives power to certain groups and makes them think they are superior. An example being white Americans, they are more likely to be wealthier and therefore, superior. According to the USA Facts, 86% of wealth in the U.S. is owned by white people. They also have a higher net worth ($452,233) compared to Black people ($108,160) or Hispanics ($52,456). Power - allowing the dominant group to build a society based on their standard and creating what’s considered “normal”. Media - maintaining racism by showing certain images about different groups of people. In North America, they portrayed white people and white culture as dominant and normal. However, other cultures are often portrayed according to stereotypes. Last, passivism - people don’t fight against racism because of a false belief that racism no longer exists. This results from ignorance and it is the main reason it is so hard for the current state of racism to improve.
We are all “racialized”
We always speak about different races of people: black race, Asian race, Caucasian race, etc. But have you ever wondered, is it the correct way to use it?
Certainly, people appear to be diverse all around the world, from skin colour to hair texture to facial features. However, the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) stated that there are no biological differences between humans. Everyone has different ethnicities but we are all part of the same race.
The study also showed that there is no evidence that one group is superior to the others based on genetics. Race is a social construct. Using genetics to determine the rank between different groups is a misused concept and can cause major misunderstanding. Most of our differences come from our experiences and our cultures, not our genes. The physical differences simply come from human evolution as we adapt to different environments in the world.
Dealing with racism, will it ever change?
In an interview, Miss Kate* stated she has always been conscious of her skin colour. People are always surprised, even startled, to see her for the first time. She grew up with people telling her she looked like a monkey or she smelled bad that it became normal.
Miss Kate’s husband, Mr. Joe*, claimed that he had missed some career opportunities as he isn’t the first person people think of in terms of promotion. He will also miss out on social events and social interaction with his colleagues. Sadly, he has to teach his children this reality, not for them to accept it, but for them not to be surprised when it happens.
Nothing is impossible
As individuals, a great way to deal with racism is to think “sky is the limit”. With racialized people, unfortunately, there is a glass ceiling that seems so hard to breakthrough. They can see the sky, yet it feels unreachable because of all the stereotypes, systematic racism or simply because no one in their social circle has ever gotten that far.
This free country is only free for those who are bold enough to break through that glass ceiling and aim for the sky. If you aim for the sky, you will land in the clouds. But if you only aim for the tree, you will end up on the ground.
As an individual, knowing what you can do and trying your best for what you want is already a great way to fight. Your presence and your effort are already enough, as you will influence many people, more than you might think. Positive influences spread, opening up a new realm of possibility and opportunity. Going beyond the limit and breaking the odds doesn’t start with society, it starts with you.
*All names have been changed to maintain confidentiality.