“Racist narratives become so thoroughly pervasive as to throw victims of racism themselves into states of confusion.”
“What You Say about Somebody Else, Anybody Else, Reveals You”-- James Baldwin, Take This Hammer, Documentary, 1963
Inalienable rights and freedoms are non-negotiable. They are birthrights, givens. Entitlements may require the occasional procedural tweaking to accommodate the vagaries of time. But rights and freedoms are transcendental in this regard. Once denied, victims will resort to varied measures to remove impediments to their full enjoyment of their irrefutable rights and freedoms. For the oppressed, the weak or the wretched, an uneasy silence may manifest itself. This position is often willfully mistaken by the powerful, for ignorance or capitulation. No victim can be wholly oblivious to being denied natural qualities that confer on them a sense of wholesomeness; neither can they be expected to remain indifferent to the concoction of conditions that consign them to inferior states of being. Those in power may continue pretending to mistake silence for acquiescence to justify their abuses manifesting themselves as rank racism, corruption, tyranny or misrule, or all of the above, but only in their own wicked minds.
The history of human change may be helpfully studied and analyzed in the context of the evolution of ideas on freedom, liberty and the pursuit of life untrammeled by bureaucratic bullshit. The temptation to drown a complex givensuch as freedom, in legalities and definitions likely limits the full enjoyment of freedoms and rights. Codification of rights via statutes and constitutions inevitably opens a Pandora’s box of interpretations, conferring unsavory negotiability to the idea of freedom. No group or individuals within a group should appropriate the last word on freedom and rights. The self-evident nature of inalienable rights precludes controversy. Or debate. Or discussion. Or negotiation. No human can be qualified enough for this charge, unless one recuses oneself from enjoying such rights and freedoms and declares oneself a neutral -- highly improbable, given that those self-appointed judges are already marked for open-ended benefits that come with their genetic makeup, an issue to be analyzed shortly.
“No group or individuals within a group should appropriate the last word on freedom and rights.”
A fundamental right (and freedom) is that of being-- of being born with intrinsic,immutable essence-defining traits that require no prior input from individuals to possess or integrate them. Neither is there need to “rectify” such traits, since they are only perceived as “defects” in need of “mending” by those wielding power and who misconstrue them as such as justification for abuse. In reality immutable rights can be dissociated from consciously doable traits; they reflect fixed essences, not acquired, variable makings. Subjecting essences to verdict -- juridical, individual, societal, ethnic, racial, cultural, religious, institutional, moral or psychological -- may lie at the heart of bigotry. Being on the receiving end of collective punitive measures implies that those being judged must explain themselves -- a requirement for some tacit absolution. Thus, a person of African descent being expected in myriad ways to “explain” their Africanness or their Blackness is no less ludicrous than Whites being held to account for their Whiteness. The presumption of innocence is discarded in such circumstances, thus requiring defendants to “disprove” their presumed guilt. The intrinsic traits of the perpetrators of racism themselves -- mainly but not exclusively White and Caucasian -- are no more under conscious racist control than those of their victims. A binary dimension exists in the perceptions that fashion relatedness between racist behavior and perceived inherent traits intended to justify the practice -- that of Self and Other. Power enables the perceptionof these inherent traits (Whiteness) to become the objects of manipulation leading to the creation of circumstances favoring one group (Whites) and maiming another (non-Whites, in hierarchical fashion) and equating the former with supremacy, the latter with inferiority. This strategy dissociates the intrinsic nature of human traits from perceptions of them that then become agents of criminalizing states of being.
“Subjecting essences to verdict -- juridical, individual, societal, ethnic, racial, cultural, religious, institutional, moral or psychological -- may lie at the heart of bigotry.”
While genetically determined traits remain immutable, perceptions of them are not. It is precisely the sinister manipulation of the perception of intrinsic traits as markers of superiority, that conditions that reward Whiteness would flourish. Such traits are mistakenly regarded as marks of achievement and therefore worthy of reward in one group; darker skin pigment being considered as underachievement worthy of chastisement in another. A collective cognitive dissonance is at work here in attempting to discover and confer accountability -- where none exists, for immutable traits belonging to both perpetrator and designated victim in equal measure. Those explanations would seem natural, rational and logical requirements, for those subjected to the humiliation of bigotry, but only from the vantage point of its perpetrators.
Condescending racist attitudes are intended to plant the seeds of an inferiority complex that have afflicted, and continue to afflict, massive numbers of people subjected to colonial or racist rule. Purveyors of bigotry reserve themselves the right to judge, never to be judged, thereby abandoning the need for explaining their own gross deficiencies that lead to their institutionalizing bigotry in the first place. It is their disproportionate power that defines and determines the righteousness of the racist’s cause. An inescapably tempting analysis of racism would be to transpose the classic psychological model that explains relationships between abusers and abused: that abusers were themselves at some point, especially early on in life, victims of abuse and later in life turn to abusive behavior as compensation for loss of self-worth. But why on such a massive scale such as institutional racism that has visited genocide, slavery and untold suffering on millions of people? Could it possibly go back to the days of convicts and thugs being exported to distant lands to establish communities that would later thrive on genocide, slavery and the abusive, racist behaviors thereafter transmitted vertically subsequently becoming disseminated widely and normalized among their kinsfolk? Lest this aspect of intergenerational shock be misunderstood as making a case for the causes of racism: far from it. By the time the progeny appears, the racism pathogen has already taken control of the host. It is then that the racism bug is ready for transmission, in this case vertically and later on horizontally by means of cultural dissemination, including disinformation and spreading racist venoms beginning at early childhood.
“Condescending racist attitudes are intended to plant the seeds of an inferiority complex.”
Inherent traits that are not achieved by dint of effort, labor or diligence should not invite any judgmental bearings. Acquired traits on the other hand, such as wealth, scholastic achievement, philanthropy, athletic ability, theft, war crimes or fraud are attained by dogged practice, guile or training open themselves to quantitative or qualitative judgmental and analytical processes. Yet inherentstates of being, unlike any other, have arguably suffered the most contemptible of abuses through much of recorded history to the present. It is the criminalizing of that essence that constitutes the basis of racism. We will leave the issues of sexism and tribalism aside as their occurrence and dynamics are obviously different from those of race. There could well exist economic disparities between White men and White women, for instance. White women nonetheless are infinitely more likely to enjoy the benefits of Whiteness than their black counterparts. Racial solidarity trumps gender solidarity.
The repugnant practices of racism maliciously target an individual’s or a group’s essence, an immutable state of being. Racists subconsciously engineer an alter ego in response to observable, intrinsicdifferences. The perpetrator’s own sense of being -- one that is falsely designated superior to that of target individuals, may initially trigger manifestations of racism at the individual, later coalescing to the institutional, level. Clearly, neither party in this interface has any say in their intrinsic states. Still, that fact alone is insufficient to ward off or thwart abuses based on natural, spontaneous, perceptible differences. In effect, the two sides are separated by disparities of power. The abuser wielding almost all of it, the abused wielding virtually none, for as long as these disparities continue to define the relationships of the two groups. When racist assumptions are challenged in the battlefield, as in anti-colonial resistance, do we then witness some paradigm shifts, no matter how transient? Is it then rational to propose that such practices as institutional, societal or cultural racism are predicated on intrinsic ignorance? Unlikely; the more plausible explanation is conditionedignorance since practicing racists consciously cast a shroud over self-evident truths to obscure them and better justify their revolting practices.
“Acquired traits such as wealth, scholastic achievement, philanthropy, athletic ability, theft, war crimes or fraud are attained by dogged practice.”
Deliberate, malicious ignorance on artificially amplified differences that are collectively permissive for the culture of racism could be the more plausible explanation. Perceived psychic states of artificially altered states of Self and Other constitute a complex psycho-cultural process that metamorphoses into racism. On occasion, religion may be thrown into the mix to fortify rationales for bigotry. After all, who among the flock dare challenge divine decrees? God is on our side, not yours, n****r. He is ours, He is us, He is our creation. In scenarios that breed racism, one perceives Self traits as desirable -- superior, to those possessed by Others that are then designated inferior. The Other is inadvertently employed by aspiring bigots as a foil for ameliorating their own low Self-esteem that racism helps to overcompensate for.
The systematic undervaluing of the Other becomes indispensable and concurrent with overrating of Self. It is a strategy for establishing a dynamic that encourages bigotry to flourish, become institutionalized and operative. Other “intrinsic” traits that could provoke hostility would include language, culture, religion, all of which are essentially acquired, but their acquisition very early on in life confer on them intrinsic-like traits, conditionedtraits; they are thus handily lumped in with inherent ones by those wishing to diversify their stock of criteria for justifying, widening and practicing bigotry. Intrinsic traits are nonetheless irreversible while acquired ones are not. Easily identifiable intrinsic traits -- the phenotype (skin color, facial features, hair) -- mark individuals or groups as targets for acts of bigotry. y need not engage in any acts that would ordinarily invite hostility. Their mere state of being is sufficient to set in motion hostile actions that spread to others with shared values.
“Easily identifiable intrinsic traits -- the phenotype (skin color, facial features, hair) -- mark individuals or groups as targets for acts of bigotry.”
Perceptions of intrinsic traits used to disseminate racist acts could explain much of the evolution of bigotry, collective punishment and genocide meted out, whether to peoples in colonized countries, enslaved communities as in the Americas, dispossessed indigenous groups in Australia, New Zealand and the Americas, genocidal wars of aggression as in South East Asia, the Middle East, apartheid South Africa or Zionist Israel or racist cops shooting down unarmed African Americans. Three broad ramifications here would appear to hold: first, such grimly held perceptions used as scaffolding for launching and sustaining bigoted behaviors are themselves held as immutable by racist regimes, despite their being subject to continuing manipulation and tweaking. Such perceptual manipulations fashion along the way an elaborate language that puts gloss on narratives that are fundamentally racist, no matter their feigned, embellished subtleties and veiled denials. Racist narratives become so thoroughly pervasive as to throw victims of racism themselves into states of confusion, to the point of their failing to perceive historical continuities between their lot at home and those suffering similar abuses elsewhere -- or vice versa. They may fail to see the link between racist dispossession in Palestine for instance, currently occupied or formerly colonized lands and their own wretchedness wrought by merciless racist regimens. They also fail to appreciate the redemptive value and cause for rejoicing and celebration when Algerians, Kenyans, Zimbabweans and South Africans take back their lands from White robber-settlers.
Second, racist dimensions are juxtaposed on, and imputed to, communities seeking to redress historical balances such as reparations or land confiscations mentioned above. It should therefore come as no surprise that racist settlers in South Africa should form a coalition -- “Afriforum”-- that seeks empathy and support from fellow racist ancestor countries in North America, Western Europe and elsewhere to reverse what they perceive as their newly acquired victim status. In fact, Trump is on record as extending an invitation to his racist South African kinsfolk to settle in the US in the event their farms are confiscated without compensation. No such luck for reparations for the millions of slave descendants in the US and elsewhere, dispossessed indigenous peoples, occupied Palestinians or natives of Diego Garcia. In fact, as land theft was approaching its peak in colonized lands and settler states, there was a deafening silence and measured indifference in the West on the unprecedented scale of dispossession taking place.
“Trump is on record as extending an invitation to his racist South African kinsfolk to settle in the US.”
Third, no signs of remorse can be expected from the perpetrators of racism. The absurd, irrational hatred generated by false perceptions by racists would present a daunting challenge to any attempts at alleviating what amounts to an incurable disease. Much more so with patients reluctant to accept the diagnosis. Denial on a massive scale, a sense of triumphalism, the rewriting of history and the re-fashioning of realities would obviate the need for what may be viewed as exercises in futility such as atonement or redressing balances caused by international gangster racism, genocide, resource theft and dispossession. Normally, remorse is concurrent with empathy and compassion together with a rare capacity for feeling and sharing the pains of peoples different or distant from oneself. That fundamental human nature goes missing among racists, throwing into doubt the wholesomeness of their own humanity. Their criminal projects exploit inherent differences between peddlers and grudging consumers of bigotry, without which the racist project would stagnate. These are ventures that thrive on inflicting pain, rape, enslavement, even genocide. At the opposite end of the empathy spectrum lie the issues of denial, triumphalism and frank hubris with the latter perfectly exemplified when the American racist-in-chief Donald Trump recently declared that his ancestors had “tamed a continent” and that “he had nothing to apologize for.” No mention of genocide or slavery in this process of “taming” of “savages.” The foregoing should place in perspective the bewildering challenges that lie ahead in confronting racism, for the colossal monstrosity that it is. The redemptive power of penitence would in theory appeal to a humanity that could gradually arrest, stall, possibly even reverse, the anguish and agony afflicted by racism and prevent a repetition. Current trends show this to be highly unlikely. Regardless, it would take more than haphazard coalitions, social media posts and talking shops to make an impact. Much, much more.
Dr. Nzito is a retired scientist now living in the Philippines.