Friday, July 18, 2008

The fallacy of race

Although racism is a reality, race in itself is a fiction.

Race has no genetic or biological basis. When Linnaeus introduced the first classification of humans, he used the same criteria from his botanical classifications. Using the outward appearance of people gave rise to a simple way of classifying human beings as caucasoid, negroid or mongoloid. In present-day terms, people are classified on the basis of skin colour as white, black, brown, or yellow. But Linnaeus knew that the idea of race is a fiction.

Even Adolph Hitler, considered as the most infamous racist of modern times, understood that in a scientific sense there was no such thing as a race. But he stuck with the concept of race only because it served him well in pushing forward the Nazi agenda and, in particular, the annihilation of Jews in Europe.

Like it or not, racism still exists today. It’s no longer accompanied by an overt display of dislike or hatred, but oftentimes expressed in indirect or more subtle ways. A study conducted by the National Fair Housing Alliance in the United States, for instance, revealed that real estate agents steered whites from segregated neighbourhoods while pulling blacks toward predominantly black neighbourhoods.

Getting a job interview may also prove difficult for someone with a foreign-sounding name such as Hussein or Magtanggol or Chen. Racial bias may even determine whether one can flag a cab.

Racism continues to rear its ugly head in the justice system. Ethnic minorities, especially blacks, usually get stricter sentences than white offenders. Blacks, Latinos and Asians will probably be roughed up when apprehended by police, or on some occasions, even shot and killed by overzealous cops who could escape criminal liability under the guise of acting on duty.

Ethnic minorities and people of different cultures may also be blamed during times of economic crisis. Increased immigration or allowing more refugees to come into a country has always been used as a scapegoat by the majority when the economy turns sour. This is happening now in several countries in Europe. Asylum seekers are, by and large, demonized to justify the ways of globalism. Such demonization is often justified by xenophobia, the fear of strangers. Thus, those who try to escape authoritarian regimes may find it more and more difficult to get into countries known for their democratic values and culture. Unless one belongs to the skilled pool or those highly-skilled and educated workers who are creamed off from the economic lifeblood of poorer and less developed nations.

Tackling the evils of modern-day racism is far more problematic than in the past when racial discrimination and exploitation were more obvious and self-evident. Racism today is conditioned by economic imperatives; however, the acceptance of the equality of different cultures and tolerance of diversity will not be enough to reduce the problem of economic inequality. Economic globalization, which heavily favours the industrialized nations, increases the demand for more skilled workers, especially in North America and Europe. These nations will see no need to increase their education spending because of the attractiveness of the alternative of simply poaching the poorer economies of their very best and bringing them to their shores. In return, skilled immigrants will face daunting challenges in their new host countries where cultural differences are so great that if they stayed with their own kind, they will end up being criticized for not integrating with the mainstream.

To move beyond racism, we need to advance beyond race. We all came from the same ancestors, and the physical diversity of the world population has only come about because of sheer geographical accidents of climate and the isolation of wandering bands. Thus, the distinctions that have been drawn between peoples are purely arbitrary and superficial.

When we start to see others as fellow human beings with the same needs, aspirations and desires as each one of us, then we'll know that we've broken the barrier that divides us as members of humankind. By then, racism would have become part of our collective past.

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