Practical Race Theory & The American Racist
Updated: Nov 6
Politics often divides people unnecessarily. On the other hand, racism and prejudice are very important issues and must be dealt with honestly.
In an attempt to look into this issue accurately, we will break it down into a sequence of three questions:
Is racism present in America?
Is it because Americans or white people are just particularly racist?
Is there institutional racism in America?
(You will notice the answers getting a little longer as we go.).
QUESTION 1: Is racism present in America?
The answer: Yes. Obviously.
Individuals still experience it.
QUESTION 2: Is it because Americans or white people are just particularly racist?
The answer: No. Well… no more than anyone else.
Look into the history or culture of any country on the planet and it will not take very long to unearth acts of prejudice within their society. Of course, we should also expect to see differences in severity from place to place, based upon culture, values, and civility. But prejudice is universal. It is not a function of race, religion, creed, or culture. It is function of our (shared) humanity.
PRACTICAL (Human Animal) RACE THEORY
The truth is that racism and bigotry — and the emotion of fear from which they emanate — are instinctive. Humans are insecure, emotional, group-thinkers. Like all mortal mammals with a fight-or-flight survival imperative, we are biologically programmed to fear those who are different or foreign because they represent a possible threat to the security of our group. That fear is the root of all prejudice and bigotry. Racism is therefore programmed into our biology (as are other dangerous traits like predatory violence, or antisocial traits like selfishness.) In some, this fear-based reaction will manifest as mildly bigoted behavior, but in others, it can escalate to physical or even mortal harm. (In fact, the extremeness of the reaction is in direct proportion to the degree of fear and insecurity of the perpetrator.)
Any perceived difference is a perceived threat, and that fear is the root of all prejudice and bigotry.
The most important fundamental truth we need to grasp in order to understand racism (and all other dysfunctional human behavior) is this. The vast majority of human decisions are not made by our intelligence, they are made by our survival instinct. Our emotions are our survival instinct’s alert system: negative emotions register a (perceived) threat; positive emotions signal the absence of threats. Emotions are neither logical nor calculated. They are instantaneous reactions to input from our surroundings. Our intellect does not inform our emotions. The opposite is the truth. Our emotions determine our reactions, and therefore, usually our thinking too, wrapped though it may be in many comforting layers of rationalization and complex justification.
Every decision we make is designed to make us feel safe. It is not designed to be right or wise.
We all live instinctively to one degree or another, but just about all of us are convinced that the opposite is happening, that we are living with intention and choosing wisely. If we were, our lives and world would not be so filled with pain and dysfunction.
Against this backdrop, wherever people react instinctively, there will be group-think, and there will therefore be prejudice or racism against any minority or foreign influence that is present. We would therefore expect to see racism against minorities wherever human nature runs the show, or more accurately, to the extent that human nature is running the show. Do not be fooled, however, that it is only directed towards the minority. Prejudice occurs against anyone who is not in our group, whether they are the minority or the majority. It is 'other' that is dangerous — them, not us.
Racism will not come from everyone, but it will certainly come from those who feel most instinctively insecure. This can manifest as a racist White American against Blacks (or Hispanics or Asians), a racist African American against Whites (or Hispanics or Asians), a racist Englishman against Pakistanis (or Muslims), a bigoted Jihadist against gays (or women, who are not a minority but simply physically vulnerable), a tribal Hutu against Tutsi, a cruel popular kid against a weak or nerdy one, et cetera. It is also possible to be prejudiced in one area (like, say, religion) while not being prejudiced in another (like race).
For those who react instinctively, things that increase fear and insecurity also increase selfishness and prejudice. As a result, incidents of prejudice will tend to go up with the stressors of increasing population density, decreasing resource availability, and difficult economic times. And especially when all three occur at the same time.
Wherever people strive to evolve beyond such primal fear-based group-think, and to the extent that they succeed, they will exhibit less racism, prejudice, and bigotry.
This appears, to this author, to be the simple and self-evident truth about racism.
(Of course, it may not be the most politically expedient.)
Is there institutional racism in America?
This answer requires a little more nuance.
Institutions are made up of human beings. Most human beings live their lives choosing and acting based upon their survival instinct, based upon what makes them feel most safe, subconsciously.
To the extent that the members of an institution (or their society) are racist, then racism will be reflected in its policies. And those policies will remain until they are changed.
To the extent that people do not analyze why or how they do things, racist policies from previous times may persist in an institution, simply through lack of changing it, even if the current members are not as (or at all) racist. They would then be guilty of being oblivious to the experiences of others and to the need for change, perhaps because they never really thought about it that way. But they are not necessarily guilty of being racist individuals.
Since American history cannot be divorced from either slavery or Native American genocide, there will invariably be policies or remnants of policies from earlier times that still trouble the communities against whom they were originally intended. Other communities may not be as sensitive to or as quick to recognize it when it occurs. Such policies, when they are recognized or pointed out, though, should of course be eliminated.
WHAT RACISM IS NOT
We must not make the mistake, however, of thinking that racism is a defect of only one group of people or of only one type of person. Prejudice, racism, and bigotry are programmed into the biological animal that is the human body. We, as its pilots, have the task of recognizing such primal impulses within our nature and subverting them on an intellectual level. This is, of course, possible, but it is certainly not automatic. It requires awareness, intention, and consistent effort. Until it is well-enough ingrained that it no longer requires effort.
There are many people who exhibit a lack of certain types of prejudice, for example those who marry across racial 'lines' or those who convert to another religion. There are some societies in which this lack of racism is more pervasive or visible than others. But there are many in which the average human being lives according to the imperatives of their survival instinct — while remaining oblivious to the fact. Such instinct will always harbor mistrust, dislike, or worse, toward some group, idea, or race — to some degree, even if only minimally.
This is one of the best arguments for us recognizing the truth of our instinctive thinking, so that we can work to elevate it. The extent to which we are able to rein in our animal nature, and to take the reins back from our animal in the mirror, is the extent to which we are evolving ourselves as individuals and as a planetary society. The first essential step, though, is being aware of the necessity to do so!
In answer to our third question, while America is not an institutionally racist country (any more), it nevertheless has lingering sentiments lurking and elements of subtle racism persisting that are yet to be expunged.
While some policies must of course be improved, we should all grow ever more aware of and vigilant against our reactive nature. History, however, must never be whitewashed or edited, lest we forget, and lest we instinctively stumble into repeating our past mistakes — mistakes born of our nature, mistakes that lie simmering just beneath the surface of our thin veneer of civility, ready to express themselves again whenever fears become aroused.
And all too often, especially in the sphere of politics, there are many who are intent upon arousing our fears for their own ends.
How do we move beyond prejudice, then, if it is literally programmed into our fight-or-flight endocrinology, at the level of our DNA and biochemistry? (It is important to note that prejudice is not present in everyone in equal amounts because it is a function of the fear and insecurity we experience in relation to other people and this 'dangerous world.' While we humans all share this mortal biological foundation, our fears are not present to the same degree. They will therefore affects our behavior to varying degrees.)
In the opinion of this author, we work to subvert prejudice in two steps. We first understand its subconscious and reactionary nature. We then drag that nature out into the light of our conscious mind, and we override it using choice.
A prejudiced reaction will bubble up from our insecure limbic brain whenever it is faced with an idea or person that is different or foreign, as we discussed above. In order to make it conscious, we must expect these promptings and recognize them when they emerge from our subconscious emotional core. We must then exercise a conscious, intellectual override: we veto the impulse. We must recognize which fear this reaction is trying to soothe, and how the action it is prompting us to take would make us feel more safe. We then interrupt the process. We tell our inner animal 'Down, Boy,' and we instead choose to react as a more evolved and civilized person would. We reinforce the thought that the difference we are observing is not relevant, and that all people are really the same. Our fear-based reaction is thus prevented from moving into the world of action. In doing so, we can reject the innate suspicion born of our ten thousand year-old predator-prey dance, and actively counteract it in our thoughts and behavior. (Obviously, this is not to say that all threats should be ignored in a world that still contains very real dangers.)
It is essential that we realize that our emotions derive from our survival instinct and not from our intellect. The evolving person must always remain on guard, inwardly, policing our animalistic impulses, standing read to veto them. We must lead with our intellect, with the undeniable logic that tells us we are all endowed with equal humanity. We live up to that vision in spite of our biological nature, not as a result of it.
APARTHEID vs SLAVERY
As an American who is also an ex-patriot South African, I recently realized that I had for a long time equated Apartheid in South Africa with Slavery in the United States. The mistake is easily understood: both systems were evil and many good people gave their lives in order to bring them down.
But Apartheid was not like Slavery. Apartheid was like the American South after Slavery. African Americans were forced to live a separate life, using separate amenities like bathrooms and drinking fountains. They lived in fear and resentment of the average white person, who could make their lives a misery so easily if they chose. And they lived in fear of the police, of frequent arrests, beatings, and even convictions with or without cause. They enjoyed no equal rights, no equal representation, and little access to the marketplace, to quality education, or to prosperity. The Civil Rights movement would therefore represent the American equivalent of the end of Apartheid.
Slavery itself, however, was much worse than an Apartheid reality. Slavery delivered the kind of harsh brutality that we might imagine when reading the story of the Exodus from Egypt — back-breaking work in the fields under the lash of a cruel task-master's whip. It is no wonder, no coincidence, and most appropriate that Harriet Tubman’s code name was “Moses.” She risked torture and certain death during her many missions to rescue enslaved people from the plantations, for they were truly suffering a plight of Biblical proportions.
It is essential that we not only recognize the evils of the past, but understand the biological imperatives within us that give rise to them. Only when we understand this can we choose to move beyond our instinctive fears and group-think.
We can banish prejudice and racism from our lives and from our world if we teach our children the truth of the human machine so that they might understand themselves and their fear-based emotions better. (We are not currently doing this!) If they can put their instinctive impulses in the proper context, they can make more evolved choices and live healthier lives.
We undermine this goal, however, when we allow issues like race to become politicized. It is not political. It is a universal human flaw that we must see as such and work to defeat, together.
I am an Earthling. And so are you. There is an animal in my mirror, just like there is one in yours. That is the truth of our story.