A dog is a domestic animal with four legs and a tail. My cat is a domestic animal with four legs and a tail. Therefore my cat is a dog.
Logic can be a slippery thing — a conclusion can only be reached using the information that’s available. Selective reasoning is well known to the radio shock jock and is used by him to give his audience the potted arguments they need to back up the ready-made opinions they desire.
Racism has its reasons and these are often backed up by a similarly incomplete logic.
Some of the things that one might hear may seem to have little or no thought behind them, but there has to be some form of reasoning there, however shallow:
The Yatovians from down the road stole my letterbox, so all Yatovians are ratbags.
– Pretty feeble. Just lazy really.
They don’t look like me, they don’t talk like me, they must be against me.
– A narrow perspective. A dimly lit mind. Get a life!
The immigrants are taking our jobs.
– Fear. It’s well known that immigrants create jobs through their need for a house, a car, furniture etc. This is either fear based on ignorance, a parroted mantra or simply an excuse for racist ranting.
Those people from over the mountain have been raiding our villages, stealing from us and killing us for centuries. I hate them and their entire race.
– More compelling, it would pay to be cautious, but it doesn’t prove that all of that race are thieves and murderers, or that they condone theft and murder.
Ethnic tensions run deep in many countries. These tensions may have their roots in age old grudges where each side has retaliated against the other side’s retaliation for generations. The original cause could be either a celebrated or long forgotten
incident. Minorities fear majorities if there has been a history of oppression.
Majorities fear minorities because they may, or already have, hit back. But is this really a matter of race? Is there something in the genetic code that determines that the people of two warring clans will hate each other?
Some might say so, but would two orphans, one from each clan, brought up together in a different place and time necessarily work against each other? And many, if not all of the problems between racial groups have their parallel in the feuds between separate factions of the same race. Similarly, ideological, religious and territorial conflicts are not dependent on race.
Then there is White Supremacy. Nazi types often claim European culture as their inheritance (I can just see a group of skinheads lining up to get into a Mozart recital). The cultural and technological advances of the West are seen as proof of white superiority. As far as art goes, its worth is subjective. Europe has produced works of incredible beauty, but the museums of the world contain artifacts from all cultures and all ages. In this postmodern era we are more open to viewing things from outside our own lives, and can be enriched by discovery. World music is alive and well and we would be the poorer if black America hadn’t invented 20th century music, to say nothing of all the Asian faces we see playing Beethoven and the like.
Technologically the West is seen to have created the intricate industrial and commercial web which has grown to entangle most of the world. This ignores the fact that other cultures have their own history of trade and technology, and these days the research institutes of the world contain people from just about every background imaginable.
It’s also a subjective (and arrogant) judgment to say that our digital technodrome is the apex of human achievement. Intelligence is measured by an individual’s ability to deal with their environment. The skill of the hunter in the forest may be just as sophisticated as that of the bond trader or the software designer. The society he belongs to may equal, or even surpass us in meeting human social needs.
And anyway, how many of us have designed something that has led to a great breakthrough? How many of us really understand quantum mechanics? We ride on the back of the genius of others.
Once, at a dinner party, the subject of indigenous Australians came up. The face of the woman I was speaking to turned sour and she expressed her lack of respect for Aborigines because they had never invented the wheel. I looked at this large ageing farmer’s wife and thought ‘what the hell did you ever invent?’
The most logical reason I can find for racism is economic advantage, building an economy through the creation of an underclass. The slave trade was built on this logic and provided wealth and comfort to those in the slave owning class. Africa provided a ready supply of humans to be exploited and they looked different so were easily identified to be categorized as inferior.
Color, of course, is a very useful aid to discrimination. Anti-Semitism is an essential part of a racist’s portfolio, but when a group of white people appear at the top of the hill it can be difficult to tell at a distance that the Jews are. Whereas, if some of the group have dark skin, Clem Plonker can tell whom he’s superior to from half a mile away.
Creating a racial underclass has its logic – generate wealth through cheap labor. This overlooks the possibility that the misery and degradation of a section of society could create instability within the system that could lead to its collapse. At the very least the ruling class could end up living in gated communities fearing that the poor will find a way to climb over the walls and murder them in their beds. It may seem logical to those that feel comfortable in their golden playpen but it’s not a rational design for a stable society. Also, moral blindness leads to inner poverty.
And what of anti-racism, does it have a logic?
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”.
I think the idea that Dr. King expressed here was not a warm and fuzzy dream but a truth. It’s the content of the character; it’s always the content of the character. For example: How can a white pedophile be superior to a black pediatrician? No contest, one’s a zero and one’s a hero.
The words white and black are not as powerful as the words they’re joined to. Yes, this could be seen as a subjective judgment, but few would put the child molester before the child healer.
When applied to human beings logic must take morality into account, otherwise a logical human answer will not be found. We are not mathematical problems or machines but complex biological organisms that are aware, that feel and think. Racism causes suffering and injustice so should be seen as immoral. This immorality must not be overlooked.
Every race contains its saints and its sinners, its geniuses and dullards. It is neither rational nor right to suppress the contribution an individual could make to a society because of superficial differences of race. We see scientists, doctors, academics and even astronauts from many races and any child, given the right circumstances, has the potential to achieve great things. And even the most humble of us can achieve the ordinary greatness of openness and generosity.
The logic of racism is good only for those who are comfortable with being blind to the suffering of others. For those who are so insecure that they feel threatened by difference. For those that don’t have what it takes to think for themselves and break with the mob. Its logic rendered incomplete by something that’s missing in the individual.
I don’t pretend that this piece is comprehensive, or even completely logical. I am just another human trying to make sense of the world around me with the information to hand. Do any of us really use logic to arrive at our racist or non-racist positions, or do we just interpret the facts to suit who we find ourselves to be? I admit to being biased, I think that racism is for the small minded. There is so much to be learned from people of different backgrounds that I find it completely illogical to deny oneself the experience of their stories.
image courtesy: http://www.quakerhouse.org/QH%20Exhibit/images/end_racism_thru_unity.jpg