Experience, Opinion

Race – a social construct

One of the things that were introduced in How to be less stupid about race was that race is only a social construct, meaning there are no biological differences between the races the human has defined. For further reading and understanding, please look at this and this.

Racism is systemic, and that’s why white supremacy has been surviving and thriving for so long. But why do we need the concept of race altogether? If genetically, race does not exist, why does it exist in our minds? 

Now – of course, this is easy to answer. We are part of societies, where racism is structural, so all of us are socialised within those concepts/terms. Our minds are fed with ideas, that the white race is superior. Two examples I can give, growing up in Germany as an Iraqi girl: Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Now, one trait of beauty in Iraqi culture is light skin. My mother used to judge women’s beauty like that all the time, when I was little (her perception has changed a bit now). This is plain racism, and when you dig deeper you’ll find that racism against black Arabs is rampant in Arab countries. On the other hand, I remember going to a Lotto shop with a white friend. A customer was in there being served, and his dog started barking at me. The customer smirked and said, “My dog doesn’t like Turks!” In an attempt to protect me, my friend shouted at him, “But she’s not a Turk!” In both stories, racist ideas are disclosed. And both of them go against people, that look different, and it might only boil down to having darker features. But obviously, my involvement in them was different. In the first story, an understanding of beauty was handed down to me and ultimately, I was being taught to have a racist understanding of beauty. I remember a teen conversation with a friend (also with an Iraqi background) in this context. She was attracted to the musician Shaggy. I was not, and I expressed that. I don’t remember exactly, what I said, but it might very well have been something completely stupid and even racist. Her response I remember to this day, “Your taste is so typical Arabic!” To me it was clear, that she accused me of favouring white looks. So, she accused me of being racist. As someone, sensitive to this, it struck a chord and it probably taught me an outstanding lesson. 

In the second story, I was at the receiving end, and I remember being scared and shocked. Growing up as a Middle Eastern in Germany does expose you to racism in a myriad of ways. It can teach you to hate it, but it can also implant it in you, at least subconsciously.

We live in times, where migration is increasing, and travelling all around the world is part of our regular lives. People are intermingling, and differences are melting away. Even attitudes towards differences are changing widely. As people are intermingling, it means they have ancestors from different continents. How would you classify such “mixed” people? In a world, where “mixing” is spreading more and more, will there be even a need for a concept of race in the future?

If race doesn’t exist genetically, and it is literally dying out in front of our eyes, why don’t we move on faster and eliminate it altogether? All of us have heard about the explanation for why humans categorise and classify information. And it still makes sense to simplify things in social situations, where we get overwhelmed by a manifold of new impressions. But it is only doing us a disservice, when we’re trying to build up a more just society. It’s literally blinding us to values and methods other cultures celebrate that could benefit us and heal our society. For some specific instructions, please have a look at How to be less stupid about race

Now – whether you are a racist or not, people tend to hang around with people like themselves. Honestly, only when I moved away from Germany, I really started mingling with people, I wouldn’t have met, had I stayed in the same social circles. So, it requires an active effort to step out of your comfort circle and embrace diversity. Unfortunately, we tend to believe our group is better than others. We make quick judgements like that all the time, and it leads us to blame others for our problems. Instead of analysing a situation out of anger or frustration, we have to sit back and dig deeper within us. If we’re not happy with or about something, it’s rarely another group’s fault. We are in charge of our own happiness and freedom, so we need to discover our own truth first. How you can do this, is greatly described in Freedom is an Inside Job by Zainab Salbi.

Kids are great teachers in so many ways. Their minds haven’t been tarnished by our beliefs and social constructs yet. So, let’s take their openness to life as a guideline. We need to strip ourselves off harmful ideas. Question our values and beliefs. If they’re not based on logic and reasoning, they might need to go in the bin.

Have you ever caught yourself out thinking racist? Acting racist? Living racist? How do you deal with it? What do you do about it?

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