Let’s take a closer look at racism
Guest contributor and social worker Vicky Ang shares her thoughts on racism.
WHAT IS RACISM? Different people have different ways of defining racism, usually in their own context, and levels of ‘tolerance’. But what actually is behind this heated social issue that endlessly plagues different societies all around the world?
“People with fairer complexion look cleaner.”
“I am scared of darker skinned people. They look scary.”
“People of that race smell funny.” I have heard this statement so commonly made, aimed at Eurasians, Africans, South Asians and even Malaysians (ALL races of Malaysians, for that matter!)
Are these racist statements? Or are these personal opinions of different people? Should we have the liberty to choose when to discriminate based on our own definitions and limitations of racism? Is institutionalised racism so prevalent that we hardly realise that we could be guilty of racism?
Why do people racially discriminate? From personal experiences and encounters, these could be some possible reasons.
Some people see others who look different and admire the beauty that they see. Some plainly see the differences and judge those differences based on their own cultural norm. Well, some see no beauty or even anything related to beauty and have funny alarm bells that go ringing in their heads telling them to cringe, dislike, judge negatively or perhaps even run.
According to the ‘Out of Africa’ theory, we are all one big family that originated from Africa.
The introduction of this theory shocked so many people! How is that possible? We all look SO DIFFERENT! The simplest explanation for it is that migration to other lands with different environmental differences has brought about physical changes in human beings.
These natural changes occurred to enable the human species to adapt, survive and thrive in their new surroundings. The change of environment in turn through thousands of years has affected the physical appearances of these migrants.
Food. We all eat to stay alive but we do eat different things based on our different racial and cultural backgrounds.
What you may consider a delicious meal may be taboo for another. What others may consider delicacies may be considered insane to you as well. The food that we eat is prepared with available ingredients during a certain point in history at that specific location. With advances in transportation and shipping, we are now able to enjoy food that may be prepared with ingredients previously not available.
For some who are more exposed to food prepared by different cultures, their taste buds may allow them to enjoy a wider range of international cuisine. For those less exposed, they may shun anything that tastes different from what they are used to.
Before we make quick remarks on how disgusting another culture’s food habits are, we should first consider their roots and the reasons why they eat what they eat.
What we eat determines who we are to some extent. It affects our build, the tolerance of our bodies, stimulates certain physical reactions and at times causes us to smell a certain way.
Clothing. Due to environmental differences, traditional clothes vary in material, design, texture and colour.
There is a definite reason why certain cultures dress the way they do. It could be due to the weather, religious beliefs or the activities that they carry out. Instead of laughing at another that is too heavily clad or skimpily dressed, we could instead appreciate the creativity and design of what they wear.
Practice. Shoes off or on when you enter one’s house? Do you eat with hands, chopsticks or other utensils? It is natural that we have different lifestyles from another of a different background.
Whatever it is, try to understand before jumping to conclusions whether he or she is more or less ‘civilised’, superior or inferior. Unless certain cultural practices cause hurt or pain to another being, we should learn to understand and respect the differences as well as challenge ourselves to see the uniqueness of our ‘neighbours’.
Understanding all these differences, let us explore the bigger picture and some root causes of discrimination.
Xenophobia – your people versus my people. There are many people around us (if not we ourselves) who think that we are the best people in the world and anyone who is different is just ‘wrong’.
If we uphold human rights and respect another person who has equal rights and dignity, we will know that xenophobia has no place in our world.
Stereotyping. What we picked up as children and continued to learn as adolescents and adults caused us to categorise people in ways we deem fit. This shouldn’t be, actually. Some bad apples shouldn’t stop us from eating apples forever.
We can even find differences in the most identical of twins so we should treat all human beings as individuals with certain uniqueness. We should stop ourselves from racially discriminating another and learn to educate our future generation against racial discrimination.
We are all human beings after all. We are all born with the same right and dignity as the next person that we might be discriminating. We all grow up experiencing physical changes, we all fell when we were learning how to walk. We all lost our teeth and grew new ones. We all love and we all cry. Red blood flows through our veins. We all have emotions and eventually, we will all die. But in the meantime, we all need to survive. As much as we do not want others to judge us based on the way we look or more so the way we are born to be, we should not cast the first stone. And if a racist stone does come your way, instead of retaliating and being accused of being aggressive on top of the racist statement that has been made, graciously try to educate your abuser.
Racism sparks conflict and conflicts bring about tension and on a macro level, even war. Let us try to move forward towards a world that promotes peace.
They say that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. I say that everyone is beautiful in his or her own way. Beauty should not be viewed with our eyes only. We should feel beauty with our hearts.