On the arrow that hits it, the bird recognizes its feathers. So goes the proverb, or at least its translation. We are seldom affected by something that is not already in us. What is in us may not always be a fact, a strong belief, a rational thought. It may just be an idea, passing by, recurrent because of its singularity, its deviance from the norm. Freud said that the most horrific ideas and thoughts may stick with us, in our cogito, not because we adhere to them or believe in them, rather because they’re so different, so peculiar, so offensive, that they stick out from the infinite flow of ideas and thoughts our consciousness experiences on a daily basis.
People, in the media, on Facebook, on Twitter, are talking about racism. I have never experienced it, in a direct way. No one has said or done something to me that can directly be characterized as racism. Maybe I was lucky, maybe it was subtle, maybe it happened behind curtains, in someone’s mind. May be a file found its way to the bottom of the pile because of the name on it, may be someone was less pleasant with me than he would have been otherwise. The fact is, I don’t know, for sure, that I was subject to racism. Still, the idea is there, as palpable as the air we breathe. Why?
First, the idea is there. Right wing supporters are there. they are expressive. The media, thirsty for buzz, clicks and sensationalism, has given them a voice. Hitler said that a lie, repeated a handful of times, remains a lie; repeated a thousand times, it becomes a reality. It’s »trueness » is irrelevant. You could generalize that to any idea, if it’s there and it’s repeated everyday by media outlets all over the world, in every language you can understand. The idea of racism is there, the media says the right is rising…You can’t help having it in your thoughts. Then you hear stories, some misplaced comment a co-worker fake-jokingly told a friend, some landlord that rejected some acquaintance’s excellent application on discriminatory grounds… then begins the “reverse”, or “upward’’ racism, which is also racism, in it’s core, as it operates on the same principle and with the same mechanisms : Overgeneralization on the whole, based on the behaviour of the few. In a modern society, we suffer a plethora of prejudices on a daily basis, and we don’t always have all the information about their root causes. To a “victim-happy’’ mind, racism can be an easy scapegoat that confirms and furthers pre-existing beliefs and biases. Of course, there is no denying the actual existence of racism, in facts and in numbers. This is not an attempt to minimize or confine it to the imagination of lazy self-victimizing third-worlders. How absurd would that be?
Second, we are not rational beings, not entirely. We don’t rely solely on facts and empirical observations to assess and decide. Feelings, the unconscious, to which we have little access, are a major part of how we experience life. People get sick, are cured, simply by the fact they think they are, which means that the effect of the mind and what it experiences go far behind the consciousness realm. Marcus Aurelius, the roman emperor, said that »[…] life itself is what you deem it, either gratefully better or bitterly worse than something else that you alone choose. » Everything is about perception. Jim Jefferies, the comedian, if a comedian can be quoted without being laughed at, said that » you know that you exist, and that’s about it”. Everything beyond that is perception, subject to interpretation. (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of it…) That means that the glance that old white man gave you in the tramway could mean anything or nothing. His gaze might just be passing by, he could be lost in his thoughts, he could just be noticing your presence, you could be reminding him of that trip his co-worker took to Morocco once…Except in your mind, your presence, your sight makes him uneasy. You say to yourself, »F*.. him ». You might just have caused him a potential prejudice for a crime he might be innocent from. You wish these thoughts never came to you. But they are there, you can’t help it. We have little control of our minds and the thoughts that go through it, and our efforts to control it are pretty much always counterproductive …the ideas you try to suppress end up starring on the spectrum of the thoughts you have, indefinitely coming back until they’re replaced by new ones…You are in self-inflicted torture, albeit without any factual evidence. You might as well have experienced it first-hand. Racism does not need to be blunt to be real.
You are a good person, maybe a people pleaser to some degree. You abhor those ideas that man might or might not have had, not for his convenience (you don’t know him) but because you don’t want to be perceived that way. You don’t want to stand out that way. You want to be drowned in the mass, like that white guy there, sitting on the bench reading a book. You want to blend in so much that you make one with the whole. You don’t want to stand out, at all, for that person who does not know you and should not be considering you at all. What a sad little world we live in. Our differences, instead of being celebrated for the joy, the »newness », the »alterity » they can bring to our lives, are »tolerated ». What an ugly world, TOLERANCE. An attempt to humanism, tainted by all the evil of mankind. To tolerate is to suffer but not act. It is not »to welcome », it is not even »to be indifferent ». The indisposition, the disturbance is still there. Like a migraine; the different is tolerated, not welcomed or even ignored. How far does this TOLERANCE go? How lenient is it? Does it forgive small mistakes? Does it allow imperfection? When the white man sees the ‘‘other’’ jaywalking, does he see an erring human, or a subpar humanoid yet to be familiarized with civilisation? A humane, inclusive society, to my sense, is one which, while not anarchic or lawless, does not dictate a military-like code of conduct, not permeable to small mistakes. As always, and to EVERYONE, Law is sovereign in its spirit, not in its letter.
The title of this article is inspired by a comedy special title, from Trevor Noah, the comedian and host of the daily show. Back in South Africa, his country of origin, his very existence was a crime, because he was the result of the love between a black woman and a white man, which was illegal during the Apartheid. He was a crime, through no fault of his own or of his parents, mainly that of the brush people tend to paint him with. The plight of Muslim, Arab, or African men, if not the same in proportion/duration, is comparable, at least in the premises it stems from. Then there’s you, the educated immigrant. You studied, achieved a degree, an » intellectuality. You have a decent job, pay your taxes, and hold yourself to a saint-like exemplarity. You certainly smile a lot, and you’re sorry an awful amount of time. Therefore, you are not to be confused with some pseudo literate nobody who «grew up on government subsidies and handouts ». You desperately want to differentiate yourself from those who look like you but are not you. They were born here, but only physically. To everybody, including you, their birth was elsewhere, somewhere to the south, beyond the Mediterranean Sea. They drive or deliver, for most, and are more prone to criminality than their fellow white citizen. Still, people see you and assume you’re one of them, that you could steal their wallet, that you’re there illegally, that you beat your wife and want to establish Sharia law in the West. How can you convince them, without talking to them, that you do not fall into that category, that the experience his neighbour had is not enough grounds for the stereotype, the overgeneralization he might or might not be making? Do you shave off your beard and go for the most “un-brown-muslimy’’ look there is? Maybe get a tattoo, a piercing, a Harvey-Specteresque look at all times? How far do you distance yourself from yourself?
J’accuse. You’ve made yourself an accomplice of this aberration, this injustice. You’ve made yourself guilty of the same reasoning you accuse the « others » of. Your education, if it didn’t teach you humility, might as well have taught you nothing. How are you any different? Virtue, they say, is only a matter of circumstance. You are Django Unchained’s Stephen (Samuel L Jackson), a treacherous slave trying to create a sub-caste of slaves by flagellating his fellow slaves too. Pathetic ! To the ‘‘Master’’, you’re the same, because his gander is his only metric, and ganders don’t read degrees nor bank balances, not yet.
You see, You are not yours, whatever your efforts. The language, however perfect, does not matter. The years, however numerous, do not matter. You are what the other makes of you, according to his personality, experiences, and biases. Until we find a solution to imperialism and imperial thought, in a fairy-tale world, until we collectively train our minds not to take easy shortcuts at first glances, until being “x-ian’’ is not associated to a certain look, until Identitarianism -and the inherent feeling or superiority/inferiority- are not dissolved in the factual and inevitable plurality of modern societies, Racism shall persist, and thrive.