Author: Teemu Koskimäki

  • March 19, 2019

Manifestations of racism and bigotry in the 21st century

The 30th of October in 2015, at 8 am, I wrote down this:

“Write your hate speech against racism so you’ll have it on hand when you need it.”

I wrote this down because I was frustrated about an apparent increase in bigoted and racist attitudes in the western culture, and because I had personally encountered people who portrayed bigoted cultural habits that to me seemed wholly inappropriate but seemed normal and acceptable to those who propagated this “casual bigotry”. I knew that sooner or later I would have to stand up against this bigoted ignorance, but I did not know what I would say when that time would arise.  

Two things have finally pushed me to write down my thoughts: Another encounter with casual bigotry and the abhorring tragedy of the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand on the 15th of March, 2019.

I will address this complex topic from three perspectives: casual bigotry, extreme acts of bigoted terrorism (represented by the New Zealand tragedy), and the systemic causes of bigotry.

I am not a social scientist, nor do I pretend to be an authority on this issue, but this subject bares importance which, I think, overrides any excuse to remain silent.


“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Desmond Tutu

Casual bigotry

I have observed that in the Finnish culture (and I think this may apply to most other countries) it is common to casually joke around at the expense of minorities or other groups of people who do not share our customs, language or looks. This seems to be generally accepted behaviour.

One possible explanation for this might be that people do not see how joking could actually hurt someone. The truth is that it hurts similar to how bullying hurts. It may be a joke to the perpetrator, but the victim(s) of the joke can feel attacked, ashamed and alienated. In fact, I see little difference between casual bigotry and bullying, except that the former has to do with bullying individual people, and the latter is bullying against a group of people that are somehow perceived to be different or inferior.

To extend the analogue, if you are not the primary bully but you are a bystander who participates in spreading the hurtful ideas or behaviours (memes), you are a part of the problem. Not only do you legitimize and reinforce the behaviour of the bullies, you isolate the victim and magnify the problem. Sharing racist and bigoted memes online or in person is therefore never acceptable. Puns and jokes can be clever and funny, but when they continuously target a group of people and perpetrate bigoted ideas and stereotypes, they start to reinforce a culture of violence.

Does sharing racist content make one a racist person? It might be that a person does not ultimately support racist views but is merely ignorant of the systemic consequences their actions can have, or that the person does not understand how inappropriate joking about these issues truly is. If this is the case, sharing racist content means that the sharer is just ignorant (i.e. stupid). If, however, a person knows how unintelligent, destructive and offensive such behaviour is but does not care or stop, that person has given racism tacit approval.

People can be friends with individuals from other backgrounds, and still hold bigoted and racist views against all others representing that same background. Furthermore, they can even participate in spreading bigoted cultural memes about them. I have witnessed this first hand. This, I think, is a failure of intelligence. Instead of understanding and admitting that the prevailing culture of generalized bigotry is wrong about this supposed group, some people make exceptions and think that this one individual, or these few, were alright, but the rest are still (usually morally) inferior.

Racism is a sign of ignorance

It is undeniable that the amount of violence rich (white) people have inflicted upon poor (other than white) people in the past few centuries is absolutely monstrous and abhorrent. Not recognizing this is either a sign of ignorance or moral cowardice. 

It is also undeniable that poor minority sections exist in many modern societies as an outcome of centuries of economic and cultural oppression, and the lack of adequate support and help from wealthier groups.

I have heard a claim that other cultures (e.g. muslims) have more human rights violations, which is why they are more likely to present a danger as immigrants. Even if that were true, it would not be because of any moral inferority, but because a history of oppression (by western powers) would be statistically reflected in the cultures today. As culture is a product of circumstances, the harder the circumstances, the harder the cultures. We may not be able to change the past, but we can start helping the oppressed cultures now. Racists wish to blame the other cultures so as not to take any responsibility. However, the right thing to do would be to share our wealth, not close our borders. To end oppression and to provide aid.

Finally, racism is not even based on anything real. “Race” is not a thing. The human species shares an incredibly unified genome, and we have no biologically distinct races. It is a purely made up concept that creates artificial divisions where none actually exist. There is more variation within, than between human populations.


“If you were raised by the headhunters of the Amazon. You’d be a headhunter. And If I’d said to you ‘Doesn’t it bother you to have five shrunken heads?’ You’d say ‘Yes, my brother have twenty.’ So… Is he nuts? No. That’s normal to his culture.”

Jacque Fresco

The 2019 New Zealand tragedy

I agree with the position of Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, who refuses to name the terrorist responsible for the attack. Instead of using a name, I will call the terrorist “that human”, because no matter how much people would wish the person to be seen as something as distant from us as possible, the fact is that it was a human, reflecting something that is happening within humankind.

That human feared that arabs would replace the European whites. This terrorist act was one in a series of extreme acts of bigoted terrorism by the supporters of extreme right-wing ideology:

“In 2011, a white supremacist and neo-Nazi murdered 77 people in Norway. In 2015, a white supremacist walked into a Charleston, S.C., church with a gun and killed nine people. In 2017, a white supremacist shooter killed six and injured 19 at a mosque in Canada. In 2018, a neo-Nazi and failed political candidate in Italy targeted and shot immigrants, injuring six.” – Washington Post

The terrorist acts of white supremacist humans are a reflection of fear that is born out of ignorance. They seek to protect something they think has value. They hold the old mythical (nonsensical) concept that white people are not only separate from other human populations, but also worth preserving somehow “pure”. In this twisted view of the world, the stories they tell become the reality they experience. All this is amplified by a general cultural acceptance of bigotry and the casual bigoted memes, which the fundamentalists may well interpret as passive support of their agenda.

The culture of islamophobia – that was conceived mostly by the U.S. in the process of securing their imperialist interests in the Middle East – has spread across the world and infected the minds of ignorant people who seek someone else to blame for their own problems.

Not many years ago the poor of the world (non-white) were much more separated from the rich (white), as the regions they inhabited were still barely able to provide for them. Today, however, climate change and the resource wars in the Middle East have destroyed the regions capacity to provide and the extreme scarcity and disorder have created fertile ground for fundamentalism and violence instead. The obvious target of vengeance and hatred has been the U.S. and other western societies who have taken part in this global game. And as we have now made living conditions unbearable in the Middle East, they have started to move to western countries.

By many this has been seen as a threat to the cultures, resources, wealth, stability and safety of the western countries, instead of seeing it as our responsibility to help. Some even more ignorant and bigoted people on the other hand have seen this as an attack against the “race” of white people itself. This is a reflection of the false idea that we are somehow separate from each other, reinforced by the false concept of nationality. In fact, the New Zealand attacker was a self-described ethno-nationalist. Although nationality can create a certain feeling of unity, it also creates a strong feeling of separation, of us against them, whereas in reality, we are one species sharing one planet. This extended feeling unity is something we all should strive to internalize.


“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”

Albert Einstein

The human responsible for the New Zealand attack was inspired by a French author who has been granted an audience through major channels as a part of public discussion about the “great replacement” worldview. Some Muslims feel that this has helped to normalize the extremist ideology.

Indeed, many scared and simple-minded people might well begin to sympathise with the xenophobic views not only when they are spread through casual bigotry, but also if they are handled by the media without great concern for the underlying danger. I support free speech so long as it is not used to inflict or incite violence on others. However, I also support questioning everything. Opinions are not equal in terms of logic or sustainability, and none warrant immunity from criticism. If bigoted viewpoints are discussed on major platforms, their harmfulness should be made clear.

The systemic causes of bigotry

After the New Zealand attack, the media has mostly focused on the prevailing gun laws and the reactions of individual politicians, instead of the root causes behind the tragedy. This needs to change.

Changing gun laws is a good initiative to make mass shootings more unlikely to happen, but they do not change the underlying causes that incentivise people to do such acts, and will therefore not be sufficient to stop future attacks. Only focusing on the root causes (ignorance and inequality) can cure the problem.

Even more important than blaming or praising the responses of public figures to terror attacks is directing focus towards what creates a tendency for bigoted worldviews, and how to change the existing socioeconomic structures so that those tendencies are removed.

As I think ignorance is behind all bigotry, I support the following measures to counter it:

  • The reduction of income inequality within and among countries.
  • The reduction of inequality in the access to education and healthcare (including mental health).
  • Improvements to the education of children and teens that would teach them empathy and how to think critically and scientifically.
  • Less nationalistic rhetoric (especially in schools) and more information about how all cultures have contributed to the development of the human species.
  • Educating people on what is required for strong global sustainability.

A further structural issue relating to bigotry and racisim is the general apathy created by the current socioeconomic paradigm. Apathy may also be one of the perpetrators of racism, because when people do not care enough about the future, or the consequences of their behaviour, they do not bother acting morally. Therefore, to change humankind for the better, ultimately the whole socioeconomic system needs to change into something that incentivices altuism and is competent in distributing resources fairly and achieving strong sustainability. Only by initiating such true change can people start gaining some hope, which could help combat the general apathy.

Currently, we live in a messy transition period where national and cultural borders are becoming less and less evident, and this is creating a violent retaliation from those who have identified themselves with some imaginary groups or concepts of space. We need to help all people see that they do not have to fear this change.

Conclusions

Bullying and violence is not the answer to anything, for it will only increase the differences and hatred between people. People in need must be helped by sharing the wealth that is so unequally distributed by the current socioeconomic system, not only within nations but also between them. Instead of fighting, we need to nurture discussion about our cultural and moral differences and try to reason what is or isn’t sustainable and right.

A change of values is now required, for both the rich (mostly white) and the poor (mostly non-white). The rich need to understand that they are partly to blame for the environmental and social problems in other countries and cultures, and it is now their responsibility to help those in need. This is not only the right thing to do logically and morally, but it also protects everyone from the pain and violence that originates from inequality, scarcity and fear. Immigrants coming from those deprived areas in turn need to be carefully guided to respect the values and rules of the nations who take them in, in order to facilitate peaceful mutual existence.

Maintaining public and social morality and opposition towards bigotry, together with mending and healing the fears felt by the public, are now of paramount importance. I fear that unless ordinary people stop accepting casual racism and start supporting structural changes to the global distribution of wealth, we will continue to see extreme acts of bigotry.

Increasing environmental problems will amplify scarcity, inequality and suffering in the decades to come. This will create substantial economic hardships and necessitate large structural socioeconomic changes. If the widespread ignorance and xenophobia is not countered now, it may well jeopardize our changes to achieve a peaceful and prosperous outcome for the 21st century.

White supremacism and the more widespread casual bigotry are increasing problems that are rooted in ignorance. Each one of us needs to stand against it now, not later, as a matter of principle. There needs to be absolutely no social tolerance towards hatred and bigotry, no matter how small. Do not be a bystander.


“The old appeals to racial, sexual of religious chauvinism are beginning not to work. A new consciousness is developing which sees the earth as a single organism, and recognizes that an organism at war with itself, is doomed.”

Carl Sagan

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Thanks for reading and (hopefully) sharing! — Teemu