Racial, Ethnic & Sexual Identity & Difference - Pt 3
Last Updated: 14 June 2016
Fear and Negative BeliefsNot all groups have a strong or aggressive 'group' identity that makes members feel good about themselves. Some such groups may lack the self-belief that comes from strong sense of difference. In such cases, members of the group may be more prone to becoming fearful. As Yoda says in Star Wars, fear leads to the dark side! Not that we are suggesting that you look to Star Wars for all your philosophical inspirations (although it does contain analogies to various religious and philosophical beliefs and simultaneously racial stereotypes in an alien setting to amuse). Racism is very damaging to one's self esteem, much as other prejudices are like classism or any behaviour which instills negative beliefs. It is clear that those with low or reduced self-esteem may tend to become fearful and construct (consciously or unconsciously) beliefs about themselves which are not entirely positive that instill fear of certain people or situations on some level. And indeed in many cases these fears may be based on real situations or people that may subject them to more prejudice and insult. However, as with any fear, it is not entirely rational or based on objective reality.
Fears and negative beliefs often tend to be generalised and non-specific. Even fears which are individual specific may not be appropriate as the same individuals do not always act in the same way. Ultimately fear causes distress, defensiveness, paranoia, misery and unhappiness, and stops a person fulfilling his full potential. We are not judging those who experience fear. We are merely looking at the consequences for that person and society in general. Fear of racism in those with a low self-esteem and weak group identity may often lead to defensive or paranoid behaviour. A fearful person is generally not so approachable, no so likeable or attractive to others, and will tend to stick to others he or she considers familiar. This is why shy people who don't come out of their shell rarely mix with members of the opposite (or same) sex enough or are rarely able to 'make a move' to chat someone up, and why potential boyfriends/girlfriends pay little attention to them but focus on those that are more confident, fun and attractive. Fearful people who anticipate racism or hate where there is none (i.e. paranoid) may come across excessively defensive, obnoxious or even racist (as a form of perceived defense). This in turn may fuel the racism the fearful people were trying to avoid, as it may often accentuate their difference and provide negative characteristics for people to add to the stereotyped image of that group's list of generalised characteristics.
The opposite of identifying oneself with a group because of physical or other 'defining' characteristic is the practice of trying one's best to hide this quality, orientation or characteristic. Those who choose to do so may be shooting themselves in the foot. For example, psychology works in such a way that if you act naturally, and act like whatever particular attribute you have is no big deal, and are relaxed, open and honest about it, then others will take very little interest in it and will respect you for your honesty, being yourself, being an individual and respect you as a friend as you are willing to open up to them. Conversely, if you do your best to hide a particular attribute, e.g. the fact that you are gay, then people will notice this and may well gossip more about you, joke about you, not respect you and perhaps find the person rude, if they tell some people and not others. Indeed, the person trying to conceil the particular attribute may think they are succeeding, but everyone around them knows about it anyway. If you try to conceal something, then it may come across as dishonest, unfriendly and even shameful - as if the person hiding it is ashamed of it, or that it is shameful. In a sense you are positively attracting people to develop such opinions of you, reinforcing social taboos, awkwardness and stigmas. When one chooses to hide an attribute, such as one's sexual orientation (i.e. the fact that one is gay, or that one has a boyfriend/girlfriend, referring to one's partner as 'one's friend'), there may be a number of reasons for doing so. Perhaps one considers it private, perhaps one doesn't want the aggravation of confronting what one perceives as narrow minded people, perhaps one doesn't want to be gossiped about, or perhaps one just wants to be treated as everyone else. Ultimately it comes down to fear, low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence. A huge amount of effort can go into hiding one's sexual orientation, for example, but it is ultimately pointless and unnecessary. One is doing nothing to further wider acceptance in society of other people with that sexual orientation. Ironically, by trying to avoid something, one is creating (more of) it! As usual, nothing good can come out of fear. However, it is up to the individual what they choose to say or reveal to others, however fearful their behaviour is.
It is clear that aggressive and strong group identities and fear serve a purpose and have some advantages, but there are clearly inexorably negative qualities to these which cannot be avoided or mitigated in any way. To combat prejudice in general, we perhaps need to try to educate people on all sides as well as boost the confidence of those who lack confidence (perhaps by providing outlets where people can get good support in a non-group reinforcing manner), whoever and wherever they may be, and provide equal opportunities, neither positive nor negative discrimination. You cannot force people to let go of fear, but you can help them to increase their self-confidence whereupon the fear will likely completely disappear. Fear restricts our behaviour and is a natural self-defense mechanism to keep us away from danger. However, not all fears are founded upon real danger. Some fears develop through one particular experience and are generalised across the spectrum. Some fears are well founded, and if we ignore all fears we have ever had we may find out the hard way that something is indeed worth avoiding after all. We have to be honest about what our core beliefs are to really find out what our root fears are, and then we can choose whether we want to do anything about them or not. Fear limits behaviour and can be used to encourage behaviour we would not normally engage in, and as such has been an excellent tool for controlling people throughout history.
Nazi Germany was probably one of the first nation states to use propaganda to its highest effect. It spread false beliefs about Jews to spread undemocratic policies and to do whatever it liked whilst keeping the people loyal and fearful. The Soviet Union used fear via the KGB (secret police) to control the general population and control freedom of speech and curtail political activism.
Hitler in a sense was the first modern politician. He used the media to great effect to promote himself, to create an image that the public could relate to, a public face (as opposed to his private face). He performed and put on an act in front of crowds and the camera to gain kudos and to get what he wanted. He was an image creator. An expert in using his body language to influence others. Using hand gesturing to elaborate his points. Politicians before him had never used the media in this way before. Now it is standard practice in political parties advertising campaigns and public speaking. Modern politics is all about emotionally connecting with people and image making, not really about policies and logic. 'Spin' has in the late 90s and early 00s become a powerful tool in UK political life.
Advertising agencies have since the demise of Hitler's Nazi party used many Nazi-style 'propaganda' to help sell products, to instill beliefs in people about why a brand is inherently good (brand value) and to create a pain or enlarge a pain in people which their product can heal. Modern governments may similarly use fear to control the population and institute policies that it wants which would normally never be approved. Fear of difference or prejudice is clearly not a good thing and can easily be exploited by others. These examples of political history were used to elaborate on the concepts of fear and difference, but it is not the business of this web site to delve too much into politics, and respects the different political opinions of its readers.
Even today, aggressive nationalism uses the fear associated with race to promote government policy. Even well educated journalists confuse 'Israeli' with 'Jew'. Within Israel, many Jews are far from convinced about the policies of its government, but outside of Israel, if anyone publicly criticises Israeli policy, they are branded 'anti-semitic' or anti-Jewish. It is easy to confuse 'race' (if such a thing really exists) with 'nationality'. Indeed, many use the term Jew to refer to a 'race', others to someone of Israeli nationality, others to someone of Jewish ethnicity and others against to someone of the religion of Judaism (Judaic or 'Jew'; 'Jewish' religion). Indeed, many people who have converted to Judaism, but who are not of the 'Jewish race' are termed as Jews. Why have society and people who consider themselves to be 'Jewish' have become accustomed to using confusing terminology and confusing concepts depending on context? Given the vast number of words in our language, it is rather ridiculous to be so imprecise and ambiguous.
Wikipedia defines 'Jew' as follows.
> To read more about fear and negative beliefs, please see the Focus and Belief page.
Double StandardsIt is not infrequently noted that when a person, often but not necessarily of leftist persuasion to varying degrees, who strongly believes in equality between homosexuals and heterosexuals, and indeed between 'races' or 'ethnicities' or social groups in all areas of life observes an example of a racist, classist or homophobia remark, the gut instinct is often a knee jerk reaction; to jump straight in and to condemn that person for the prejudiced or insensitive remark; abhorrence at how a person can be so insecure, childish or horrible; as if they are defending their country against an invading enemy; the desire to 'slag someone off' and judge them for being a bad person, and to make themselves feel better that they are righteous, rational and a 'good person'. The reaction to the racist or homophobic remark may often be out of proportion to the original remark and is often a reaction to all cumulative historically experienced remarks of such a nature directed towards one person. Indeed, such a 'politically correct' person may well be just as judgemental if not more judgemental about the 'prejudiced person' as the 'prejudiced person' was of the 'coloured person', 'white person' or homosexual in question. This is a common double standard and one that is not widely understood or entertained by the general public, except perhaps in some right-wing circles.
In addition, the person may well hold certain stereotypes for racist persons based on appearance, the presence of a British flag or certain trigger words, and anyone who happens to fit in with this physical description may well be treated in a prejudicial manner, e.g. a skinhead or someone with short hair. Politically correct persons of such a persuasion may also believe the media's views of certain youth culture groups, with no real knowledge or interest in learning the finer differences and history of youth culture groups, which compounds the above. e.g. history of mods and skinheads, and the fact that most skinheads in the UK are not far right extremists but influenced historically by Jamaican and mod culture. This can result in unfounded accusations of racism, comments about a person looking like a racist, give dirty looks, nasty stares or other unfavourable treatment - the precise things they themselves complain about from racists. Judging people on apperance, for emotional reasons, without knowing who they are, is one of the trademarks or racists and a quality that is heavily criticised by anti-racists, yet this same type of fearful behaviour is exhibited by many anti-racists, albeit in a different context. Some commentators believe that it is hypocritical to adopt the clothing or appearance of the 'oppressor' and claim that one is not the oppressor as this is the impression you will give. I can understand this logic to a degree, however, what constitutes the appearance of the 'oppressor' is not so black and white, and quite often the perception of the 'oppressor' is a stereotype based on the actions of a minority. Equally in the alternative, art, industrial, punk and gay skinhead scenes, donning the appearance of the 'oppressor' is a form of self-expression, empowerment, irony, mockery, liberation and/or challenging of past cultural fears - giving the forms new meanings or creating more ambiguity within their meanings. Also I think that once you start going down the road of telling people how they should dress so as not to offend anyone or trigger fear, then this is a slippery slope of conformity, and you are right back to the unhealthy situation before punk happened, and the youth have to then challenge the status quo all over again, possibly in a less favourable manner. In my youth, I was warned by a friend of mine who lived in a neighbouring town with a large Asian population that wearing Dr Marten boots (we were 'stoner anarcho punks') was likely to either scare or provoke members of the local Asian community because of their fear of the skinhead stereotype.
Those who have experienced racism or ethnic prejudice in the past may also be oversensitive about anything resembling 'offensive' references, even if there is no such intention and the connection is highly speculative at best. These types of misunderstandings often result from emotional pain but also from a lack of understanding of/interest in/tolerance of the contemporary culture, i.e. a lack of empathy. This is both a symptom and cause of prejudice against them in a self-perpetuating cycle, and an example of arguably unreasonable intolerance perpetrated on behalf of the victims of racism. One example, is of a young couple with their daughter being forced off a bus outside Sheffield in September 2014 because they started singing the 'Peppa Pig' theme tune (a well known children's cartoon) to their 15 month old child to comfort her, and several passengers starting complaining to the conductor that she was being deliberately racist and that she should be removed from the bus, which the conductor obliged as he had no interest in standing up to those complaining. This type of behaviour could be classed as 'tyrrany of the oversensitive or politically correct'. Such examples are widely publicised by the more conservative tabloids and are used by the right and far right as evidence of lack of cultural integration and having to apologise for one's own national culture because of 2nd and 3rd generation Muslim immigrants. This may in turn fuel more racism against Muslims, because of this type of attitude (preceived or real), which in turn makes Muslims more defensive about perceived racism, and so the cycle continues. Tabloid and news coverage of emotionally-charged incidents of 'tyrrany of the oversensitive' are often reported in a scornful, condescending way, rather than to show understanding for the issues and to reach out to these minorities encourage them to feel more involved and attached to the commonalities of national cutural experience, and more empathic towards people outside their own closed communities.
Those who are 'shocked' by racism exhibit the same judgementalism (probably worse) than the actual 'racists' themselves. They reinforce the stigma and emotional intensity attached to 'race' rather than just recognise and let it go or deconstruct it. The person who made the remark is 'out of order', labelled with a negative label, looked down upon, scolded and demonised rather than helped to rid himself of the 'pain' or 'trigger' they had that led them to make the remark in the first place. Demonising and dehumanising an individual is a trait of those with extreme prejudice in whatever form.
One is conditioned to react to something that offends us, and we as a population are almost programmed to look for things to offend us, so we can feel justified in being really 'offended' and being in the right, something that satisfies our egos. We are looking for an excuse to look down on someone or to reprimand someone. Of course, this web site is not condoning prejudice, but it is making a case for not responding to prejudice and negative judgement with more of the same. A perhaps more productive and constructive approach is to ignore the remark or to respectfully find out why such a remark was being made, and get to the bottom of what issue the person had was actually causing it in the first place. Often a 'racist' remark is just an expression of a social frustration about a mode of behaviour of a certain individual. By merely condemning someone as being prejudiced, one is achieving very little, apart from bullying them into not doing it again, and perhaps even reinforcing their position (defensive response).
Hidden Reasons for RacismFear is not the only issue with 'racism'. Fear of people we do not understand and have little contact with. Fear of a majority group that one feels one has not integrated with. Fear through have little economic, family and social power.
Prejudice occurs for many different reasons, and often a combination of reasons. In many cases, a person wants to believe a certain thing because they have a deep down disgust (e.g. snobbery, class hatred, inverted snobbery, beliefs about skin colour, etc.), fear or envy of a particular group of people. Of course, they may not admit these as rational reasons for looking down on this group, so they look for an excuse to hold these beliefs. This excuse can be a single bad experience with a single individual, and that bad experience is then associated with every single person belonging to that group. And in addition, one may seek to 'punish' any member of that group one comes across as they are somehow responsible for that one bad experience one had with an isolated individual a long time ago. The conscious mind has many filters to information that it receives, and we may conveniently forget bad experiences associated with groups that we do not have a deep down fear or envy of, but vividly remember those bad experiences associated with those groups that we have a deep down fear or envy of. Similarly one may conveniently forget those good and positive experiences one has had with a member of that group, and somehow compartmentalise it, so the exception does not spoil one's convenient world beliefs.
For example, because of one mugging incident, one news story, one act of bad driving, you may want to believe that all black people are potential muggers, or all BMW or Mercedes drivers never indicate, regardless of the many positive experiences you have had with these groups. Yet 'white' people may get nervous if they see a group of 'black' youths. And people may become abusive when they see someone driving a BMW. If one is to be honest with oneself, one cannot truly make these generalisations and believe in them. Comments may blurt out in the spur of the moment with some individuals, for example, whilst driving, but they are quickly realised to be non-factual and just there to make oneself feel temporarily better. Eliminating prejudice clearly requires people to be honest with themselves about their core fears and envies, and to understand how their brain files and filters experiences. Sloganeering and preaching to the converted is unlikely to achieve very much and in many cases reinforces concepts of difference. Quite often it is rigid adherence to a concept of ethnicity and fear of others of other ethnicities which causes 'racism', and ethnicity, or rather, the perceived anti-social, defensive or different (non-evolved/integrated) behaviour of a number of people (not all) of a different 'ethnicity', that causes resentment and friction; and which cause people to use the concept of 'race' to define who they don't like (i.e. everyone belonging to that 'race' group). This is how some people can be racist about 'black' people they don't actually like for whatever reason, but still have 'black' friends with whom they are never racist or have racist thoughts about (compartmentalised behaviour). The 'race' becomes a scapegoat.
When we look at prejudice and ways to tackle prejudice, we must first understand what the prejudice actually is and what is causing it specifically, in order to tackle it. For example, 'racism' is other a combination of one of more of the following. Often an objection to one is expressed in the form of objection to 'skin colour' or 'racial stereotype'
- objection to a particular mode of communication or behaviour
- objection to a certain mode of body language
- objection to a certain type of attitude, including perceived defensiveness, obnoxiousness or antisocial behaviour, judged by one's own personal or cultural standards
- objection to a certain way of speaking, language, accent or lack of fluency in the national language
- objection to a certain national affiliation or 'ethnicity'
- objection to a certain religion
- objection to a certain type of appearance, facial characteristics, skin pigmentation, body size, obesity, clothing
- objection to a certain gender or age
- objection to a certain social class
- insecurity about one's own national, ethnic or class identity
Homophobia can be attributed to one or more objections to the following characteristics (and indeed some of the 'racial'/'ethnic'/'class' characteristics described above), and expressed as a general distaste or aggression towards a homosexual male or female.
- objection to body language
- objection to speech and the sound of a person's voice
- objection to a lack of perceived stereotypical 'masculinity' or 'feminity'
- objection to the presence of stereotypical qualities of the other sex in that person
- objection to a certain type of attitude, including perceived defensiveness, obnoxiousness or antisocial behavioru, judged by one's own personal or cultural standards or sense of sexual identities
- objection to perceived abnormally high level of promiscuity
- objection to the sexual acts engaged in (regardless of who is doing them to who), e.g. oral or anal sex
- objection to the sexual acts engaged in between two persons of the same sex, e.g. oral or anal sex
- objection to perceived 'sordid' method of picking up a sexual partner, e.g. in a public toilet (often reflected in a fear amongst men to enter a public toilet, even more than women!)
- objection to the perceived mental state of an individual - homosexuality seen as a mental illness or psychological weakness
- objection to homosexuality on the grounds of it being an unnatural instinct (for human reproduction)
- objection to homosexuality on the grounds that it is an affront to God
- insecurity about one's own sexual identity - the conditioning of concepts of gender roles, behaviour and mannerisms by society and the media. By seeing something that contradicts these deeply ingrained images and ideas may make us feel uncomfortable.