NORTHUMBRIA, UK – The continued aggressive suppression of black skinned former slaves in the United States has triggered fierce global outrage.
The wave of anger sparked by the murder of George Floyd implied that racism is directed exclusively against black skinned people and that the only perpetrators are white.
Would that the issues surrounding race and racism be so simple.
A search for understanding of racism needs to begin with the ethnic rivalry that is embedded so strongly within every culture.
Wherever in place and whenever in time they have been located, those perceptions of difference appear to have been a pre-condition to the survival of separate human groups.
These differences helped fuel the collective bonding that has been a cornerstone of the ability of every village, clan, tribe, region or nation’s to enjoy communal strength.
It is unfortunate, though, that ethnicism also carries within it attitudes that can fuel racism
Which means the success, or otherwise, of humanity’s collective effort to suppress the downside of deeply rooted ethnicism will determine the stability and worth of the society, country or world we live in.
It is important to acknowledge that ethnicism is not itself racist - although the heat of current discussion surrounding this subject has encouraged many to assert that it is.
One its manifestations is simple suspicion of outsiders.
But this can easily descend into disparagement of other cultures and then be corrupted into the extreme racism which fuelled the industrial scale transplantation of West Africans into north and south American slavery during the 18th and 19th centuries.
At its extreme it can lead to acts such as the Nazi extermination of Jews in the period 1941-45 - rightly labelled as the most abhorrent of all recorded crimes against humanity.
But ethnicism is not confined to white skinned Caucasians or westerners.
Cantonese in the Peoples Republic of China continue to label westerners as ‘foreign devils’ or gwai loh while Japanese refer to westerners (and perhaps everyone else) censoriously as ‘outside persons’ or gai-jin.
In the meantime Papua New Guineans have their own words, not all of them kind, to describe, or discuss people in neighbouring families, clans or provinces and those who have come to PNG from other countries.
This underlines how difficult it is for human beings, wherever their location, to avoid ethnic attitudes.
So is the task to prevent racism by suppressing aggressive forms of ethnicity?
Or is everyone who has ethnic thoughts a racist too?
If the latter is the case it is impossible for any individual not to be racist – although it is of course important that people suppress it because humanity cannot thrive unless it finds ways in which every one of us can cultivate amicability and to help people of all ethnicities get along together.