Aspects of Racial Discrimination


From The Editor's Desk

(Hinduwebsite Editorial - Exploring Truth Amidst Illusions and Distortions)

Racism is often identified with racial prejudice or discrimination. However, it is a form of attachment by people to their racial type, skin color or ethnicity, which results in discrimination or prejudiced thinking, beliefs and behavior towards other races and ethnicities and the notion that human beings can be categorized and distinguished according to the common, genetic and biological features of their race and ranked as superior or inferior.

Although some hold it as holy grail and practice it with fanatic zeal, racism is an irrational idea, with little or no scientific basis. Yet it manifests in numerous ways in human behavior, creating in the process stereotypes, political ideologies, social and cultural barriers and false narratives, which keep the world divided.

Racism is a product of group think and group identity based upon shared beliefs, racial archetypes and mental constructs. However, racial prejudice is not confined to the superficial aspects of racism only. Ethnic stereotyping and cultural biases are part of the racial prejudice and attitude which breed the belief that certain groups are superior or inferior to others.

Whatever that binds a group as a cohesive unit and builds its strength and status can potentially lead to prejudice and discrimination by the group, especially if it is going to benefit them in tangible ways or increase their power and prestige. History shows that human groups tend to discriminate against others when they feel threatened or their interests are at stake. Discrimination and mutual animosity tend to intensify among them when each group aggressively competes with others for limited resources, and when certain groups seem to have advantage and better privileges over others in securing them.

Racism has been declared unlawful in almost every country. Discrimination on any ground is also considered unconstitutional. Hence, racism or discrimination is intentionally not practiced by any government or country as a policy. However, covert racism and discrimination do exist in many parts of the world.

For example, in developed nations such as the USA, UK, France or Russia you may not see many people, who openly practice racism or racial prejudice. However, you cannot say that racism does not exist. Minorities do perceive subtle forms of discrimination and racial bias. They receive lesser wages and enjoy fewer opportunities to improve their lives and economic conditions. They are also treated with greater distrust and fear or patronized with condescending attitude.

Discrimination and bias are more serious problems today in many countries than naked racism. People tend to form into groups, and group identities play an important role in influencing their thinking and behavior. For example, identities that arise from nationality, caste, tribe, religion, geography, language, political affiliation, ideology, gender, profession, institutions, etc., may also influence human behavior and attitude and lead to discrimination, bias and divisions

For this very reason, UNO does not focus upon racism but upon racial discrimination. It defines “racial discrimination” from a broader perspective to include “any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.” It was adopted by it in 1965 the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Therefore, it is inappropriate to attribute racism to only particular people or people of color. Discrimination, racial or otherwise, is universal and exists wherever people develop attachment to their group identities and promote them at the expense of others. The following are a few examples of how discrimination in its numerous guises is found in many countries and cultures and keeps the world divided.

1. Racism exists in almost every country in Africa, most importantly as the offshoot of nationalism, tribalism and ethnicity. People may still remember the worst kind of genocides that happened in countries like Rwanda, Uganda, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, in which millions of people died in tribal and communal conflicts. The content of Africa is riddled with the worst form of tribalism. It is rampant in many African countries and exists noticeably even in the business and corporate sector. Many companies and businesses tend to recruit people of particular tribe or ethnic group with which they identify, unless they do not find a qualified person from that group.

2. Discrimination based upon nationality also exists in many African countries. Migrant Africans who live in a different country other than their country of origin are discriminated, ill-treated and sometimes even killed. For example, Nigerians who live in South Africa, people of the Republic of Congo who live in Uganda, people from Sierra Leone and Niger who live in Nigeria, or people who live in Kenya from adjacent countries are subjected to many social and economic disabilities by the native people. Idi Amin, the notorious dictator of Uganda, ordered the mass deportation of all Indians who settled in the country. Worse, under his orders his henchmen put to death hundreds of people who belonged to a different tribe. In Zimbabwe, many white farmers and their families were either killed or driven out of their farms by the local people in the name of socialism, while the government looked away.

3. Racial or ethnic discrimination exist within the African community in the USA. The mainstream Africans do not show the same enthusiasm towards migrants from Ethiopia, Somalia, or West Africa or consider them their equals. Some of them dislike ethnic groups such as Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Asians, Latinos and Arabs. The bias extends all the way from school children to criminal gangs and adults and keeps the communities divided and uncommunicative.

4. One can see discrimination based upon nationality or ethnicity in many Latin American countries. The Mexican authorities do not kindly treat the people who migrate from the surrounding countries. People who enter Mexico from other places with the final intent to enter the USA face harrowing treatment from cops, criminals and drug dealers. Most of them end up dead, tortured or thrown into brothel rings. There is a nexus between cops and criminal gangs in most of these countries.

5. Racial discrimination, based upon ethnicity, nationality or religion, is practiced in many Far Eastern countries. For example, people of Indian or Chinese origin, are discriminated by the locals. Among the native people also one can see divisions based upon tribe, location, language or religion.

6. Racial discrimination on the grounds of castes, tribes, communities, linguistic groups, color and region is very noticeable in many parts of India. People of Africa who live in the country as migrants or students or workers suffer from many disabilities. So is the case with people from the Northeast and those from the mountains. Africans are derogatorily called "Kalas" "Kalus," meaning the black ones, which is a racist word. People do not easily rent their homes to Africans, people from schedule castes and tribes, Muslims, and people of certain ethnic, and tribal origin. Many North Indians also discriminate against South Indians making fun of their appearance, pronunciation, food habits, or skin color.

7. Religious discrimination is very noticeable in both Pakistan and Bangladesh where Hindu minorities are regularly attacked and persecuted for their religious beliefs, while women are raped or forcibly converted to Islam. Due to widespread discrimination and violence against them, many Hindus migrated or escaped from there to India. Sri Lanka, which is a predominantly Buddhist country, is also not free from religious and ethnic discrimination. Hindu Tamils face discrimination in Sri Lanka, which resulted in a protracted civil war. There were reports that few years ago the Sinhala army engaged in systematic, mass destruction of Tamil people.

8. Racial discrimination exists in the Islamic countries also based upon color, nationality, religion, gender, and language. Shias are discriminated in Sunni dominated countries and vice versa. Minorities are treated like second class citizens. Even Muslims from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan are considered racially inferior to Arabs and treated as unequal. They are discouraged from marrying local women or engaging in sexual relationship. It is not difficult to imagine how non-Muslims are treated in these countries, where discrimination is justified on religious grounds and practiced as a state policy.

Discrimination on any grounds by groups and individuals is a global phenomenon and part of the social dynamic, which is expressed in many ways and goes by several names such as racism, nationalism, regionalism, communalism, casteism, gender bias, tribalism, etc. White racism is just one aspect of it. Cultural, national, social, political, economic, religious and ethnic discrimination constitute a far more serious problem and threat to the humanity.

Even though racism or racial discrimination is unlawful, it still exists in many countries in subtle forms as an undercurrent. You can see it when certain groups enjoy economic or political advantage or corner most benefits. You can see it when a minority person applies for a job, talks to a customer service representative on phone, visits a business or commercial establishment, or goes to a restaurant and places the order. You can see it when influential people and politicians either ignore them or their problems as if they do not exist or speak about them with patronizing and condescending attitude.

Discrimination within human groups will exist as long as the humanity exists, because human beings tend to feel safe and comfortable when they are united with others and with whom they share many common features including their religious or ethnic identity. Racial discrimination of the broader kind, which we have defined before, cannot be eradicated anytime soon. Since it tends to favor the dominant and majority groups, people will resort to it whenever it favors them.

It may be contained with suitable laws, education and regulations and by empowering people with legal rights so that they can assert themselves or protect themselves, but cannot be totally eradicated. Where strong groups exist, discrimination exists in some form. Discrimination is part of our selfish and self-preservation instinct. One can discern it even in animals. It is therefore incorrect to attribute it to a single country, community or race. Some groups benefit from it and derive undue advantage while some may suffer.

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