Racism, Everywhere: Resisting a Secular Culture War

Racism, Everywhere: Resisting a Secular Culture War April 28, 2019

Louis Hansel, Unsplash.com, CC0 Licensing

Let’s begin with a story. Some two years after walking into the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City, the man who on January 29, 2017 murdered six human beings, paralysed another, and injured eighteen more was sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 40 years. The prosecution wanted 150 years behind bars, which would have been a Canadian record, but Justice Francois Huot noted that “punishment should not be vengeance”. At 29 years old, the murderer stands a chance of reforming and being granted parole.

In the interim, the Quebec City mosque has expressed solidarity with a range of similar atrocities: the Manchester Arena bombing (May 22, 2017: 23 dead, 139 wounded, radical Libyan Islamist suicide bomber), the massacre at the Pittsburgh Synagogue (October 27, 2018: 11 dead, 7 injured, white supremacist shooter), and the bombings in Christchurch (March 15, 2019: 50 dead, 50 injured, white supremacist shooter). But there has been no paucity of others. Since the Quebec City mosque shooting alone, North Americans have been shaken by mass attacks close to home like the Las Vegas mass shooting (October 1, 2017: 59 dead, 527 wounded, white shooter’s motive unclear) and the Toronto van attack (April 23, 2018: 10 dead, 16 injured, white incel perpetrator).

Meanwhile, for some, there’s hardly been time to recover from one attack before another emerges. Take, for instance, Kabul, Afghanistan–a city of about 4.635 million. Here are all the mass murders it’s endured since Canada’s mosque massacre:

March 8, 2017 (49 dead, 63 injured, ISIS claimed responsible, Haqqani also suspected)

May 31, 2017 (150 dead, 413 injured, Taliban presumed responsible)

June 3, 2017 (20 dead, 87 injured, no party named as perpetrator)

June 15, 2017 (6 dead, 10 injured, ISIS claimed responsibility)

January 27, 2018, (103 dead, 235 injured, Taliban claimed responsibility)

March 21, 2018 (33 dead, 65 injured, ISIS claimed responsibility)

April 22, 2018 (69 dead, 120 injured, ISIS claimed responsibility)

April 30, 2018 (29 dead, 50 injured, ISIS claimed responsibility; Taliban also suspected)

August 15, 2018 (48 dead, 67 injured, ISIS claimed responsibility)

September 5, 2018 (20 dead, 70 injured, ISIS claimed responsibility)

November 20, 2018 (50 dead, 94 injured, ISIS presumed responsible)

In the last two years, in one city, 577 died and 1274 were injured from the most prominent mass attacks alone. People at hospitals. People at funerals. People at prayer. Children. Civilians. Human beings, all of them.

And in an ideal world, these would all be dead that we grieved. We global humanists would be able to pour our efforts into addressing the greatest sites of trauma and recovery work the world over.

But instead, we have the blisteringly stupid rise of further fear, further hatred, further violence to contend with close to home.

We have people with similar impulses to the murderer of six men in Quebec City, on January 29, 2017, to pull back from the brink.

And how incredibly infuriating that, while it’s just so simple to pin radicalization to religion in Kabul’s examples, the same human mediocrity, the same appeal to the lowest common denominator through radicalization, also exists in such supposedly “culturally enlightened” parts of the world as well.

O Canada, You Secularized-But-Still-Racist Lunk

I’ve been writing quite a bit as of late about racism, in essays on white-culture entitlement, white supremacist historical ignorance, the role of Western-atheist rhetoric in racialized violence, and a dogwhistle of a religious term. Today I need to talk about the recent rise of emboldened white supremacy in Canada.

Dear, sweet, 24%-no-religious-affiliation Canada.

I want to point out first, though, that “Canada” is still an idyllic concept for many. Many Canadians have contributed significantly to the world under its banner. Many Canadian children look up to those role-models and aspire to do the same. Many others, outside Canadian borders, long above all else to join its ranks. And I salute the image of Canada that all three groups advance.

But there’s no denying that Canada’s history is racist. Canada’s built on land stolen from indigenous people it attempted to wipe out. Its first prime minister was a racist even for his time, being the only one to use “Aryan” in reference to Canada’s central character. It exploited Chinese workers to build its signature railroad, then isolated an entire generation of Chinese immigrants from their families through an aggressive head tax. It threw Austrians and Ukrainians into concentration camps during WWI, and the Japanese during WWII. It turned away Hindu immigrants in 1914–many to their death at British hands back in Calcutta–and Jewish people fleeing persecution in WWII. It kept the first prime-minister’s system of predatory, culturally-genocidal residential schools open until 1996. So–you get the idea: not a lot, intrinsically, to be proud of in our origin story.

Which is why, when recent articles noted a disturbing trend of radicalizing racism, especially towards immigrants, my first concern was this pretense that we’d just become racist. When did we ever stop to catch our breath?

But after permitting the knee-jerk incredulity to pass–after allowing that these papers are nonetheless reporting on the rise of a specific strain of overt xenophobia–I reminded myself that this strain wasn’t new in another way, either. I’d seen its rise firsthand during the U.S. presidential election in 2016. I’d witnessed, and spoken plainly about, the rise of emboldened racism up north to match the rhetoric of emboldened groups down south. I’d started learning Spanish in solidarity against it.

I’d ultimately left the country, in no small part, because of it.

Which led me–after a moment’s further stewing–to my second concern. My humanist concern. The question of what we–and yes, that includes even a Canadian absconded to Colombia–will do next. I left the immediate vicinity of that country’s social contract, but I did not leave–and never can–the obligation.

Because it is blisteringly stupid that we have to fight these tendencies again–but the alternative is making way for a normalization of more of the incessant grief and strife that cities like Kabul have to endure. The kind of mourning already, horrifically, becoming naturalized (anew) in the U.S.’s black churches and synagogues, too.

Global Humanism’s Progressive Mandate

There are some atheists who believe that the correct path to progress is simply to target and critique every last person of faith until faith disappears. I have discussed at length why a politics of anti-desperation is more effective, and I most recently tackled the idea that demonizing others only imbues their mythology with greater power.

But most of us, when looking at the strong showing of irreligion in polls of Westernized religious belief… Well, we recognize the same, don’t we? We atheists are becoming socially dominant, which means we are increasingly tasked to recognize a new role for our activism. It’s one thing to shed a body of cultural stories that are, at best, complicated and contradictory in their positive messaging… and at worst, utterly antithetical to honest and morally sound discourse. It’s another thing entirely, though, to shape a world so that it’s stable enough not to support new falsehoods in their wake.

And make no mistake: the tribalism underpinning white supremacist and anti-(brown)-immigrant movements is a symptom of said instability. Clinging to myths of racial purity especially has the power to provide shelter to white male persons struggling with their identity in a landscape of lesser automatic systemic entitlement (not to be mistaken as an automatic “good life” for all white persons–simply, a relative leg-up) in a staggeringly divided classist society. And what does the demographic of white male persons also tend towards at greater rates than other demographics?

Atheism. (Darn tootin’!)

Which means that secular folk are uniquely positioned to build stories that can tackle this problem. Culturally narratives that provide greater stability than those currently disseminated by groups seeking solely to stir up hatred and contempt–against immigrants, against women, against any non-conforming expressions of masculinity.

This is our fight, folks.

And while some rightfully chafe and rage at essentially having to convince a group of people not to be assholes… when we have more environmental refugees than ever (and the number will only increase if we don’t radically address the root environmental causes); when we have ongoing wars with a spate of tediously socio-political root causes; when we have a myriad of treatable diseases going untreated; when we have children living and dying in the most horrific of cultural conditions… we have to remember that we don’t need to put aside our anger to make a difference.

Be angry that this stupidity is part of the agenda for 2019.

Be angry that the supposed utopia of ideas that “rational” secular discourse was meant to engender has instead fomented its own brands of self-serving tribalist mythology.

But also? Commit to ensuring that this isn’t the social agenda for the future of our increasingly secular world.

How a Compassionate Humanist Can Fight Racism

As I noted in my essay on Western atheism as a proving ground for white supremacy, a loss of cultural status often finds white persons clinging to supposed intellectual superiority to justify their continued and fairly singular entitlement to a certain way of living, at any cost. This makes atheism particularly appealing, because its social-media discourse is ostensibly rationalist and empiricist (even if, in practice, it still looks a lot like the dissemination of smug, self-congratulatory anti-theistic memes).

But humanism requires more–and therein lies, I suspect, the challenge we can lay at the feet of those seeking the highest moral positioning in our growing secular world.

Humanism, after all, is a whole-species concern. It entails a recognition that our little spaceship contains 7.7 billion sentient beings under the banner of homo sapiens sapiens. And if we want to be the “side” that favours knowledge and discovery over strict, narrow-minded adherence to ancient stories, where better to start than with that fact?

Because informed empathy is not an easy skill to master. It’s practically automatic for we human beings to cling to singular stories of struggle–one toddler dead upon a seashore; one small child shell-shocked in an ambulance, coated with dust and blood from an horrific disaster. It’s a much greater intellectual challenge to extend our empathy across the nuanced playing fields of whole communities, whole slews of lives not captured in individual photos. And perhaps the greatest mental challenge in this moral real is the ability to hold–as a proper humanities education teaches us–dissenting ideas in tension, and to learn to be comfortable with the tension (even as we’re welcome to loathe one position on the spectrum!), when the alternative is to desperately rush to conclusions just so that we don’t have to sit with that discomfort for long.

(Think of it, dear readers of Dune, as the compassionate humanist’s pain box: There is no obligation to endorse any odious idea one holds in tension during such a mental exercise, but the longer one can hold even those horrible ideas in tension with one’s most strongly held humanistic convictions when reflecting on the nature of the human condition, the greater a lock one ultimately has on the complexity of detangling those most odious ideas from the human condition on whole.)

But can’t we just show racists that their targets have feelings, too?

Now, I’m not discounting the value of direct empathy building. Indeed, some folks are always going to argue that the way to pull people back from the brink of radicalization is to expose them directly to the humanity of others. I’m a touch more cynical, though. I think that our desire to know where we stand in social hierarchies is too strong, too fundamental to our animality. Moreover, because human behaviour to date has also found male persons to take wilder risks (for better and for worse), we’re fighting a culture in which this demographic is especially susceptible to hierarchy pressures in ways that violently threaten us all. (Another time, in another essay, I’ll discuss how feminized persons also manifest hierarchy pressures, and racism!)

But even if it is in our nature to be status-seeking creatures, this still gives us humanists a roadmap for anti-racist advocacy within a secular world–an atheist world–where the rush of being intellectually superior has for so long been tied to disdain for fairy tales.

What if we flipped the script on what constitutes intellectual superiority?

What if we re-centred that core humanities principle–the ability to hold ideas in tension and demonstrate a full understanding of each position (NOT to be confused with forcing others to accept your personal point of view in the interest of “balance”!)–as the true measure of intellectual superiority?

What if we refused to see as “superior” the fragile mind that still simplistically and erroneously believes the seat of moral reasoning to exist at a neurological remove from emotion? Who still holds to an outdated biological model for critical thought?

Remember that Lament about Ahistoricism?

I’ve written before on how frustratingly ahistoric we can be in our secular storytelling, and it’s just as true here as it is for supposedly “novel” diversity in Western culture. Indeed, we already have plenty of role models–masculinized role models!–to forward in this light. My appeal doesn’t involve reinventing the wheel so much as elevating masculine history from its reductive treatment in today’s discursive climate.

It means celebrating, say, that Captain James T. Kirk cried and feared openly for the safety of his friends, and once defended a mama rock from destruction at the hands of miners; and that Captain Jean-Luc Picard loved song and archaeology and literature no less for his ability to be bold and take life-and-death risks as the situation required it; and that Benjamin Sisko took on his parenting duties with a seriousness equal to his role of station commander, while also respectfully wearing the mantle some of his religious constituents had placed on his unbelieving self.

It means noting, too, that the mighty hand that penned Moby Dick, Herman Melville, was a man whose friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne involved an abundance of overt emotional affection in correspondence; and that Ernest Hemingway’s prose was often deeply sentimental (e.g. For Whom the Bell Tolls); and that Raymond Carver’s original stories, before being slashed by his editor, were also warmer and more sensitive works (e.g. the stories in Cathedral) than his reputation for minimalism would have you believe.

It means remembering that we had Ziggy Stardust and Prince and Freddie Mercury, and a heyday for Morrissey, and a hundred other musicians whose performance of masculinity was not diminished by the expansive range of possible human experience.

And it means remembering Carl Sagan (currently returning to stardust), and Neil DeGrasse Tyson (still with us), and a whole host of other secular figures who–while not perfect, for what human is?–made a mark for themselves with wonder above disdain, inclusion above tribalism; and who celebrated the pursuit of greater knowledge about our cosmos not as rigid empirical endeavour, but as giddy good fun.

The Take-Away

Canada, an increasingly non-religious nation, is like most of the West also experiencing a spike in people (predominantly white and male) whose socioeconomic insecurity has them choosing a supposed “enlightenment” of tribalist conflict, often taken to overt and violent extremes, over allyship with the rest of us in trying to diminish the staggering rich-poor divide at the core of their actual loss of social stability.

And this white-supremacist nonsense, this anti-immigrant bullshit in a time of greater-than-ever global mobility pressures, is the storytelling with which many human beings want to fill even a secular world.

So we humanists–of every stripe and background–have to do better.

Thankfully, though, we already have the tools for such an effort at our disposal. We know that rational thought is not a mental process that ever exists at a complete remove from emotion and related cultural input. And we know that our shared histories of masculine excellence (real and fictional) already contains a myriad of people whose exceptionalism was not directly predicated on manifestations of pride, anger, and shows of overt physical and intellectual dominance.

What our secular world thus calls for is a firmer application of scientific discovery and nuanced collective history than ever.

We can’t let people get away with claiming that they’re simply “being rational”.

We can’t let people get away with claiming that masculinity is diminished by anything but combative approaches to self- and communal mastery.

And we can’t let countries like Canada get away with pretending that racism and xenophobia are somehow new.

Because the problems are as old as the Western world itself.

But thanks to all the hard work of so many come before–thanks to the wealth of scientific data now at our disposal, along with greater access than ever to the full, wondrous range of human experience to date–perhaps it’s not impossible to imagine what we atheists are all supposedly gunning for:

A better secular story, still to come.

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  • Fmr ATrealDonaldTrump

    That said … it’s not like there’s not racism in Latin America, either. I don’t know much about Columbia in particular, but it exists in many other Latin American countries, sometimes fairly strongly.

  • Happy Zahn

    Wow. Clark is such a hate-filled racist. I could only read about half the article. Hope you find ‘fulfillment’ in Columbia. They sure know how to treat people right *sarcasm*. Canada is such a wimpy-valued country although quite strong against people with real values. I only know about some of the Prime Ministers and the laws so perhaps there is more to it. However, from the things that you are saying, it should be a great country for you. You could also move to a morally bankrupt place like San Francisco where, I’m sure, your brand of hate and loathing will be welcomed with open arms. Fix yourself first, then work on others. Have a great day.

  • guerillasurgeon

    Wow I don’t usually like to use these words but what a passive-aggressive post. Particularly about a column which in fact is trying to bridge the gap between racists and normal people and treat racists as actual people. So I can’t see any hate or loathing here. And I confess I haven’t been to San Francisco for many years now, but when I was there it seemed to be a very accepting place compared to much of the US. I think you have very different idea about morals to me at least and quite possibly too many other people. But that the risk of stereotyping you, you sound a little like a Christian, and you very rarely associate morals with anything other than sex.

  • blogcom

    If you’re an example of what constitutes a Humanist I’ll give you, and it, a wide berth.
    You obviously have serious self- hating issues not to mention a loathing of certain groups that can only be described as pathological.
    Good luck- you’ll need it.
    BTW your premises are a load of crap.
    Why don’t you leave Canada a.s.a.p. since it offends you so much.

  • Castilliano

    Well, Margaret, judging by several of the comments here, you’ve pinged on some racist radar out there. Kudos for aggravating them. And thank you for the efforts you put into your thoughtful essays (whether I agree with you or not). I hope your audience continues to grow, though hopefully in other directions too!

  • Jim Baerg

    Redundant word in one sentence
    Because the problems are as old as the Western world itself.

  • Jim Baerg

    Actually would say Western civilization is better than any other culture (However far from perfect) *because* of people like M.L. Clarke who look at its flaws & think about how to do better.

  • guerillasurgeon

    “If you’re an example of what constitutes a Humanist I’ll give you, and it, a wide berth. ”
    And yet – here you are.
    “Why don’t you leave Canada a.s.a.p. since it offends you so much.”
    Pretty sure she has.

  • It does, although it was brought there by European conquerors.

  • Margaret Leanne Clark

    Wholeheartedly agree. Good catch, Jim!

  • Margaret Leanne Clark

    Thank you for your comments, Castilliano, and I do hope this is a place where you feel comfortable sharing disagreements, if ever they come pressingly to mind. I find that a lot of (dissenting) commenters regard this column as prescriptive in a manner that doesn’t beget open discourse, but for me I’ve come to see these essays as “working papers”–and I strive to be upfront about amendments to point of view and language over the whole of them as I go.

    (How can I not be? I’m a humanist who hates cults of celebrity, so if I can’t model an acceptance of my own flaws and the ongoing development of ideas as I go, I’d be a bloody hypocrite to boot.)

    Truly, though–thank you for writing. Some posts leave me a little sick to the stomach upon posting, knowing that I will be met with nasty comments from some quarters for them. It was tremendously kind of you to defray that reality with measured remarks. All best wishes to you and yours!

  • Margaret Leanne Clark

    Colombia has a great deal of racism against indigenous persons, just as we find in Canada. It’s uncanny, though, how racism’s power dynamics in North América do NOT translate to Colombia’s environment, in large part because most everyone here comes from colonized heritages and rallies behind figures of liberation (like the Liberator, Simón Bolívar) in a way that maintains a notion of The Grand Colombia (the first emancipated nation here) as something supra-ethnic.

    How does this map out on the day-to-day level? I’ve touched on this in other essays, but it especially means that even though having one million Venezuelan refugees in Colombia creates a multitude of socioeconomic pressures, you don’t see the same widespread rhetoric of dehumanization that we often find in North America. The fear of outsider invasion just doesn’t exist in spaces that understand displacement pressures and share a wider sense of “¡Yo soy americano!” solidarity.

    Generally speaking, I am sorely leery of Whataboutism, especially since I never suggested Colombia was perfect or superior in this essay responding to findings of mounting overt racism in Canada. However, I think it’s a good idea to dispel the notion completely that I am trying to suggest Colombian superiority by contrast. Colombia gives me a vantage point from which to better assess the social contract I was born into… and I will definitely take the note re: writing an essay regarding how to avoid fetishizing or whitewashing one culture in order to demand better of another.

    Thanks for the idea! All best wishes to you and yours.

  • Margaret Leanne Clark

    You raise an interesting point, Jim! I wonder how much this tension resonates with a common religious tension between those who regard doubt as sinful and those who embrace doubt as a natural part of faith. Are we in the secular world (Western-specific in this discourse) replicating that rhetoric when some among us regard “sitting with discomfort and dissenting ideas” (i.e. the basis of a humanities education) as “wimpish” and “weak”?

    (Either way, I for one am very thankful for the presence of respectfully dissenting commenters here; none of us can grow without access to such wisdom!)

  • Margaret Leanne Clark

    There’s an auto-reflex to that “why don’t you leave?” line that doesn’t quite go away even when the person in question… /has/ left. Not a part of that reply didn’t feel formulaic, but I feel both grateful and apologetic for your time spent in rebuttal. I dreaded posting this essay due to anticipated highly aggressive responses, and let my work schedule keep me from the comment threads longer than anticipated. To that end, thank you ever so much for your presence here; it’s given me the smack upside the head I needed to remember there will *always*be champions of good discursive conduct amid the fray.

    Warmest wishes to you and yours, as always! (Whom do you watch outside of Champions, btw? I’m just following Barcelona vs Liverpool now!)

  • Fmr ATrealDonaldTrump

    I read a book a few years ago by an African American, either Charles Blow now at the NYT editorial staff, or Bob Herbert, now at the Washington Post editorial staff. Whichever it was, many years ago, had been that paper’s Latin American bureau chief. And, based on what they talked about on colors and color focus within the Afro-Brazilian world, ie, “cafe au lait” vs darker shades … it’s a different dynamic, but … still racism in its own way. And the author eventually felt the same way. Now, this can overlap with classism. It can and does in America, too, where long-ago expressions within the African American world exist, too.

    I don’t know whether that’s an issue in Columbia, too, but in American English, let’s not forget that “mulatto” comes from the Spanish “mulato.”

    And, I don’t know about Canada’s First Nations, but in the US, American Indians can be anti-black themselves.

  • Fmr ATrealDonaldTrump

    As noted to ML, racism isn’t the sole province of European conquerers. American Indians can, do, and have expressed anti-black sentiment. I grew up near the “Big Rez,” so I’m familiar with this. Note what else I said to her.

    And, if you want to use the word “ethnism” rather than “racism,” note Rwanda. Note that physical characteristics were part of what was invoked there.

    None of this is to agree with the people bashing here for being an overstereotyped nice, polite, Canadian. It’s just to express real-world observations.

  • guerillasurgeon

    Well, I live in New Zealand so………… how to put it… Soccer is not popular. And we hardly register in international competitions. Our national rugby team on the other hand :)…. it’s said that we don’t hope that they win, we expect them to win. Anyway, I’ve just come through a cricket season and that’s been enough stress and strain for a while. 🙂

  • Margaret Leanne Clark

    I’ve read more recent discourses about Brazilian skin colour and its relationship to societal outcome, but the racialization is… very, very different here (in ColOmbia–most North Americans always get the name wrong because we’re used to District of Columbia / British Columbia). Yes, “mulato” is Spanish… but remember that comes from Spanish colonizers, as a consequence of raping indigenous and otherwise enslaved populations. And so again, the question is whether today’s Colombian society still reflects colonizer/colonized relationships the same way that white culture and non-white culture interact in North America.

    And… on some very fundamental levels, it doesn’t.

    I’ll give you two examples:

    1) Here people call each other by their skin tone as a basic, flat descriptor. I am called by strangers on the street and friendly women working in the local tiendas “Oi, mona!” (mono/a meaning “white/pale-skinned”). Others are “moreno/a” (brown-skinned) and “negro/a”… although as a North American I cannot bring myself to use the same, so I rely on alternatives.

    But that’s precisely the difference: my reservations come from learning the term “negro” in a culture of diminishment and oppression, where the use of that word by a white person for a black person invokes a whole history of colonizer/colonized relations. Here’s it’s just… a flat descriptor, along with other flat descriptors, like “gordo/a”/”gordito/a” (fat, little fatty). And how do I know these are flat descriptors? It’s right out in the open: “gordo”, for instance, is a term of endearment in many familial and romantic relationships, and a wealth of shops catering to women of all sizes plainly use this Spanish term for “fat” in their store names. I’m not talking stylish and subversive shops, either… I mean everywhere. From top-brand sellers to discount marketplaces. Likewise, the descriptors for skin colour–especially “negro/a”–appear on food stands and some brands /everywhere/. And this isn’t like an Aunt Jemimah sort of caricature, either–it’s signs like “obleas de la negra” or “arepas de la negra” (wafer desserts / flatbreads made by the black lady) because the seller is literally a black woman. There’s no “taking it back!” culture because to folks here, on a local day-to-day level… it’s just skin colour. And everyone has one.

    2) Relatedly, darker-skinned men here don’t interact with me, a pale-skinned feminized person, the same way on the streets as they did back in Canada. In Canada their posture and gaze would shift SHARPLY if we passed on the street, and for good reason: there’s a persistent narrative of black men attacking white women that makes many black men live with greater fear of being seen as potential criminals just for existing in public. I’ve also seen firsthand how police play into this narrative, because when I was harassed or followed by white men on my way home in Kitchener-Waterloo, ON, a cop car in the vicinity would never slow to check in… but if I was harassed or followed by a darker-skinned person, absolutely that cop car would slow. So, that racist presumption had a direct impact on my safety, too–all part of the water I swam in, when living in Canada’s social contract, under the ubiquitous-to-the-point-of-invisible consequences of colonizer-culture history.

    Conversely, though, I have /never/ seen that same change in behaviour among darker-skinned men here in Colombia. Granted, catcalling is a relentless issue here from all men–never said that Colombia was perfect!–but people greet each other in the street as a matter of course, and you can truly feel that no one is thinking differently based on skin-colour. (Now, the Venezuelan accent, in some parts, has consequences… but that has a lot to do with the socioeconomic pressures that come with massive immigration, and the fact that not everyone is going to be 100% gung ho about the policy. Still, /the vast majority are strongly supportive of human dignity and the right to opportunity to thrive/, because a) Venezuela was a refuge for Colombians in previous decades, when the conflict went the other way… and again, b) both countries share in a collective story of The Grand Colombia, a much larger, historical territory that represented freedom from colonizers and encompassed many peoples in distinct nation-states today. Their ethnic interactions are very, very different for these reasons.

    As a final note, yes of course indigenous persons can be “anti-black”! That’s a commonly understood phenomenon of adopting colonizer language to try to secure power within its culture (i.e. emulate its prejudices!). In Canada, we have similar, with indigenous persons often being anti-immigrant because they’ve already been traumatized by waves of white immigration, and feel that restitution should be made in full with them before bringing others into our borders. Again, that’s… all a part of the longterm effects of our colonial past.

    Suffice it to say, though, what-about-ism is not the answer. Yes! Human beings are tribalist–I’ve written many essays here about that fact–and as such white-cultured persons such as myself are not the only people with prejudices that sustain state oppressions. But living outside the social contract I was born into has further clarified for me just /how much/ colonial history has informed North American social contracts. Living in a culture where the lines between racial histories are by and large blurred in the general populace (indigenous issues aside), and where terms for skin colour are thus value-neutral in common parlance… has been a staggering reminder that our societies are bodies of /choices/ that we make, then perpetuate.

    …And the rest of the world doesn’t need to be perfect for folks from North American social contracts to think seriously and proactively about continuing the hard work of improving our own.


  • Margaret Leanne Clark

    One final note before bed (and unfortunately before a slog of a work schedule Thursday through Saturday, so apologies if I fall to the wayside after this–but I’m happy to cede the final word to you!):

    Just wanted to add that Rwanda’s a great example of European colonization’s influence! Have you heard of the Hamitic Myth? If not, simply put: Tutsi and Hutu persons were categories contrived by German colonizers in the 19th century, and sustained with Belgian policy in the 20th century, with one lineage seen as noble (derived from a Biblical story–so we can absolutely continue to pin a lot of Western colonizer trauma on those narratives!), and having rightfully subdued the other–thus becoming naturally entitled to more privileges within European local-governance structures. This refrain was directly drawn upon in 1992, with national propaganda to this end eventually leading to the atrocities of 1994.

    Now, is this at all to suggest that humans won’t naturally form tribes in conflict with each other anyway? Of course not! Humans do so love to prove that we belong to a given in-group by condemning members of an out-group. But for me, it’s simply a matter of owning up to what /our/ timeline involved, so that we have the sociolinguistic tools to dismantle its impact going forward. If we all base our nation-state and global policies on the likes of “well, but that group’s prejudiced too!” then how can we ever aspire to a society truly above and beyond our basest animal instincts?

    Again–final word probably yours, Fmr ATrealDonaldTrump, at least for the next few days… but thanks so much for taking the time to comment here, and I do so hope you will again!

  • Jim Baerg
  • Fmr ATrealDonaldTrump

    I’ll … mostly agree.

    But, especially re near the end, on American Indians? This is why I also referenced Rwanda. Racism and ethnism is not always >necessarilynecessarily< internalizing colonial values. It MAY still be that. But … it isn't necessarily that. And, related … not all racism is necessarily institutional. It may simply be tribalism, as you note. Or it may be individualist, but still sociological in nature, looking to "punch down," and to do so on the basis of race, since "punching down" happens in a lot of ways.

    Back to Rwanda…. somebody will argue that came from the Belgians or something.

    Even if true, Hutus consciously adapted it for their own ends.

    So, I (as I see it) am not engaging in whataboutism. I'm simply saying that racism doesn't always reduce to colonialism. One can look at East Asian attitudes on race, especially but not only, limited to their attitude to blacks.

    And, to be honest … I still think that while Columbia in particular or Latin America in general may be different in some ways from North America on this … it's probably not so different in every way.

    To the degree it is different from the US or Canada, I suspect it's probably in part due to a smaller percentage of whites vs. natives or blacks not just in Columbia, but in most the nations of the Caribbean Basin.

  • Fmr ATrealDonaldTrump

    I’ve heard of that. But, at some point, again, as I noted, it’s a conscious decision and not internalization.

    Look at India. You want to blame today’s continuation of the racist caste system entirely on internalized imperialism of 3,500 years ago. So, we’ll probably remained disagreed on how much of this is on institutional colonialiization aftereffects.

    This is also one reason I consider myself a leftist, not a liberal. And, many other leftists of many colors see other angles on racism besides thinking almost all of it is institutionallized colonialsm. Like economic classism. (I don’t go as far that way as some other leftists do, in fact.)

  • Wow, this comment feels worthy of being a post in its own right!