Racism refers to the belief that a certain racial group is superior or inferior to another, which causes it to be discriminated against based on their various inherent traits (Shah, 2010). Racism has a very long history in the society, infiltrating every aspect of our lives. It is unfortunate that even today racism still continues to exist and shows no sign of declining in the near future. It exists in different forms based on the difference of skin color, religion, culture, economic status, etc. (Shah, 2010). A better understanding of racism requires a closer look at the core cause which is an institutional ideology. It is more than just ill-treatment of certain people, or hatred; it is an evil that is nourished and sustained by governments and institutions (Shah, 2010). The initial evidence of racism emerged at the end of the 16th century with the slave trade in America and Britain. The rich and the powerful used racism to justify this inhuman and most atrocious treatment of black people to gain material wealth. Towards the end of the 17th century, racism had become an established and organized justification for degrading and mistreating slaves (Shah, 2010). When the slave trade declined, racism took a new form in the 1940s to justify the ideology of imperialism which reigned more than a century. The “white man’s burden” concept was a trend started in England. According to it, British colonialists declared themselves as the father and mother of colonial children charged with the responsibility of their spiritual and material welfare. Colonialists used racism to justify their exploitation of the natives, stealing of their properties, as well as their capitalist expansion into various countries (Shah, 2010).
Perhaps the best achievement in the fight against racism in the USA was the election of the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama (Shah, 2010). The President Obama became the first African American who held the highest and most coveted position worldwide. The tears of joy, which many African Americans shed at the swearing-in of the President Obama, signified victory over racism in America. It was the wish of many black Americans that racism would end forever. However, some of the policies of the President Obama have been met with opposition from whites, for instance, when he tried to push for a more comprehensive health system, he was criticized, even called a communist who was favoring the black people (Shah, 2010). From the criticisms, it is clear that some people do not want a more comprehensive healthcare system that covers even the blacks because they feel that black people in the USA are unworthy human beings. In addition, racists have criticized Mr. Obama because of his middle name Hussein which shows that he is a Muslim and not a Christian which is his true religion. He has been called an anti-Christ, discriminatory sentiments, which have fueled racism (Shah, 2010). This is a clear indication of racism in practice, which shows just how inevitable racism is in our societies, no matter how we try to get rid of it. This paper explores the causes and effects of racism.
Causes of Racism
Feeling of Unworthiness
A majority of racists in the world tend to suffer from low self-esteem and self-love, thereby making them feel unconfident. Consequently, they tend to concentrate their negative feelings towards people who are vulnerable and weak (Shah, 2010). It is important to note that people, who love and appreciate themselves, are in a better position to appreciate the feelings of others and understand them, hence, they are able to accommodate opinions of others more. Racists have a low perception of themselves because they feel they lack the opportunities that others have, and, therefore, they need to feel superior and exercise power over others what makes them treat others indifferently (Shah, 2010).
Ignorance is another issue that fuels racism. Children, who are taught that other people are less human, or inferior, grow up with the belief that racism is right and normal, especially when their peers demonstrate similar beliefs and conducts. Consequently, such people tend to see nothing wrong with their actions because they are validated by everybody else around them (Shah, 2010). Until they are aware of the consequences of their actions through education, they continue to remain ignorant of other people’s realities.
The failure to teach children about tolerance to different people has also contributed to racism. This is because many schools are segregated based on gender, abilities, race, religion, culture, economic status, etc. As a result, children grow up only used to interacting with other children whom they share common things with. When they grow up, they find it difficult to tolerate people who are different from them (Shah, 2010). An illustration of racism is found in Toni Morisson’s book Recitatif where he represents how racism led to unfriendly relationship between two girls, Roberta (white) and Twyla (black). This is a part of their conversation: “Oh, Twyla, you know how it was in those days: black-white. You know how everything was” (Morisson 56). Later on when the girls met as adults, Roberta explained to Twyla that the cause of the unfriendliness was their different color of skin.
Social and Economic Factors
The varied social and economic status of people has also contributed to racism, i.e., the amount of money they make, the type of car they drive, their place of residence, etc. According to reports by CNN, 12.5% of Americans were living below the poverty line in 2004 as compared to 24.4% of African Americans (Fredrickson, 2005). It is evident that the number of poor African Americans was twice that of poor whites and this have contributed to people generalizing that all African Americans are poor. A study by the Michigan University revealed that whites view all minority groups as security risks. According to the research, whites are threatened by blacks because they see them as a source of possible danger to their security, and consequently, they tend to distance themselves from them (Fredrickson, 2005).
Effects of Racism
Racism was the reason behind the segregation witnessed in the United States between 1890 and 1940, which saw enacted the laws of Jim Crow. Consequently, all public facilities were separated for whites and blacks. Many African-Americans faced with frightening or even killing for enrolling in schools and voting (Shah, 2010). Lynching of the black population by the whites for insignificant reasons was a common and widespread practice during those days. In healthcare facilities, black people were denied the same quality of health care given to the whites, and black patients often died due to neglect by medical staff. Racism also led to the South African apartheid that resulted in legal segregation of the Africans from the Europeans (Shah, 2010).
Racism also led to the mass killing of Jews and Gypsies by Hitler during World War II (Shah, 2010). Hitler’s genocide was systematically planned, and sponsored by the Nazi Germany Government, and was aimed to kill all Jews and Gypsies who had occupied the Nazi territory. It is reported that about two-thirds of the twelve million (9 million women and 3 million men) Jews who lived in Europe perished. The most famous concentration camps were Sobibor, Belzec, and Treblinka, where handicapped (physical and mental) Jews and Gypsies were taken and burned alive (Shah, 2010).
Anger, Violence and Hatred
Racism results in violence, anger and hatred among people. People who are discriminated, for instance, based on appearance, suffer from low self-esteem and self-confidence. However, since there is nothing they can do to change their appearance, they tend to harbor hatred and anger towards others, which when not handled properly can lead to violence (Shah, 2010). Such people are exceedingly hot-tempered and can turn violent at the least of provocations.
The indifferent treatment of people who experience racism can make them stressed. This is because they have to put up with unfair treatment from unequal resource distribution, poor educational and medical services to relatively less opportunities for success. In addition, people get stressed especially when the witness “a stereotypical portrayal of the race with which they identify with on television or in the news” (Harrell 46). Such constant experience of racism-related mental suffering can increase the potential of people developing grave physiological health problems such as cardiovascular reactivity, hypertension, high blood pressure, as well as poor functioning of the immune system (Harrell, 2000).
Racism has existed since time immemorial and is still present in the current society. The past years of segregation, colonialism and extermination have all remained in our memories making it difficult to forget everything and treat everybody equally. Though racism may be inevitable in the society, something can still be done to save the future generation from its effects. Education is the way forward. We have to explain to future generations that we share the same earth, so we must accept our differences, and learn to love and tolerate one another. Tolerance is the key word in the fight against racism.