From the horrors of genocide to the sting of racial slurs, racism has woven itself into the fabric of human civilization, varying in intensity across countries and eras. So, the question nags at me: Why does racism exist?
Delving into books and scouring the internet, I stumbled upon some intriguing answers.
The Human Factor
Firstly, it’s us—humans. Psychologically, we have an innate knack for grouping and separating ourselves.
Social Identity Theory, penned by Tajfel & Turner, asserts that the groups to which people belong are an important source of pride and self-esteem; they grant us a sense of belonging in the social world.
Then there are our cognitive biases. Some recognize them, while others remain oblivious. For the unaware, falling into racial prejudices is an easy pitfall.
Our biases, too, incline us to seek simplistic solutions to complex issues, hastening our judgment of others and fostering stereotypes. Blaming others for our woes also comes easy.
Roy Baumeister conducted a review of diverse studies in 1996, determining that individuals engaging in aggression commonly maintain positive, potentially inflated self-perceptions.
The Science Answers
What does science say about racism?
Science doesn’t support racism. However, throughout history, scientific theories have been misused and misinterpreted to justify racist ideologies.
Obsolete psychological theories hitched Charles Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” to justify one race’s dominance. They argued for the supposed survival benefits of racism. But this notion crumbled as modern hunter-gatherer tribes showed no tendency to exclude others.
Afterwards, obsolescent race psychology suggested brain differences among races, promoting intelligence tests and segregation.
However, psychologist Gordon Allport, in 1954, challenged this view in “The Nature of Prejudice.” He argued that people categorize to comprehend their world better and that racism was merely a product of that cognitive process.
Checkout my other article: Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
Science emphasizes human equality, stressing that racial categories lack biological footing.
Joseph Graves, an evolutionary biology professor at Embry-Riddle University, debunks race as a biological reality.
He said, “There are no subspecies in the human beings that live today. So when we use the term race in the biological sense, there’s no scientific support for such groups existing.”
The Business and Politics
Last but not least, many experts argue that racist ideologies emerged to justify self-interest and greed, whether within political spheres or business endeavors.
In the vast tapestry of history, a haunting choice emerged—a choice between slavery and indentured servitude. It wasn’t just a decision of labor but a grim calculation of profit. Slave labor, horrifyingly, proved cost-effective, shunning humanity for financial gain.
And in the realm of public attention, racial tensions were not merely an unfortunate byproduct; they became a pawn, a tool to sway minds, gather followers, and grasp at the spotlight. In the game of power and popularity, exploiting racial issues offered a grim currency—popularity bought with division and exposure gained at the cost of unity.
In politics, racism could also be an effective tool to gain loyal supporters or defeat rival candidates. Just like Jean-Frédéric Schaub wrote, “Race is about politics.”
Ultimately, ignorant and gullible people will always exist, while greedy and self-centered people won’t disappear. Thus, racism may persist until the sun sets on human civilization.
But that doesn’t mean we’re powerless. We could be more critical and refuse to be exploited by it.