Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Roots of Racism?

This post is speculative, so I'm interested in hearing other people's points of view. But first, let me tie together several seemingly unrelated elements:

As a member of the Diversity Committee at work, I get links to an online "Managing Diversity" newsletter. A recent article pointed out the importance of diversity, because (assuming the trends continue), by 2030 or so, whites will be a minority.

Then, over at Black Diaspora, I saw this quote: "The Election of Barack Obama is just the most startling manifestation of a larger trend: the gradual erosion of "whiteness" as the touchstone of what it means to be American. If the end of white America is a cultural and demographic inevitability, what will the new mainstream look like—and how will white Americans fit into it? What will it mean to be white when whiteness is no longer the norm? And will a post-white America be less racially divided—or more so?" I told B.D. that, to me, losing my membership in the majority race would be "no big deal."

Daniel Quinn, in his book Ishmael, introduces the idea of "keeper" culture vs. "leaver" culture as two distinct paradigms of social relations and, primarily, human relations to our planet. "The premise of the Takers' story is 'The world belongs to man.' ...The premise of the Leavers' story is 'Man belongs to the world.'"

Riane Eisler introduces the concept of "dominator" vs. "partnership" as two models or paradigms for social relations, extending from personal/family to international in scope, in The Chalice and the Blade.

Bringing all this together, I started to wonder: Is racism integral to a dominator to keeper social paradigm?

In other words, does racism come automatically when one adopts a domination culture, as we have done – and not only racism, but sexism, etc.? Are these isms doomed to remain so long as we cling to our traditional domination culture, only to disappear at the paradigm shift to a partnership culture? And I have no doubt that we are in the process of this paradigm shift – though the default, baseline is still domination over partnership, and that trend could end at any time.

Exploring the early books of the Bible, we see the development of a domination culture, and it starts right at the beginning with the suppression and oppression of women. From there it develops into the Israelites' conquests and utter annihilation of some Canaanite tribes, along with the Israelites' clear claim to racial superiority seen in them being the chosen people of God.

But then, you also see a lot of warfare among leaver cultures, such as most Native American cultures prior to the invasion of Europeans into their territories. Tribalism, in these cases (as in Europeans and even to modern days and municipal rivalries), is widespread, perhaps universal.

There is, however, a difference. So far as I've been able to determine, warfare among pre-European Native Americans was never (or were rarely) a war of annihilation. There were territorial disputes and raiding for goods or prestige or captives. Children from enemy tribes were adopted into their captor tribes, as Barcheeampe, sometimes going on to positions of prominence in those tribes. So I don't think tribalism accounts for racism and so forth, at least by itself. I see plenty of tribalism between Duck fans and Beaver fans, but it's not infrequent that they end up married to each other.

Everything is connected, and it seems reasonable to me to think that the dominator model our society has adopted over the course of the last 3000 years or so is integral with racism, and that racism is born in that dominator model, including the fear of people of color (POC's) obtaining equality (or power). And that the same applies to women, or gays and lesbians, or trans people, etc.

What do you think?


Black Diaspora said...

Seda, I think you're on to something here. And I'll be happy to speculate along with you.

Let's start with the Biblical role assigned to man: that is, his seeming purpose for being.

The first task assigned to man in the second chapter of Genesis was that of Tiller. He was to dress it [the Garden of Eden] and to keep it. In short, man was to serve the earth, functioning clearly as a "leaver," establishing that "Man belongs to the world," and that he exists to serve it, rather than the other way around.

I'm reminded of Shel Silverstein controversial children's book, "The Giving Tree."

Among its many interpretations, some have seen it as an attack on women. I disagree. The story speaks of a humankind who keeps taking from the tree (through the persona of a small boy, as he ages), who shows total disregard of the consequences, both to the tree (the environment), and ultimately to itself.

"Everything is connected, and it seems reasonable to me to think that the dominator model our society has adopted over the course of the last 3000 years or so is integral with racism, and that racism is born in that dominator model, including the fear of people of color (POC's) obtaining equality (or power)."

I think your conclusion is reasonable, and that subsets of this "dominator model" may be seen in many of the "-isms," and phobias, such as sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia.

These "-isms," including racism, become handy constructs, "tools," if you will, to assure domination on behalf of a group vying for power, material resources, and preeminence in a world were the perception of shortages exists.

So we have built up certain cultural myths to undergird this pursuit, whether of power or goods: to the victor belongs the spoils, survival of the fittest, it's a dog eat dog world, and do unto others before they can do unto you.

That last one sounds an awful lot like an essential part of the Bush doctrine.

If we're to survive as a species, what is needed is a new construct.

Here are some: All things are one thing. All things are interrelated, and interdependent.

Nature speaks eloquently of this interrelatedness, and we call it a ecosystem: "An ecological community together with its environment, functioning as a unit."

The whole world is such a system. Until we come know this, appreciate it, and live it, we will continue using an outmoded system of domination, when what is needed is mutuality, commonality, cooperation, collaboration, and a partnership that recognize, as John Donne, recognized:

"All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated...

"No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; ...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

anne said...

Hey girl,

I think this one is pretty easy, for is not racism just a form of xenophobia? When man lived in small tribal units and traveled, were not the people he eventually met very different, either in words or in looks? One can either be attracted to those differences or repelled.

If nations use xenophobia to whip there people into fear of another group taking from them to justify taking from that group, then this is racism, or a kind of fear, in practice. But racism doesn't have to be about race, it can be about customs or language or any difference you can find. Skin color just happens to be "loud" enough that even the most stupid lout can see it and those stupid louts are the ones you want to use as cannon fodder.

The worst racial prejudice I ever saw as in England against the Irish. If a "nation" can be prejudice against members of their own who happen to be white, fair, Christian, conservative, straight, and speak the same language, how are Americans ever going to be assured of tolerance when their own people are so diverse?

But I've known men who would not go out with women if they had ridged fingernails. It seems that noticing differences and selecting against them is pretty deeply buried.

I think you have to be against xenophobia. Be curious. Be interested. Be open. If you're frightened of them because they don't speak your language--learn their language. If you think that they are evil because they dress differently, wear their dress. If we could change color and sex at will, that would cure a lot of ills. And I highly doubt that everyone would be white males! I think that would be obvious right away.

But good post. People have to talk--talk dispels fear.

hugs, me

Seda said...

Hey, Anne & B.D.,
Some good discussion here. I like the link between racism and xenophobia you both brought out. I don't know that xenophobia can account for sexism, though, which is another part of the dominator construct. Yet I think they are all interconnected, as you noted, B.D. - and connected as well to the "taker" construct.

Silverstein's book is a great analogy of that taker mindset. So, yes, "all things are interrelated and interdependent," and "we belong to the world," and "God is a woman, and the greatest power in the world is the power to give life - not to take it."

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our