Re:    Institutional racism, or a natural tendency to identify with those most like ourselves?

Date:  Wednesday 21 September 05

Dear Editors,

I always seem to be hearing or reading about "institutional racism", in our schools ("Black pupils victims of racism by teachers"), in the police force, in the National Health Service, the Church ("Black bishop attacks Church racism") you name it, but it seems to me that what is often being referred to is probably not racism at all (which according to my Collins Dictionary is abusive or aggressive behaviour towards members of another race, based on a belief in one's own racial superiority), but simply the expression of a natural and scientifically well-documented tendency for people (of all races, consciously or subconsciously) to identify more strongly with those most like themselves (e.g. of their own race), with the inevitable consequence that those less like themselves (e.g. of different race) are, to some extent, discriminated against.

So long as we are human, I don't see how we are ever going be able to change that. We can try and suppress it, of course, which is what we are expected, and, in fact, forced, to do, but that, I believe, is a very unhealthy and ultimately also very dangerous thing to do. Just as with sexual feelings, it is far better to control them consciously than to force them into the subconscious, where they can do horrendous damage - to ourselves and to others.

Why we suppress these feeling is understandable enough, since we are still under the shock of what the Nazi's insane and criminal misuse of race and (German) national identity led to. However, simply denying their importance (which is considerable) is not going to help in the long term. Quite the contrary.

Besides which, just like sexual feelings, when properly channelled, they also have their positive side and uses. All the racial, cultural and linguistic diversity in the world today only exists because in the distant past human populations became isolated from each other. When our species emerged in Africa 100-200 thousand years ago, we must have all looked, acted and sounded pretty much the same. How boring! As humans migrated around the world and formed more-or-less isolated populations, an amazing degree of diversity arose. How wonderful! But already, modern developments have destroyed and reduced much of that diversity, just as they have destroyed and reduced so much of Earth's biodiversity.

If we want to maintain as much diversity as possible (biological and human), which I certainly do, then we have to stop reducing it and start protecting and cultivating it instead. Contrary to the myths of multi-culturalism, you do not do that by encouraging (i.e. permitting mass) intercontinental migration and intermarriage between people of different race or culture. Deceptively, you initially get the impression of increased diversity, because you do not have to travel abroad in order to see and experience it. But this is only a relatively short-term effect. As time goes by (although it will take a few generations yet), different races and cultures will mix, as they are bound to do when in such close and intimate proximity to each other, blending together to create an increasingly monocultural society of increasingly homogenous mixed-race people. How boring!

There are people in powerful positions (especially in the media, particularly at the BBC and papers like the Guardian and Independent, as well as in the Labour Party and amongst Liberal Democrats)  who embrace an ideology (as an understandable overreaction to the evils of Nazism and Apartheid) that condemns any expression, or even the slightest hint, of European (white) racial identity as "racism". If you are black, of course, it is an entirely different matter: black culture, black history, black music, black communities, etc. are celebrated and encouraged, but just imagine the reaction, if I were to replace "black" with "white" . . . .

Race, and the desirability of maintaining and cultivating racial and cultural identities and diversity, IS a very difficult, sensitive (and frightening!) subject,  but also a challenging and exhilarating one. In fact, along with achieving sustainability on our finite and vulnerable planet, before a ruthless mother nature does it for us, it is one of the two greatest challenges of our time. In respect to both, we urgently need to come out of denial and face up to them. Otherwise, we (certainly our children and grandchildren) are going to be in deep, deep trouble.