How the belief in categorizing people hides the solutions to the problems categorization itself creates
The Explanation for Differences
The intent of this series of considerations is to detail the unavoidable connection between the idea of race and racial conflict. The predominant view is that:
the world is filled with different types and races of people, and innate differences are the basis of differing behaviors, preferences, and possibilities.
It assumes a certain level of sameness, or an essence that allows people to believe that knowledge about one person who ‘is’ a certain ‘race’ is translatable to others of that supposed type.
To see how this viewpoint is self-fulfilling misleading and destructive we will step back and take things from an alternative starting point, one that opens us to explanations and solutions that are impossible when one assumes a world of different races. The alternate starting point is:
You can’t be an idea. People don’t hate each other because they are different races, but because of the ways in which the idea of race itself distorts reality.
You’re A Racist!
When someone says something that results in them being labeled, against their will, as a racist, stigmatizing them under the assumption that they will then shut up, this usually results in, at most, a closeting of views the speaker and others who share those views, will not believe make them bad people.
While speech can be used as a weapon to dehumanize others as part of the process toward political economic or sexual power, what looks like racism may often be, on closer inspection, a reflection of any culture’s norms and how they interact with the idea of race which is shared by alleged ‘racists’ and ‘anti-racists’ alike.
In different places there are different norms (or: the right way things are done), and often what results when someone does something that is inconsistent with one’s own norms is a sort of judgment. This is a common reaction to seeing someone act in an unfamiliar way, one of the possible internal expressions of cultures in contrast.
Before we make the connection between differing norms and history of living from the idea of race I would ask:
What makes a person different than just human?
Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.
Species: a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding and producing fertile offspring.
Does having brown eyes, or lots of hair make you a different type of person? These are just features. Phenotypes exist because of geographical isolation and social selection, but it is a cognitive leap to conclude that a certain appearance indicates that one is a different type of person, or that a pairing between a human and another human results in someone being mixed. Everyone has a different appearance from everyone else. Everyone has differences from even people in their own family. Why do some differences result in a divided taxonomy of human beings?
The creation of a false taxonomy of race is not arbitrary. The idea of the nigger was a cognitive leap that enabled justification of slavery, and people who are identifiable by color and certain phenotypes continue to be seen to this day as inferior and therefore unworthy of basic human consideration. and what once took place in the fields now takes place in prisons. That same view, which once justified the forced labor of millions of people on Southern plantations, today is used to justify the targetting for incarceration of racially differentiated humans in American prisons. Cheap labor, the understory of American success, is enabled by a belief that some people are innately bad or inferior or otherwise fit only for subservience. How did so many people come to the same perspective? What was the bridge for all these millions of individuals to be treated the same?
How Name Calling Blinds Us to Cause and Effect
In this culture we falsely equate having differences, and being different.
Part of why race hatred and anxiety seem to be unavoidable, has to do with how we understand ourselves; the other part has to do with how we try to solve problems that come from that understanding.
There is an idea that operates as an unquestioned truth in this society: If you do a certain thing, think a certain thing, look a certain way you become (in people’s minds) a certain type of person, the label that is attached to you (racist, hippy, Black) is situated as your identity. Someone does something wrong and then he/she is labelled as if the action is innate, as if they cannot change, as if the action represents the extent of their value. Saying: “You are an asshole Henry!” does not help Henry if a critique of his behavior bundles his questionable action together with his ego and personhood, resulting in defensiveness. Within this general pattern, the strategy for dealing with perceived racism that relies soley on calling someone a racist is inadequate because it does not typically involve an examination of the environment, culture or milieu that engendered the individual’s perspective. Nor does it create an opening for the person to reflect and reconsider their perspective.
Someone who sees more to themselves than the word racist expresses will naturally reject the label because of the negative valuation of themselves that the label implies.
There are a lot of people who are not so far along the spectrum of racial malice, who experience confusion in being labelled for coming to conclusions that are logical within the system of thinking that prevails in this society. The cultural backdrop is that: people do what they do because of what they are, they supposedly have different inner laws and different possibilities. People, no matter their divergence in politics, share this assumption, and this is evident in how most people discuss themselves or others in racial terms. The validity of race as an organizing concepts rests entirely on the assumption that it explains a certain collective sameness where a group differs from the rest of humanity.
My Free Speech!
The idea of “political correctness” is that there is an imposition of politeness that prevents people from saying what they see as true. To treat a person we have never met differently because of actions of others of that same race makes sense in a way because if “they” share an internal racial causality then you only need one way of thinking of and relating to them. The distance that results from this is not just physical distance but also the distance of not taking the time to understand their situation because the explanation (they do because they are) is baked into the idea of each illusory type of person including race types.
The second people do what they do because of what they have exprienced the basis for dividing people into races goes out the window, which is, crucially, a big problem for the ego.
What makes the situation more complicated than someone merely having the bravery to be ‘politically incorrect’ is that people utilize this logic inconsistently. If someone seen as a different type does something that is interpreted as wrong, that type is often mentioned thus implicating everyone else who supposedly is the same. If however, someone supposedly of one’s own type commits a negative act, it is individualized, and they alone are responsible, they have their reasons. The same action also will often be defined differently. In the United States it is called terrorism if someone who is claiming Islam commits an act of mass-murder, but if someone espousing white supremacist views does literally the same act, there has been a general reluctance to also call that terrorism.
Because this thought system is so inconsistent, because people who hold it accept a classification for themselves then react angrily when other people relate to them based on the system’s logic of sameness, responses to debates about racism revolve in a shallow circle that can never result in meaningful progress.
You’re racist <-> No I’m not.
Everyone is racist <- > No they aren’t.
Stereotypes exist because they are true <-> You shouldn’t discriminate against someone because of who they are.
This cycle takes the form of arguments such as: “white people did this to us” or “black people are racist” where actions are interpreted to have a unanimity. Someone listening who has not exhibited, in their actions, evidence for such statements, feels attacked and then resorts to the same logic by talking about the other group as if “they” act with one will and motive. This pattern deepens the sense of an “us” and “them” and the irony is that it is a shared mindset that people use to exacerbate distance and resentment.
We are told not to judge a book by its cover, and yet still such judgments arise almost naturally and shape the experience of our society. The result of being so distanced, and unwilling to look up from the label and its meanings, is people will then never know who, is really there.
In becoming increasingly isolated along type lines, and within an egoic context where a sense of meaning is created through opposition, where we are valuable because we are “not like them”, being “better” becomes an unconscious routine that our explanations invisibly conform to. You notice the things that people from other types do much more than those who are ‘like you’.
The deeper cause behind behavior correlations is not how people innately are, it is the idea of different categories of people and how it has forged, by being lived from, different circumstances and thus different patterns which are then described as innate.
In the current political arena, when someone speaking the logic of the current thought system makes a hostile statement about a ‘type of people’, others may sense that it will cause harm but still not recognize that every ‘type’ is an idea. A type is like an address to which meanings have been funneled over time, that no individual should be accountable to. It is not the speaker that needs to be challenged, defeated, but the logic of the entire culture, which is so prevalent it is assumed to be human nature.
A House Made of Clouds
When someone says ‘I am black’ they are not describing a truth, but instead they are basically invoking an idea of a sense of self. Everyone in the culture agrees on the label, but not on the differences that implies. You don’t have to live in the South to feel that what people see in the idea of blackness is an innate criminality. You can disagree but these are the meanings that have been put into the category. Not something people merely think, but a resistance and an aversion they feel just as people sometimes experience resistance in the face of different norms, cultural drift caused by racism adds another layer of resistance that is then muddled with and added to racial anxieties.
Again, the belief of an innate sameness is what makes such associations not only viseral but logical.
It would be argued, that one does not have a choice over how one is seen. But how can perception determine what you are when it–how people perceive a person or many people–will inevitably differ based on each observers different experiences. You can’t have a monopoly on meaning such as by saying: “Black lives matter” because Black only exists, or not, in each person’s imagination. You can’t change the experiences that led to the feeling people have that Black lives don’t matter. If it comes from an empathy gap, from a psychological distance caused by relating to a closed concept, the solution is to bring attention to the inner processes of division so that we can move on to understanding people as open ended, not known until they are known, not known because of someone you think looks like them.
What this is getting at is: how are we supposed to feel empathy for a concept? Our conceptualization of reality has extended to a conceptualization of ourselves. This is where insecurity comes from because every time you stop recreating your identity the ego begins to starve. Observing mental processes (turning another person into a type is a mental process) that normally unfold beneath our conscious awareness, creates the space of awareness to be able to see thoughts and projections without immediately believing and acting on them. This awareness is the life beyond, independent of, the ego and it is essential to being able to recognize how concepts can either form a bridge or a barrier.
Many think that without continuing to reinforce this mantra of innate difference, racism could no longer be challenged. To cease to organize people in this way does not mean you cannot take account of experiences and privileges that resulted from racial projections, it is merely moving one step deeper into cause and effect so as not to continually weaponize identity to try and cure the problem believing you are an idea creates.
It is not a type of person but a type of mindset
Where people now deal with views they see as wrong by labelling, attempting to dismiss a thought or person without actually addressing the context that person is operating on, the person judging may miss not only their shared humanity, but the shared mindset that binds us in conflict.
Debates over the identity-based conflict often devolve into who does what, and how much, which is beside the point. Just as the football team that happens to be in a person’s city becomes their favorite, that we are conditioned to believe we are part of a separate group other than humanity leads to an arbitrary sort of patriotism just like people display with sports, which leads to comparisons and competition that results in people working against each other, for no reason other than the ego’s need to be better.
What we share is far more profound than having different shades of skin. Culture comes from context, and to try to understand the world independently of context, including the context of dominant truths (i.e. some races are lesser so we don’t need to extend equal rights to them), is impossible. People muddle culture as being something innate, they say white culture and black culture leading to expectations that there is one way of being depending on how you look, when culture is instead a crystalization of common experiences.
Underneath the identity and the conditioning is us, the part that does not come and go that exists without any formulas or scripts, that has no enemies and no hatred. All of that comes after, it is only the ideas people are looking through that puts them into conflict. Awareness of patterns gives us the options to choose or shed ideas based on what they bring us.
This isn’t seeking to reverse anyone’s experiences only to add into our calculations of cause and effect the fact that believing one’s conceptualization of another person, or imaginary group of people, is what has, up to this point, hidden us from each other.
The holocaust is remembered as an act of the Nazis or the Germans, but if it was a reflection of innate tendencies wouldn’t we expect German society to keep recreating it year after year? What people miss of the event in remembering the event as caused by a type of person is that the same mindset still persists around the world today, even as people called Neo-Nazis are condemned. Not every individual will act on it in the same way, but it is like a flammable substance that often catches fire. Our interactions are shaped by it: psychological distance, hierarchy, cruelty, alienation, fear. It is the psychological context that is the prerequisite for atrocity.
What do we do? I think the more relevant question is: how do we see each other? If we see each other as ideas, then where is the substance for our empathy to land? But if we can infer the same soul clay beneath the different ego shapes it makes it much easier to not think, but sense, feel each other, how your brothers and sisters, who like you have fears and desires, will be affected. It turns our attention, and our efforts for remediation, into the unknown of each person’s past. Coming back across this distance makes each of us more real.