Wednesday, June 10, 2020


The roots of racism are in us all. We feel comfortable with people who are like us. We feel uncomfortable with people who are different from us. This means we tend to be uncomfortable with people of a different race because on the surface they seem to be different to us. I presume this unease developed because we trust our families and our families are like us. We extend the same feeling of trust to other people that we know well, and they are mostly like us.

Discomfort with people who are different, often develops into fear of them. That fear is mostly unfounded; it is produced by uncertainty about people that we do not know. We don’t know them, so we don’t know how they will respond when we encounter them.

The problem with fear, is that it can often develop into suspicion about the behaviour of those that we fear. Suspicion gives us a distorted view of their words and actions. If we misunderstand people that we do not know, we can easily start thinking they are a threat, even if they have done nothing to harm us. We easily belive untruths that we hear about them. Unfounded fear can easily progress into hatred and anger if we do not guard against it.

Personal fears are bad enough, but they are worse when an entire community develops the same false understanding and fears. When suspicion and hatred toward people who are different permeates an entire community, it becomes structural racism. People choose leaders who will keep them safe by protecting them from those who are different. This often produces structural racism.

The best way to resolve the discomfort that we feel around people who are not like us is to get to know them. The more we relate to them, the less they will seem like a threat to us. When we get to know people who are different, we will realise that they are more like us than we realised. When we have a deeper involvement with people who had seemed to be different, we will find that we like some and dislike others, but that is just the same as the situation with people who look us.

As we move with a diverse range of people, the outcome will be that we have common interests with some of them who are different from us. We will also find that we have nothing in common with some people who look like us. When we get to know people who are different, we can apply a deeper discernment to them. Our assessments of them will be based on who they are, not on their race, or their physical appearance. We will discover that people are different, but understand that those differences are rooted in their character and personality, not their race.
We will discover that intra-group differences are often greater than inter-group differences. Some people who look like us, will have very different character or personality. Some people of a different race will have a similar personality and character.

I grew up in a rural community where all the people were white. The only Maori person that I knew about was a “rabbiter” who was employed by farmers in the region to hunt the rabbits which had become a pest. We only ever saw him in the distance with his shotgun and his dogs, so I did not know him, even though he was a neighbour. When I was older and left home, I was suspicious and fearful of people of different races, because I did not know any.

When I became a manager of large division within the government agency, many of my staff were of different races and nationalities. A large group of analysts were Chinese. When I worked with people who were different from me, I found that many were just like me. I found that some who were different had similar interests as me, whereas others who looked like me didn’t. I found that some who looked different were very effective analysts, whereas some who of those who looked like me were not so good. My worst analyst ever was a white Christian. That was a good lesson.

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