Studies have shown that people who do not think of themselves as racist still behave as racists would. Some scholars have dubbed this “racism without racists” (see the P/S for a description of some of the flawed behaviors). Well, we beg to slightly disagree. Racism is racism, even if it’s just emotional.

Most US citizens are indeed not logical racist; they have come to the conclusion that only fools and bad people believe there is something intrinsically repugnant enough about people of different appearance to deprive them of some human rights.

But that does not mean that most US citizens are not intrinsically emotionally put off by the apparition of someone not like them, of a type they never had particularly positive experiences with. Maybe they are not personally at fault, but it’s not because it’s unconscious, and not deliberate that it is not here.

Unfortunately, indeed, there are three main types of racism, and emotional racism is one of them. One cannot legislate against it, though. If one wants to fight it, one can only vote for the “colored” person (if as obviously as qualified as Obama is, especially in light of his pale alternative… Or is that appalling?).

Racism is fundamentally an emotional response. When the object of love, right from the start, from a baby’s eyes is white, not brown or black, it’s hard to not be scared by the apparition of color. So it’s harder to love somebody of a different skin color, without a reconditioning on a logical basis, or through re-imprinting.

Then there is purely intellectual racism, often built as a justification of some hatred one has. Or one’s society has. Or has had. The Nazis used to believe the blacks and the Jews were inferior; in the former case, that was facilitated by the presence of fighting black and African professional elite combat troops enlisted in the hated French army. The hatred was reciprocal: during W.W.I, no prisoners on either sides were made during offensives by French Senegalese troops. The racist logic can arise as an emotional response to varied events: for example Hitler as a bum in Vienna felt doubly alienated and hateful when he saw rich Jews overlording him. The esthetically challenged Goebbels courted extensively a beautiful Jewish girl who in the end rejected him, etc. To Hitler and Goebbels all this could be explained, in one glorifying blow, by the intrinsic inferiority of the Jews, and the obvious conspiracy they had set up to compensate for that.

Then there is legal and political racism. Sorry to say this, but, to a great extent, it was an American Anglo-Saxon invention. True, the Germans became racist, but they were mostly tagging along. They thought the USA was so great, that white American racism, the most obvious distinguishing factor from Europe, explained it all. Of course legal and political racism reinforced the two more fundamental forms of racism above. 

Legal and political racism is now history in the USA. The USA has made a tremendous effort (“affirmative action” was even over the top!) to fight racism. But the fact is, many US citizens, or their parents were brought up in an amazingly racist society. Something racist is still up polluting heavily the emotional atmosphere (as proven by the incredibly racist pronouncements of J. Watson: he feels safe uttering them in the USA, but he was immediately driven out of Europe as he tried his luck there, and took refuge in his more racistically tolerant homeland!).

So most US citizens are not conditioned to perceive blacks and browns as objects of love, desire and admiration. In the secret of the voting booth, it will be hard for them to make a conscious effort to overwhelm their primitive emotional response with a conscious, non racist logic. Fortunately the presidential and good looking Obama presents us with an excellent occasion to help them make history. So they will have to remember that, even if they tell everybody, including themselves, that they are not racist, they still are, deep down inside, and that it colors their opinion of Obama negatively, whether they like it or not, whether they perceive it, or not (since around 90% of US citizens are not African-Americans).

Making this history, full of hope, they will create a model of inspiring brownness for the whole world to see. This should help a lot, because tribalism is a worldwide problem. To see that the chief of the most powerful democracy has been chosen, independently of his genetic origins, should be a stake in the heart of emotional racism, and rampant tribalism, worldwide.

As a result, fewer nuclear weapons may be needed to feel safe and less hateful, looking forward.

Patrice Ayme

P/S 1: As Kristof, New York Times, October 4, 2008, observes: “White participants recommend hiring a white applicant with borderline qualifications 76 percent of the time, while recommending an identically qualified black applicant only 45 percent of the time… a huge array of research suggests that 50 percent or more of whites have unconscious biases that sometimes lead to racial discrimination. (Blacks have their own unconscious biases, surprisingly often against blacks as well.) One set of experiments conducted since the 1970s involves subjects who believe that they are witnessing an emergency (like an epileptic seizure). When there is no other witness, a white bystander will call for help whether the victim is white or black, and there is very little discrimination. But when there are other bystanders, so the individual responsibility to summon help may feel less obvious, whites will still summon help 75 percent of the time if the victim is white but only 38 percent of the time if the victim is black.”

P/S 2: For J. Watson, a co-discoverer of the double helix model of DNA (from X rays studies of Rosalyn Franklin), there is no doubt that Africans are genetic idiots. Differently from the Nazis, who thought they had the proof that Jews, Africans, Slavs, Gypsies, etc… were so inferior that they polluted the superior race, Watson believes the proof lies in future genetics. Thus, he does not have the proof: it’s coming in a future imagination near him, but that’s good enough for him to be sure. In other words, of his own admission, he is a frantic emotional racist, whose logic got lost in the sands of alienation.

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  1. Les Taylor Says:

    Great piece. I was movtivated to write after reading the same article as you. As someone, in a sense, who looks (and feels) like Obama, I think you have a very good perception of the issue. Let’s hope, when people do walk into the privacy of the voting booth (I am reminded of the line from the currently very timely film Wag the Dog. when one of the characters is asked whether she votes, responds by saying she tried but the booths are too small and she’s quite cluasrophobic), that they can be “alone” with their conscience. And hope it’s telling them the right thing.


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