The Malta Independent 26 September 2021, Sunday

The contagious racist disease

Sunday, 1 August 2021, 09:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

Mark Said

We all vividly remember England's penalty shoot-out defeat against Italy in the Euro 2020 final. Rashford, Sancho and Saka, three English "nationals" who were savagely, criminally, and hatefully targeted as villains for having missed their penalty shots. They were mercilessly subjected to racial abuse. Yet I am sure that most of you will agree with me that, had they successfully shot the ball past Donnarumma's hands and feet into the net, they would certainly have been hailed as the three "lions or English heroes".

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What is it with racism? Racism makes me question myself and why things have to be this way. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be of a different colour to white and whether my life would have been better or not. The past year has seen the racist issue rearing its head to unparalleled heights and with greater ferocity than ever. Related global events have driven us into a period of introspection about the extent and nature of racism within and around us.

Racism is a social and a political issue but it is a business issue too - a fundamental one, not just something for Human Resources to deal with. Yes, overt racism happens in workplaces and should be tackled, but the problem goes much deeper than that: racism can become institutional, which means that entities, departments and other organisations may discriminate on grounds of race whether they are aware of it or not. The point I am trying to make here is that racism can become structural and institutional and may reach a wider white audience than ever before.

Admittedly, we enjoy benefits of capital, class and culture not available to people of other ethnicities. This is structural racism: society is geared to our benefit in profound ways that run much deeper than the prejudice of individual people. Structural racism is an urgent issue as we may import society's racism into our own ways of working without knowing it. You can employ not a single overt racist but still have an organisation that is discriminatory.

Are you wondering why people are racist? A racist is not born. A racist person is moulded by the world around him, with attitudes taught and passed down from older family members or subtly programmed by the world around us.

Just think of how the brain processes and stores information and makes snap judgements on our behalf, in order to understand how judgements of other people are formed. We all have an unconscious bias based on the principle that our brains receive constant streams of information about other people, and over time, shortcuts are made and the brain starts to construct a positive or negative bias towards individuals or groups of people, based on the messages it has received.

This same principle applies to people, and more importantly, groups of people. We are constantly receiving messages about people that, over time, does create a bias. Messages come from so many different sources: whether it is the news we read, social media, music videos, the stories we hear, advertisements or even the movies we watch. They all have a role to play in perpetuating stereotypes. This can be problematic because our brains short wire and in an effort to keep us safe and save a bit of processing power, they can lead us to make some pretty wild assumptions about groups of people, based on a perception that has been gradually built over a long period of time.

Yet we can train your unconscious bias in order to make it kinder and more open-minded. We can commit to scanning the future content we consume for potential bias-forming language. For example, in the context of hatred towards irregular immigrants or Black communities, there may be some sensational news headlines that clearly build a negative stereotype and perception of such communities.

If you witness racism and do not call it out, you are complicit. We all have a responsibility to call out any forms of hate whenever we witness it, provided that it is safe to do so. We must report harmful content on social media for it to be removed, as we must report harmful news stories or media that plant negative stereotypes. We all have a role to play when it comes to tackling the issue of racism.

We must educate others, encourage others to learn and challenge their own biases too. Our own lived experiences rank as more influential than media headlines, which is why it is valuable and important to have a rich diversity of people around you. You will find that your mind will open up and your life will be so much more enriched as your social circle grows.

Acknowledging that we have a dislike towards a group of people is an acknowledgement incredibly brave and difficult one. To counteract this bias, it is important to seek out role models who are part of that community and to learn about them, their stories and their experiences. We must learn as much as we can about them and their culture and be prepared to go in with an open mind.

Take the time out to build empathy towards a person or group, who are subjected to harmful stereotypes. How would you feel in their position? What must it feel like to walk a day in their shoes? Do you think the world feels scary to them at the moment? What can you do, as a bystander, to make their experience a little easier?

In our country it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever we find it, including in ourselves. And it is the only way forward.

 


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