Racism Does Not Exist?

by Hyeon Woo Lee

Discrimination between different ethnic groups is commonly reported throughout the world. Not to mention the racism against Afro-Americans in US, but also discriminations against Hafu people in Japan, unfair treatment against southeastern brides who came to Korea for marriage, etc. With no doubt such phenomena are spread widely over the world. Professor Terry Kawashima states that race works through several visual readings, or interpretations of the physical differences of a person. However I would like to raise a question of whether racism really exists. Is what we call racism really an act of discriminating other groups of people because of their physical looks? Or is there something else, some other factors that affects us but are hidden beneath the word racism?

In 1994, there was a systematic massacre of minority ethnic groups by major ethnic groups. The Hutu, a majority ethnic group in Rwanda, attacked the Tutsi, a minority group. Triggered by death of the president, Hutus started killing every Tutsi in sight. As a result, at least 500,000 people were killed. The point here is that in external physical appearance, the Hutu and the Tutsi had no difference at all. They all looked like the same black people. However Hutu accused them of being “different”. This may mean different genetics, but it doesn’t make sense since it is widely known that two members of the same ethnic group can be just as different genetically as two people from different ethnic groups. Then in this case, it is safe to say that physical racism was just an official reason, and the true reason mostly lied in the economic structure of Rwanda. The Tutsi monopolized most of Rwanda’s economy while Hutu had very little in it and was unhappy with the fact.

The history of mankind has been a continuation of conflicts, like constant war. Whether it is large or small, there was always war among different groups. The cause varies; it could be a fight for ideology, conflict over economic benefits, or even basic survival itself. However when people mention the difference in ethnicity as a cause of war, I seriously doubt it. It is not the difference that causes conflicts between ethnic groups, but it is rather the way we interpret it. All those conflicts claiming that were triggered by different ethnicities, like the case in Rwanda, actually has other reasons hidden behind the mask of racism. So come to think about it, maybe there isn’t any “true racism”, in which one is hostile to the other for the sole reason of being different, in the world. I believe that there is always something else.

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One thought on “Racism Does Not Exist?

  1. Thanks for an interesting perspective. Here’s mine. I contend it’s a manifestation of pure group-dynamics. And I do believe Prof. Kawashima is right about the visual readings. The phenotypical side of things allow us to recognize one of the “in-group” – a very basic and probably useful strategy in smaller communities where people tend to have more in common, genetically and culturally. Where simple appearances fail, culture more than makes up for it through elaborate costuming and narration,First, regarding the Tutsi and the Hutu. I believe you generalize a bit, reflect on how outsiders of East Asia might have difficulties understanding the various conflicts inherent to the region, past and present. (Or even more so with the Chinese history of conflict.) After all, to an outsider all Asians might just look the same kind of yellow.

    The term racism stems from ca 1700-1800 when Europeans in various scientific disciplines started categorizing people. I tend to view racism, and not only from from Europe, as very aesthetic. An early proponent of the polygenic theory of human origins, Christoph Meiner, divided humanity into two distinct categories “Beautiful White” and “Ugly Black”, the white absorbing all qualities deemed as good, and the black all the bad. I believe this aesthetic fanaticism primarily stems from fear of the unknown, fear of corruption. Many themes in Meiner’s work seem to return in later common racist discourse where “racial purity” and such is upheld as the greatest virtue. Naturally it also tends to be elitist and suspicious of egalitarianism, believing it to be subversive. One motif, the return to a unfettered, unsullied past also evident such discourse, suggests a kind of romantic yearning for a lost home (such as the urheimat, Atlantis, Aztlan). I’m quite certain all of these play a role in forming and urging forward and perhaps reminding us of a most peculiar fear of oneliness only absolved by recreating a former unity. I would also mention how egotism, a most vile vice I might add, seems to be stimulated in the same manner. You often hear how one group is indebted in one way or another to another group. With blacks & whites it might be a case of whites arguing that they invented everything civilization wise and that blacks are being mere leeches (parasites seem to be the most popular wording), and with blacks it might be whites ruining/hijacking the foundational grounds on which not only blacks but also whites civilization rest. This isn’t a unique pairing. (Though I think it might be the most symbolic of our times or at least in the west). Consider the strife between Muslims and Indians, Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, or even Ireland and England for example. I believe it’s as you say, something deeper, something related to a more fundamental human trait.

    “Racism unmasked” might be a longing for a sense of togetherness, a sense of pride and dignity – something wanted, no, needed – and a group may provide many if not all these things. It must be very easy to lose oneself in the group and completely submit to the way which seems to be most filled with heartfelt promises of retaining or defending that which we hold dear when fear strikes.

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