I haven’t had a clear idea how I would end this series. I considered spending more time talking about “the rise of White Supremacy,” that is, detailing the time “scientific racism” (explained in a previous post) was at its height (late 1800s through early 1900s), when many people believed it was credible to imagine different races had separate origins (were in effect separate species or varieties), which had major effects on many aspects of society of the time and which had lasting consequences. I also considered talking about the shifting attitudes towards Hispanics, the majority of whom were documented as “white” in first Census records of Texas and Puerto Rico and other places–that the very term “Hispanic” is a product of the 1970s. Another potential topic worth addressing before coming to the conclusion would be shifting attitudes towards Native Americans/American Indians–attitudes which were always complex and still are. Yet another topic would be to talk about how policing in the USA shows a complex relationship with African Americans that only in small part stems from racism. Among other potential topics–but instead I’ve decided to come to a sooner rather than later end to this series. To end with talking about how racism can end. And how speculative fiction can help.
A Look at Less Racist Societies
While there’s a lot of racism to be found throughout the world, it should be a no-brainer than the United States has more problems with racism than many other countries. I say “should be” because I have heard occasional defenses of the USA as less racist than most other places. Ironically, such statements come from both very patriotic right-wingers and also from certain Progressives who believe by calling out “white supremacy” we have actually made progress in the United States which other countries haven’t made.
But some other countries don’t ever have race riots or protests or show such sharp divisions that frequently fall along racial lines. Some other countries don’t have our history of slavery or segregation, either.
I will mention three examples of such countries. Note that my observations of these countries in each case has a personal element. I’ve spent at least a little time in each of the countries I’m naming and the observations I’m making on each are my own.
Kenya of course was a former British colony, one that in several waves encouraged white European settlement in the colony. Though the vast majority of Kenyans always were black.
The white minority in Kenya consists largely of very successful farmers who do not involve themselves much in Kenyan national politics ever since Kenya’s independence from the UK in 1962. Unlike continuing tensions between white farmers and black Africans in South Africa, Kenya’s white and black communities live in peace. Though that’s no doubt in part because white Kenyans never inflicted an Apartheid-like regime on black Africans.
Kenya also did not decide to systematically take land from white settlers or otherwise deny their rights after the black majority gained power, as happened in Zimbabwe, former Rhodesia. Perhaps that’s because they saw the benefits of what the white minority could bring in economic output outweighted the benefits of seizing land. Though as a point of fact, Kenya has maintained good relations with the United Kingdom and followed British legal traditions as a matter of principle, which wouldn’t allow seizing the lands of people simply because they happen to be wealthier than average.
Traveling through Nairobi, I decided to take some pictures to remember my stop in the country one late evening in 2012. I took a photo of a building I thought looked interesting. A security guard saw me and called the police. The building was the Kenyan National Archives Building. The police questioned me and I spent an hour explaining that I was a US military officer (I had a military ID) travelling with a United States official passport, who just happened to be curious and who took a picture. It dawned on me during the conversation that as a white person, I looked basically the same to the Kenyans as someone who might be a Jihadist terrorist, an Arab or Central Asian.
It might seem strange to list my experience getting racially profiled in Kenya as an example of how the Kenyans are not racist. But notice that being white or from the United States conveyed no automatic priviledges on me. I was not released or treated with extra respect because I’m white, not that I could determine. Nor was it assumed that I must be doing something wrong because of my race, even though I fit a profile of someone who might be a problem. My race triggered the attention of the authorties, but then they proceeded with the merits of my case. Did my story make sense? Did my credentials check out? Always treating me with respect and dignity, the Kenyans checked my story–and then let me go.
To say there is no significant white-black (or other) racial tension in Kenya is not the same as saying the society is completely united. There are various ethnic groups and languages in Kenya. There’s also a split between the Christian majority and the Muslim minority. Most significantly, Muslims who are also ethnic Somalis who’ve fled into Kenya to escape the violence in Somalia are a continual cause of problems for Kenya and Kenyans. The Somalis are often involved in crimes–and terrorism–and inhabit large refugee camps. Yet they are black Africans and so the problems Kenya has with Somalis can’t be considered a racial issue.
Though even with Somalis, the Kenyan commitment to rule of law and their ability to look at individual situations based on individual merit shows their nation to be ahead of many others.
Based on the fact significant racial tensions exist within the United States between Hispanics and blacks in some places, you might think black people are generally hated in Mexico. Black people do get profiled as “not Mexican” but so do Asians and light-skinned people like me…but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There is a bit of status that comes with being from the United States and to a lesser degree East Asia–a presumption that you are wealthier than the average Mexican.
My experience with Mexican people–and I’m referring to the year I spent living in Mexico and what I know from my wife (who is a Mexican citizen, with a green card to live in the USA) and other people I’ve known in Mexico, is that they don’t hesitate to use racial or national terms, as opposed to a reluctance to use racial terms that sometimes happens in the United States. So the neighbors down the street are “Koreanos” (or “Asiaticos”) and I got called a “Gringo” plenty of times and black people are usually “Morenos” (roughly “darkies”). But from what I observed, such terms are usually employed without hostility.
There is a recognition though that most Mexicans look a certain way–what is properly called “Mestizo,” someone of mixed racial ancestry. While Mexico has colorism in that lighter-skinned Mexians are often assumed to be more elite and plenty of women dye their hair in lighter shades, it’s not a given that ligher skin always equals higher positions of power or that a darker-skinned person cannot advance. There’s a general middle in terms of racial identity that almost everyone belongs to and everyone in that middle is evaluated based on things that indicate social class, like clothing and dress and manner of speaking. Yes, being lighter-skinned also helps create an impression of wealth, but there are plenty of darker Mexicans who are also wealthy. (The big exception to this is how indigenous people are treated in Mexico–mostly not well at all.)
What’s extraordinary about this from the point of view of the United States is we may not realize that some 200,000 Africans are beleived to have been taken to New Spain (what Mexico was called prior to its independence). While most of them obtained freedom before the official end of slavery in Mexico (proclaimed in 1810, not enforced until 1829), at one time there was a significant population of Africans in Mexico. Generally it’s considered that the majority of these Africans intermarried with other Mexicans to the degree that only a small percentage of modern Mexicans have any visible African ancestry, though on average Mexican people have about 5% African DNA. There’s around 1.2% who consider themselves Afro-Mexicans, as per the linked article, but note that number is not an official government statistic. Since 1829, when Vincente Guerrero was president of Mexico, himself an enforcer of the earlier commitment to liberate slaves and also having African ancestors (like Abraham Lincoln and Barrack Obama rolled up into one person), it’s been illegal in Mexico to identify Mexicans by race, other than marking who are “Indios” (speakers of indigenous languages).
Notice how intermarriage over hundreds of years created a situation in which most Mexicans consider themselves members of a single racial group (though class differences are real). They in fact tend to see their nationality as a race, so that having a certain mixed-race look marks a person as Mexican in the popular imagination.
Note I was an exchange student to France during the summer of 1985 and worked with French troops in Togo, Africa in March of 2010 and in Djibouti, Africa during 2012-13. It’s not fair to say France has no racial tension–less that us, but it does, though the strongest prejudice I ever encounted in French society was directed towards the many immigrants in France from former French colonies in North Africa, people who are Arab and who are considred “white” in modern racial classification systems (though on average darker than most French people). North Africans are also usually Muslim, something officially secular France has trouble grappling with. French society permits freedom of relgion…but expects that religous freedom will not affect people in their ordinary lives. Such as whether girls from Muslim families will cover their heads in school with a hijab, which French officials have overall opposed.
France also historically did not hesitate to engage in imperialism and to this day remains one of the most active countries in the world in its former colonies. Let’s not forget, as well, that France ran a sugar plantation hellhole in Haiti that greatly contributed to the mess that Haiti remains until this day.
Still, the French attitude towards interracial marriage has always been permissive–even approving. French culture can rightly be said to admire the exotic and while there have been plenty of white French women admired for their beauty, the French never hesitated to admire women of other races as well (I’m saying “women” rather than “people” because I’m relating the situation as I see it–the French love of the exotic relates more to women than men). But the French love for the exotic isn’t limited to feminine beauty.
After World War I, France collectively fell in love with American music, especially Jazz, and proved to be much more accepting of Jazz musicians like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong than the United States was. Eventually, French nationals would imitate the style. Black Americans and musicians are still very much welcome in France.
Note that France didn’t ever segregate its society so that troops from Africa couldn’t serve in French military units or have separate bathrooms or anything like that. While it’s true that no French president has been black, it’s not unthinkable that one would be. Many other French political leaders have been.
Note also that in France, ever since the French Revolution of 1789, it’s been illegal to categorize people according to race or to consider race a factor in any official government policy–which contrasts with the policies of the United States, which didn’t make an offical constitutional law against racism until the 13th Amendment in 1865 (not fully enforced until a century later) and which continues to count racial groups in the US Census to this day. In France, unlike the USA, it is not even possible to say for certain how many black people live there (estimates are between 3 and 5 million). The government does not count along racial lines.
We can’t say a refusal to count races is the only reason France is less racist than the USA–it’s not even close to the only reason–but it points to something I think is true. Official government policies that downplay the importance of race seem to decrease actual racism over time.
Principles of Less Racist Societies
I see in Kenya a commitment to rule of law and a commitment to examine individual cases individually, in spite of a recognition of patterns that can fall along racial lines. I see in Mexico a willingness to notice racial differences, but also a willingness to consider those differences unimportant and to oblitterate those differences over time through intermarriage. I see in France a genuine interest in and passion for minority cultures, coupled with a willingness to intermarry and an insistance that even minority groups have to conform to certain norms for the whole society (for France, no hijabs in schools).
Both Mexico and France have laws forbidding counting people by race. I personally don’t think that measure would be a good idea in the United States. In a land in which racial tensions are already high, not counting race could well have the effect of covering up abuses that fall along racial lines. We need to be aware of race, for sure.
On the other hand, de-emphasizing separate racial identities seems like a good idea. A non-racist government would not put race as the single most important identifier of who a person is. And the USA tends to do that. For example, I worked for the Census Bureau during this year’s recently-ended 2020 US Census. Ennumerators like me were instructed to find out was how many people lived in a house, then their genders, ages, and races (“Hispanic” was asked about as an “ethnic origin” but not a race). The only income-related question was if they owned or rented their house (or otherwise stayed without paying). We asked no questions about religion or beliefs. Race, age, and gender wound up being the most significant data we gathered. As if race really does define a person more than almost anything else.
The USA would be well-served to find ways to de-emphasize how important race is–not becasue we want people to have their head in the sand about racial realities, but because we want to create expectations that what is real now doesn’t have to define our future. If Kenya, Mexico, and France (and numerous other nations) can have less racial tension than we have, our current situtation doesn’t have to be our eternal destiny.
The End Game For Racism
The end game of racism is one in which people see themselves as human first and then look at other factors like religion in what defines them far more than race. Part of this will come when interracial marriage and appreciation of past interracial marriage is so common that the majority of people don’t consider themselves coming from purely one race in the first place.
The end of racism would not only be hastened by a blending of human colors, Mexican-style, it would not be hurt by celebration of ethnic culture, French-style. These two principles would seem to be in contradiction, but they aren’t. We can love Italian food and celebrate great Italians without creating some kind of separation in which Italians don’t freely intermarry with everyone else or are looked at with suspicion. In fact, the celebration of and acceptance of Italians represents a change that already happened in the USA, because back in the late 1800s and early 1900s (but not before that), Italians were often regarded as not fully American or not fully white. Yet that’s not an issue now.
Also, in the end game of racism, society will also have gone out of its way to demonstrate that no particular racial groups are denied opportunity at the expense of everyone else.
Note that the end game of racism as I’m describing it is not a utopian plan. I don’t think it’s possible to eliminate all tensions or produce a society that’s 100 percent happy about everything. But a better society would involve people being looked at based on individual merit–that you’d have to get to know someone before deciding to dislike him or her. As opposed to hatred at first glance. 🙂
The Road to the End
How do we get from where we are to the end?
- Promote the idea we are all individuals. Refuse to accept a person’s race or class or any other group feature is the most important thing about him or her. In addition, emphasize that race in particular is a lousy means of knowing something meaningful about a person.
- Insist on working to solve economic problems that often fall along racial lines, but non-racially: Should we as a society work to fix the cycle of poverty that especially afflicts Native Americans and African Americans? Yes–because some of the causes of these problems relate to how hard it is to get out of poverty and how easy it is to fall victim to substance abuse and then criminality under certain circumstances. In other words, our economic system is not fully fair and it should be fair as much as is humanly possible. The system was made even worse by racism of the past–but the official racist laws are gone. Some ghosts of these laws still remain, but the main problem is the need to fix economic inequality. Fairer access to opportunity will help people of all races. Addressing economic opportunity needs to follow the needs, not look at races. (Note that fairer access to opportunity would include school reform of various kinds, most especially including access to better schooling for anyone who seeks it and shows academic merit.)
- Make any reparations address opportunity: Of course there are calls for reparations for slavery. Who would get reparations gets to be an extremely sticky subject because there probably are millions of white Americans who are at least partially descended from Africans brought to the Americas as slaves. Still, in spite of that issue, I can agree there’s some fairness to the idea of reparations because many white Americans benefited from free or very cheap land as from the various Homestead Acts, an opportunity to succeed either partially or wholly closed off to black Americans (note these acts were to the direct detriment of Native Americans). Would it be fair for the government to likewise give extra opportunity, perhaps literally as land to farm or property to develop, to modern African Americans (and Native Americans)? I see a fair way to justify something like that–because land or property isn’t guaranteed money. It’s something you have to work on to develop–and that element of “work in order to benefit yourself” is the real boon white Americans received that enslaved people were denied. Note though, I am not wholly endorsing reparations–they might be part of a solution if done right, but are not required in my opinion.
- Investigate imbalances in law enforcement along racial lines and promote successful policies: One of the biggest killers to the idea that we are all individuals is when law enforcement outcomes are dramatically different. I don’t believe this problem is exactly the same throughout all places in the USA–our balance of races isn’t even the same throughout the country. But the Federal government should place special emphasis on investigating and correcting racial bias in law enforcement by use of federal charges when appropriate. This could require changing some laws but it a good idea because different regions and states are so different and could benefit from some uniformity on this one issue.
- Don’t settle for mediocre law enforcement in high-crime areas: Possibly the most racist policy in American law enforcement is we in effect let certain areas have high crime, with no expectation things will get better in such places.
- Set expectations for improvement: Put in people’s minds that what’s happening now or what’s happened in the past isn’t destiny. The system of races invented by Europeans to justify colonialism was a product of an historical time and place. That system was not the origin of all prejudice or hatred, but it certainly made things worse for a long time. The system of racism can end–race doesn’t really matter. Someday human beings will see one another without the old categories of race mattering all that much.
Some Contrasts Versus Critical Race Theory and “All-American Patriotism”
Both modern Critical Race Theory and what I might call a highly patriotic interpretation of American history will disagree with me. I’m noting some of these disagreements.
What I understand of CRT is that it would say that racism was always central to the United States. Not that it became central and is starting to fade from importance. Racism is always central, CRT would say, and the only improvement we are going to see is if we have a sort of national day of reckoning, in which all white Americans recognize their guilt in benefitting from a system that white Americans in the past created. Then, after properly recognizing the depth of the problem, then the society can be re-structured so that via direct payments or investments, the differences in racial outcomes can be erased.
This is a response that shows a failure to recognize dramatically different outcomes that affects the majority culture as well as racial minorities. It also calls for radical change, when radical change in terms of economic system usually brings more harm than good. Certainly giving people direct payments hasn’t been a great success when it’s been tried before (for example, payments to Native Americans have not been a rousing success). Real improvement includes a generally good economy–which means a capitalist base. Just one with what I would call “chutes and ladders”–ways to lose wealth for those engaged in white collar crime and ways laid out to help people improve who work hard and want to do better who are at the bottom.
The “All-American Patriot” view of course is that racism was wrong, but we have dealt with the unfair laws that caused harship and suffering for racial minorities. We aren’t perfect, but we are improving. Just give us more time and we’ll keep improving! We are not a racist country now and never were all the way racist. And the CRT people are just secretly over-emphasizing racism for purposes other than dealing with racial problems!
Well, it’s true improvements will take time, that’s for sure. We have removed blatantly racial laws, but have to keep an eye out for subtly racist laws and policies, like in effect fencing off high-crime areas. Improvement is by no means guaranteed–in fact things can stagnate or get worse. We can’t afford not to deal with racism, even though not all of America was ever wholly racist. And it’s also true that Critical Race Theory carries with it the idea that society needs to be restructured in a major way, which effects aspects of society other than racism. Which tends to support Socialst utopian aggendas. So? That doesn’t mean everything CRT enthusiasts say is wrong. Again, we can’t afford to ignore racism as a society, including the more subtle effects of racism.
Though at the same time by painting in broad brush strokes with racial generalities, CRT de facto creates an impression that all black people are in one common situation and all white people are in another common situation (and so on with other races). Which isn’t at all true–individual results vary widely. Which doesn’t mean race doesn’t matter at all. It does. But we can over-emphasize it and wind up sending the message that race really is some super-important thing! No, CRT supporters don’t claim race is so important because of real racial differences that the scientific racists used to believe in, but because of the legacy of past and current racism. Still, they make race extremely important–“Central,” as Derrick Bell put it. An importance it does not merit.
How Speculative Fiction Can Help
There’s a Progressive wing assumption that promoting the works of people other than white writers–specifically works other than white male heterosexual writers (let’s throw “cisgender” in there too), is very important in creating a better future society. It certainly isn’t a bad thing to give a writer from a background other than your own a chance. It certainly can be a good thing to learn new perspectives.
While not entirely disagreeing with the general idea that promoting diverse backgrounds is good, I however object to the idea that gender, race, and sexuality are the most important markers of what makes up diversity. Especially by promoting sexual/gender diversity, the Progressives are losing the empathy of anyone with the idea that Biblical standards on sexuality are actually good. Which may cause religious conservatives to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” and think that all diversity is a waste of time.
Let’s show interest in African American writers, writers of other non-white races, writers from different countries and cultures, and writers of both genders. That doesn’t have to be part of a Far Left aggenda. Learning more and seeing new perspectives is good in general.
Potraying a Better Future
But there’s something else specultive fiction can do, something much more important, in particular in science fiction set in the future. Like Star Trek, it can demonstrate a future in which the issues that plague today have been put aside. In particular, I think it’s important to show that if humans ever come in contact with aliens (or fantasy demihumans, in an urban fantasy setting), what we call “racial” differences now will become laughable.
This type of setup can be sliced in various ways–all bipeds could find common ground when faced with winged or legless aliens. Or all biological species could put aside their differences when faced with technological enemies. As a reminder that what we consider different is a variable term, not absolute. And the future world–or altogether different worlds of fantasy–will have different issues from what we have or have had. Portraying human races as vitally important in other worlds is not a good thing in my view.
Speculative fiction in many ways can show the end of racism. Can make that end imaginable and seem real. Or conversely, can portray dystopian hellholes of racism, warning us what could happen if we aren’t careful about the future.
Note I think Star Trek Deep Space 9 did a very good job of handling racism. It promoted diversity without making diversity itself a big deal. Mostly, human racism was an element of the past in the story world that was not important enough to talk about–except when time travelling either in reality on the holodeck. The program showed the end of racism, without pretending it never existed. It created the expectation that racism would end someday, mostly by not focusing on it.
Note also that a writer of a “diverse” background who portrays human racism as inevitable and who is not deconstructing racism via dystopia is probably someone we shouldn’t support. Because we want racism to end and want to portray it as something that can end. So a diverse background does not in fact outweigh what a writer actually says.
Even though we will not obtain utopia in this world, this particular issue doesn’t need to be around. Racism can end. Let’s help it die.
Let’s start by doing what we can to get rid of the effects of past racism. And let’s put emphasis on the importance of individualism–and not judge anyone by who they are in terms of race and background. Even as we remain curious and interested in people with backgrounds different from our own.
Let’s read and write stories that prod society in the right direction–the direction of alternate worlds in which the problem of racism as we know it has come to an end.
Dear readers, I’ve said quite a lot in this series–a series I’ve decided to end here, with what I believe is a roadmap to the end of racism. What do you think about my notions? Please share your ideas in the comments below: