Sunday, January 24, 2016

Comb Tests and Culture

Fairy tales and comic books with clear ideas of Goodies and Baddies make the world very simple. There can be a clear moral to the story. Some of the more difficult moral questions don't have a clear wicked witch. There is the idea that most strengths have a corresponding weakness. Rashness becomes Courage becomes Cowardice. Bashfulness becomes Modesty becomes Shamelessness. There is subtlety to it. Pride and Humility. Wrath and Forgiveness.


I am trying to think of what the opposite of Racism is. People who openly state they are Racist are trolls of the sort that openly state they are Satanists. It is done with the intention of getting a rise out of someone, or tearing something down. You are setting yourself up actively in opposition to an existing idea. Like someone who always disagrees. They aren't thinking for themselves, they simply think the opposite of what other people think. They aren't something they are anti-something. I don't think Racism has very much to do with skin tone or facial features at all. I think Racism is a lack of cultural tolerance. A belief in cultural superiority. A belief that culture is essential to someone rather than a social construct.

Science has shown that race is a social construct. Race is 'a thing', but it is not a 'scientific thing'. You can't prove race. There were bizarre committees that tried during Apartheid. They would deliberate and use evidence such as the 'Comb Test'. If a comb was stuck in someone's hair and didn't fall out, that was evidence of being Black. There were measurements of shoulder angles and the gaps between eyes. Various attempts at pseudo-science. Bernard Lewis says that part of what was different about European Racism against Jews and Blacks was that there was an attempt to justify it ideologically. An attempt to make it consistent with the Enlightenment and Science. In the same way as Anthropology and Science are at the forefront of destroying ill conceived ideas now, their unfortunate history was also at the forefront of attempts to give backbone to prejudice.


Cultures are partly what you do together, but also what you don't do together. They have rules. They have morals. They define things we admire and things we find disgusting. I think Racism is partly a fear of losing the culture you value. It is not just a case of accepting a different eye colour. A different hair colour. Tolerance of what you see is easy. Tolerance of what you do is more difficult. Racism is an emotion based on fear and envy.

I think the struggle people are facing is how to at once, be proud of the communities of which they are a part, but also need to include communities which don't have the same rules. In building new rules, they need to let go of other rules. Rules they don't want to let go of. The idea behind Apartheid is 'You keep your rules, let me keep mine'. There are people who believe that is okay. They won't openly say they are Racist.

A pride in one's culture is the same reason people are Patriotic. It is the reason they use to justify borders, which are essentially Global Apartheid. It is seen as positive. The preservation of a way of life. Looking after your own. If we want to debate something people will admit to, I think that is where the constructive conversation should head. How do you protect a way of life, but not keep membership exclusive to arbitrary things like skin colour and whether a comb falls out of you hair? How do you protect various ways of life, various flavours, without just throwing them in a big pot and seeing what comes out? 

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