There’s a tendency to believe in “Good Versus Evil” stories out of history. That’s the type of story that skims the surface of, most famously, World War 2, but that’s what an alarming number of people walk away with with a high school degree in the US and the UK.
That story is one in which the forces of good and democratic freedom, the US and UK, fight against the evil racist Nazi fanatical regime. And American popular culture in particular encourages this because it’s good entertainment, even if not accurate history.
This is why I much prefer the First World War as a subject of conflict. It was one in which no significant participating country escaped unscathed and all of them learned a harsh lesson about war. Hence the poetry and the pacifism, at least in the West.
America didn’t, though. And since the Second war is still considered a patriotic affair against Evil Nazis, that doesn’t educate them about shades of grey either. Possibly Vietnam did it.
There’s also a distinct lack of perceiving shades of grey in interpreting racial history in America, but really it’s more of a general perspective. People like simple solutions to complex problems: The “War On Terror” was destined to be a quagmire of shades of grey, but was painted as and treated as a Good Versus Evil Battle which attributes much to its inefficiency.
Racism is the same thing. The moment people put anything in pure absolutes when approaching a problem as complex as racism is when they start losing their grip not only on reality but also any attainable goal. People tend to equate “racist” with Nazi, anti-Christ and whatever. The point is that there are some people to whom “racist” is an automatic devil-word: there is no blacker black to evil.
Racism is highly complex problem and you can’t throw the word around like you’re going to start a pogrom. It’s not like you can just round up all the racists and chase them out of town. But people act as if that were an option.
Either that or they take a rather evangelical approach: The idea that racists are, metaphorically, horrible sinners who can be saved by being taught the right things. It suffers from the same good-evil imagery which is compelling but wrong.
One thing I definitely learned in Malaysia most of all is just how complex racism is. The Chinese there are immensely resentful of the Malays. The clear reason for this is because of government benefits and advantages lauded onto Malays as a race over other races. But while that’s the crux of their grievances, it’s not long before Chinese are constantly saying racist things about Malays regarding apparent lack of education, class, manners, work ethic and ambition. They start attributing racial characteristics to what is essentially social and economic imbalance which just happens to be delineated along ethnic lines.
It’s not the same in America, but you can argue that it has a similar structure. Blacks in America have grievances which aren’t satisfactorily addressed, and because of that they start attributing racial characteristics on the other races… and it happens vice versa. This is why there are all those droll jokes assigning criminal characteristics upon black people. These are often told among people of other races who believe into the myth that black people are intrinsically inclined to criminal activity.
The truth again, of course, is social and economic imbalance.
While this phenomenon of simplifying complex problems into Good Versus Evil happens everywhere, at least regarding racism it does come to a head in America. This is a partially due to its multi-racial society, but mostly due to simple racial awareness. People are educated to divide among themselves. This is because they’re educated that they are oppressed and must stick together to defend themselves.
Young people in particular love causes. There is no greater rallying call than the perception of oppression. Gather people together, tell them that their woes are because of something specific they can point at. Jews, white people, the 1%… it’s all the same as far as scapegoats go, no matter how justified.
What this comes back to is an apparently common belief among (particularly American) racism and social activists that everything that White People have ever done in America has been centered on the exploitation of coloured peoples, an abhorrent affair whose legacy is said to continue to today.
But as always, they are simplifying a complex situation in order to make it more appealing to young people. Or they are young people who continue to propagate a simplistic world-view because they fail to understand the deeper nuances, and continue to see it as a fight against an oppressor.
There’s a lovely term in Education called “Lies to Children.” It’s basically the simplification of complex ideas for young and untrained minds to be able to process. As they get older and pursue studies further, the veil is increasingly drawn back and they learn that it’s more complex than they had learned before. This is best illustrated with physics: First Newton, then Einstein.
But people who walk away with a simplistic view of the world delineated into Good and Bad are insufficiently prepared to deal with complex problems.
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- ricanontherun said: Well said. The trouble with being well educated is that you will always encounter suspicion no matter how reasoned or historically accurate your arguments. Pls be patient with the US/UK educated. They, and others, may lack experience and perspective.
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