Are you a good parent? Do you love your child? Would you would do anything to save it from harm?
“Yes,” you say.
And I reply, “That is what makes you and me racists!”
Harsh words in these days of political correctness yet perhaps they reveal a truth about humanity which is being hidden from us by those who believe the word is the thing. The “word-nazis” who believe that if we all say we are not racist, then we are not racist.
Shall we set up a small “mind game”. Imagine that your four year old daughter has a friend over for the night. They’re both sleeping in the same room which catches fire. In breaking down the door to their bedroom, you have dislocated a shoulder. You now have only one arm to carry a child out of the burning room. Both children are equally within reach. Which child do you grab?
An impossible situation in which to make an instantaneous life and death decision. A decision we all hope we would no have to make. I will try to be as honest as possible here. I would grab MY daughter. I think most parents would do the same. Because my daughter is more important to me than my neighbour’s child.
Let’s leave that mind game. It just stopped being fun. The conclusion you came to, though, is important.
It follows from that conclusion that my family is more important to me than your family. This is so obvious that it hardly needs repeating. By extension, the people in my extended family or my neighborhood are more important to me than those people on the other side of the city. When my children’s school plays sport against the school from the other side of town, I support MY school.
Even more important is the City Team, basketball, baseball, football or tiddlywinks. It doesn’t matter. I support my City team against your City team.
Our civic officials know how important it is for them to win that big new factory for our city than it is for the next city down the highway. It means jobs for OUR city. The fact that there will be no jobs for that city down the highway is just their bad luck. We are looking after our own citizens.
I think you can see where this is leading. Me and mine are always more important to me than you or yours.
This is true at family level, city level, state level and at country level. It is also true at a language level and at a racial level.
We are all racist.
It is how we react to that truth which determines whether we are good human beings or not.
It is impossible to like everyone in the world. Heck, there are people in my family I don’t particularly like. But those people, I mean, those supporters of the opposition tiddlywinks team MUST know they are supporting cheats. Those men in that army we are fighting really are bad people who will destroy our civilisation, given the chance. Of course, we are fighting this war to change THEIR civilisation, but that is an unimportant distinction and should never appear in the media or in the public conscience.
There is every reason to dislike people who are different. Yet we see examples of different groups combining for a common cause. It may be opposing Soccer teams combining into a national team to compete at the Olympics or in the World Cup. It may be groups of people from different states forming into a unified national defence force.
Who are they going to defend against? Why, those people who are defending their own city, state, nation. Of course there are reasons for war between countries and races. Often not the reasons which we are told. If we depend on oil for our economy then we must make certain of its availability. If we have too many people for our water supply, then we must ensure a greater water supply and if it means taking it from those people over there, then so be it. If our population is too large for our available land supply, then we must increase our land area. Sorry, in this time of rising sea levels, neighbours, we have to move you out.
There will now be a couple of new words invented. I cannot find recognised English words to use for the exact thoughts I need to express. “Them-ist” refers to that quality other groups of people possess which causes me to mis-trust or dislike. “Us-ist” refers to that quality members of my group possesses which cause me to like and trust them.
All this seems to be a long way from saving your daughter from a fire. Going backwards through all the steps, it is simply a difference in degree. There is no way that we can overcome this, maybe not “racist” but perhaps “them-ist” problem, even with religion. Religions are inherently exclusive. Yet there is still one final hope.
Many of us know the story of the groups of German and English soldiers in the First World War at Christmas, 1915. They both fell into the Christmas spirit, sang carols together and walked into “No-Man’s Land” where they talked together and exchanged gifts. Their generals recognised the danger of this sort of behaviour and moved both regiments to different areas of the front line.
CS Lewis once wrote;
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another:
‘What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.’ ”
With Twitter and Facebook and all the other platforms we have the chance to make friends. In making friends from all over the world we have a chance of overcoming the “Them-ist” prejudices which are built into the human psyche. Suddenly we realise that the friend we are communicating with on the internet is supposed to be one of “Them”. But that friend is just like me. The same likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, failures and successes. If we become enemies, we are tearing an “Us-ist” group apart.
I have made friends all over the world through social media in all its forms. The people I have met and made friends with have met and be-friended others. In the continuation of that series of small steps, there is hope for mankind.
In spite of our inbuilt racism.
(I first wrote this essay decades ago. Every now and then I return to it and make changes which I hope improve it. In its last incarnation it was a blog post in 2006. I know it exceeds my self-imposed 1000 word limit)