Are you racist? Probably not. But there is a pretty good chance that you are xenophobic to some degree as most of us are, even I. And this can easily lead to various racist attitudes and actions, even for people who are against racism. This is why it is easy to appreciate, even celebrate, other cultures from a distance or when travelling, enjoying their exoticism, but not as much when they affect your own, at home.
Actual systematic racism isn’t so much of a problem in society. Xenophobia however, is far more spread and can lead to issues at all levels. To understand it, we basically need to separate between three things .
- The act
- The individual
- The system
An individual can do a racist or xenophobic act quite unintentionally and unawares, and through this perpetuate a racist system. It doesn’t necessarily make the individual racist though. Many of us fall into this category since xenophobia is a very human tribal characteristic.
Racism can also exist in individuals without a formal system, but instead creating an informal one.
We also all have a degree of responsibility in educating ourselves about our society and the world, and that complicates things. Claiming ignorance as equaling innocence doesn’t always work, as is clear with crime and law. This is also true for social issues like racism. And if we don’t we also have to suffer the consequences of our chosen ignorance.
Related to this topic is also the issue of freedom of speech, where it is often argued that even racists must be allowed to speak freely, but this question isn’t quite as easy as it may seem. Most countries don’t allow everything, despite having “freedom of speech” protected by law. Child pornography and material in similar areas for example, is often not considered to be within the range of this freedom, just because it by extension can lead to various damaging effects to people. Racism, even verbal such, really falls under that same category. Exactly where the line is to be drawn is problematic.
We all like to think of ourselves as good, decent people and very few admit to racism and xenophobia, even those who quite obviously habitually do racist acts. And yet we daily see arguments and ideas about refugees, ethnicity & crime, expressed hate towards “modernism”, modern art and architecture while promoting the importance of one’s own pre-modernism tradition and “culture” and declaring oneself as “oppressed”, and looking for connections between race, genetics and intelligence, wanting meritocracy & eliticism, essentially with “social darvinism” as a foundation for society, and speaking of and fearing the End Times and the imminent collapse of Western Society, and contempt, even hate towards academia and media, most of it perfectly fine separate in moderate forms, but as a *whole* coming straight out of the nazi and fascist handbooks. And this now at highest political level, not seldom with direct or indirect ties to open racists even self-confessed neonazis.
But no, these aren’t nazis or fascists in the historical sense. They do share a great many of the very ideas that enabled the horrible actions and societies they built though. And that should be disturbing to you. So please recognize what you are looking at and where it might lead. And consider your part in this, whatever it may be. It is not the terms that are dangerous, but the ideas behind them and the society they create.
Xenophobia is a natural, human instinct, a response to anything perceived as foreign, which can potentially threaten the stability of the system you live in, the “tribe” and the resources for living, etc. In most cases it is irrelevant and an unnecessary reaction in today’s society.
While it commonly takes its roots in xenophobia, racism is different in that it is formalized as a set of ideals and rules that regulate behaviour and society, and does so based on concepts of race and ethnicity. With racism, as described above, you have three different levels which can be independent of each other; act, individual and system. The former two exist in most societies. The latter however, is much more rare and usually come in informal varieties, as a consequence of individuals and acts who aren’t necessarily intentionally racist per se.
As for the US, it is a very big and complex nation, comprised of quite individual states and thousands upon thousands of quite small communities with just a few thousand individuals each. Not long ago I would have said that the US as a nation does not have systemic racism, even if it may occur at lower levels and at smaller scales. Today, I am not as confident about where the US is heading towards though. And the same is true for Europe.