I've been reading quite a bit about racism in the various blogs over the last few days. It's all been interesting, however, I have a major issue with the word "racism" and its accompanying term "racist." Both are old words, archaic terms, and terms that are misused and quite inappropriate in establishing an honest dialogue about social relations in these United States of America. Racism is a word that carries with it lots of baggage from bygone days, Medieval days, pre-Scientific Revolution days, pre-Enlightenment days. It, and the term racist, ought to be banished from any and all debates about social relations. Both terms, racism and racist, do more harm than good in any discussion about social relations. We need to stop using it, both of them, if we truly wish to advance into the 21st century as an enlightened and progressive society.
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On this planet we call Earth, there is only one race, the human race. No matter our individual appearance, our language, our customs, our religion, our food, we as individuals have more in common than we have differences. This is due to all of us being of the same species, Homo Sapiens. The sub-species of Caucasoid, Negroid, and Mongloid are essentially defined through physical characteristics, such as skin color, hair type and color, eye shape, et cetera. In modern day terminology, we call these sub-species, ethnic groups. Regardless of one's ethnicity, one is still a human being first and foremost. We are not Martians nor any other galatic specie. Should any of these galatic specie arrive on planet Earth, then perhaps we can talk about different races and use the term racism.
The term "race" came into general usage as ethnic groups extended beyond their natural habitat. Initially, natural barriers, such as mountain ranges and oceans and deserts, formed natural boundaries, keeping ethnic groups apart and within their own territories. While some members of a society would leave and travel long distances for trade, more often than not, early societies tended to remain separate and viewed the traders as suspect, somehow no longer true to the ethnic group, tainted so to speak due to their involvement with others who were not like them. Traders often had a low status within their respective societies. Still, curiosity about "the other" led to a dialogue which defined other societies in oppositional terms. Traders spoke of people who did not dress like them, who were not "civilized" like them, who had "barbaric" customs, or who were "savage" or "devious" in their interactions. They spoke of "races" of people in color coded terms, the black man, the yellow man, the red man, the brown man, the white or pale man. They were people, but they were of a different "race" than that of the trader, a difference based purely on the color of skin. For "other" societies who shared the similar if not the same color of skin, the trader defined those societies by territorial locations, i.e., the Gaul (Germanic), the Saxon (English), the Viking (Nordic) or i.e., the Powhatan (Atlantic seaboard), the Huron (eastern Great Lakes), the Lakota (North American Plains). The degree of "otherness" depended upon physical characteristics, but mainly on skin color.
The innovation of seafaring technologies allowed for greater contact between ethnic groups, to include diaspora families, families who would live with "the other" society for the specific purpose of trade. Yet, these foreign traders were often restricted to a specified area to live and do their business and were not allowed to live within the host society. All major trade centers in the 16th century had international districts, specifically for the foreign traders and their families. This validates the mindset of "the other" as opposed to "us." It also indicated, on a very deep subconscious level, that "the other" was less important, were less privileged, than the people of the host society. The trader was the Chinaman or the Mongloid, and not Mr. Chang. He was the Jew or the Arab, and not Mr. Rozen. It was an extension of the color coding established by the early long distance traders. Religion, colonization, and warfare, in particular the enslavement or indentured servitude of war captives, furthered the degradation of "the other" within a society.
Today, we no longer have strict international districts nor do we only have foreign traders living besides us. Particularly here in America, many of us have a lineage which comes from abroad, but we are the (X)th generation born here. By birth, we are American, and we may maintain the ethnicity of our ancestors to varying degrees. But, in talking with each other and about each other, we still use the same terminology as the 11th century long distance traders in defining someone from a different ethnic group. We say race when we should be saying ethnicity. We are all of the same race, we just belong to different ethnic groups. We say racism when we should be saying ethnocentrism. We say racist when we should be saying ethnocentric. We say black, white, brown, red and yellow. Color coding maintains a dialogue that pits "the other" versus "us." It is a dialogue that continues the separation of people, maintains privileges and designations that are arbitrary in essence and based purely upon skin color. It is a dialogue that demeans all of us, not just the other.
Unlike the word racism, ethnocentrism is a neutral term. It can be positive or negative depending upon one's thoughts and actions. The same is true for the word ethnocentric. Honoring one's heritage the same as you honor someone else's heritage is positive ethnocentrism. It becomes negative when one perceives their heritage as being better than someone else's, when one imposes their ethnic beliefs and its customs upon others, when one degrades or demeans or dismisses another's ethnicity.
Our society has left-over issues from centuries past. They are embedded, people say, they are ingrained. To me, that is a cop-out. We do not live in the 11th, 16th or the 18th century. Things are known to us that was not general knowledge back then. We each are responsible for our own actions, our own thoughts and our own being. Being negative ethocentric is a choice one makes, just like one can choose to be an asshole. The thing is you do not have to be either.