Monday, December 5, 2016

Prejudice … We are Guilty as charged

The Reality:
At 5am on 20 June 1960 I joined other lads around the radio of our Hostel Master, Richard Brown. We were breathless in anticipation and excitement. Two boxers on the other side of the World were about to settle a contest of pugilistic superiority. We did not know either of them from a bar of soap.
But we unreservedly rooted for Floyd Patterson, an American boxer, in his fight against Jens Ingemar Johansson, a Swedish boxer. In their previous fight the Swede had beaten Patterson, flooring him 7 times. This proof of the Swede being the better boxer was simply discounted by us. Patterson was our man. He was better. He was superior. He was going to win. He was going to get revenge. It was a revenge that we all needed. The issue/situation was compounded by old debates about Aryan supremacy, first mooted when Max Schmeling beat the legendary "Brown Bomber", Joe Louis, in 1939.
We were now “fundamentalist” supporters of Patterson for no reason other than that we were Coloured lads and Patterson was Black. As was later pointed out to us by Fr Adalbert we had blindly favoured Patterson purely on account of his ethnicity, disregarding who of the two might have been the “saint” or the “sinner”.
Simply put, we were guilty of prejudice; racial prejudice; no more no less. As a German, Father Adalbert knew all about racial prejudice having witnessed the horrors of Nazism and the Holocaust.
We are indeed prejudiced; all of us are prejudiced; deeply biased and prejudiced. It is as natural as breathing. We naturally regard ourselves, and our race, ethnic or tribal grouping, more favourably, more considerately, more sensitively … than we do others. We are naturally inclined to be disdainful, dismissive, even condemnatory of others, whenever they are in a situation of competition with our grouping.
As said we don’t make these distinctions consciously. It is all automatic and just as we do not consciously take a breath we do not consciously decide to be disdainful and dismissive about those in competition with our group. That is why and how we came to be in support of Patterson. As Coloureds it was this Black boxer that we had a racial/ethnic affinity with. He was part of “us” and the Swede was “the other”.
So, with respect, the clichéd statement that “racism is not something that we are born with but must be learnt” is not 100% correct. We are born with capacity for inherent and active bias in “our” favour and against “others”, whether it be about a boxing match, a soccer match, a beauty contest, political leadership ... etc. It is instinctive. 
It is prejudice because it is not based on reason. We don’t think about it.  We don’t reason it out. As said, it is as natural and automatic as breathing. The definition of prejudice is a conclusion that is not based on reason.
In the Beginning:
Feel free to imagine that this was encoded in our DNA when we were once alone in the cave, clinging together, mistrustful, resentful, fearful of everything and everybody out there. It was a matter of survival to stick together at all costs. This instinctive culture was founded on fear then, and still is. So, whether you are English, Jewish, Zulu, Greek, Ndebele, Maori, American, Tswana, Coloured, Muslim, Christian … you are biased and prejudiced in favour your own race, ethnic, tribal grouping as a matter of pure instinct. I adverted to this in an SABCTV1 broadcast.
This was not a problem prior to 1948. It was openly acknowledged, supported propagated. It was both the glue and the propellant of nationalism. In terms thereof nations routinely “went forth, invaded, conquered , subjugated” and even enslaved other nations. The Greeks did. The Romans did it. The Vikings did it. Genghis Khan is credited with killing more people in his conquest of Asia than people killed in the last World War. Locally we had King Shaka Zulu, Mzilikazi and Lobengula doing the same thing.
Might is right” was a universal culture. The 1885 Conference of Berlin specifically authorised the invasion, conquest and annexation of Africa by European nations. This was the blue print for the colonization of Africa.
No one lamented the decimation, brutalization, extermination and genocide of “first humans” such as the Khoi-San of Southern Africa, the Aborigines of Australia, the Native-Americans and the Aztecs of South America.
It is the way the world was and had been from the time Cain killed Abel.
An Epiphany:
Then a chap named Hitler overdid the “might is right” culture, tried to conquer the whole world, perpetrating the Holocaust in the process. The horror of it all induced an epiphany on the part of mankind leading to most nations signing off on the Universal declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) at the United Nations (“UN”) in 1948.
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