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Posted on: April 10th, 2013 No Comments

Everyday racism and xenophobia

Vivian Gales
Vivian Gales

Greece by choice or circumstance has become the home of many nationalities and ethnicities from around the world. Initially Greece was welcoming or at least indifferent, especially to the early arrivals but the country has now began to show a new and unwelcoming face; one of xenophobia and racism.  Racism and xenophobia continues to rise and wreck its havoc on Greek society.

Researcher, author, and professor Philomena Essed wrote that: “Racial oppression is inherent in the nature of the social order…the real drama is not racism but the fact that racism is an everyday problem. …racism is transmitted in routine practices that seem ‘normal,’ at least for the dominant group, this can only mean that racism is often not recognized, not acknowledged-let alone  not considered a problem by the dominant group.”

Some of the roots of racism are economic. When people are scared, desperate and frightened, they scapegoat people and allow latent feelings of racism to surface. Another is the attitude of superiority that individuals and groups feel over others.  Race and racism are socially constructed.  We are not born racists; it is learned behavior based on lack of exposure to diversity, ignorance, and/or fear.  Racists focus on what they perceive as differences among people, when in fact there is very little.  Instead of the word “differences,” let’s use the word individual uniqueness.  Scientists have shown that there is little genetic difference between people who have been grouped as belonging to different races.  In fact scientists have proven that 99% of the human genome is the same in everyone.  Genetic differences are more within groups than between groups.  We are all one coming from the same African ancestry.

Prejudice, discrimination stereotyping are all elements of racism.  The term race in itself is non-specific.

Stereotyping anyone because of their race, ethnicity or color and based on those assumptions commit acts of discrimination, prejudice and/or violence against others; is unacceptable and should never be tolerated.

A form of this is what is commonly known as racial profiling; in the United States it is called  “driving, walking or shopping while black.” In other words the crime; being black. Generally, racial profiling, is associated with people in authority, like the police and government but anyone who sees individuals be it refugees, immigrants, or other people of color or different ethnicities and based on some preconceptions about these individuals determines that it is their right to attack, insult, threaten harass, detain, arrest, etc., when that person has done nothing to warrant this kind of attention except to be “unique” in appearance.

Many who are people of color, refugees or immigrants including myself are constantly being stopped on the streets or at the boarding pass checkpoint at the airport and harassed when nothing has been done to raise suspicion.  The only factor is that the person being stopped is ethnic or of color.

I would like to recount a story published in the New York Times about everyday racism, recently, well known actor, producer and director Forest Whitaker of The Last King of Scotland, one of his popular films, was at a deli on the upper west side of Manhattan near Columbia university when he was approached by an employee and accused of shoplifting and then searched by this employee, of course nothing was found, for he is not a thief.  The owner of the deli said it was a sincere mistake made by a decent man who was just doing his job!

Minorities are subject to these accusations and indignities and to even more devastating attacks of violence daily.   The media glare comes when the victim is Forest Whitaker, an Oscar winner. But it does not matter if you are wealthy, professional, a student, a worker, unemployed or a refugee you are seen and treated as someone different because of your color or ethnicity and not as a valued and unique human being.

Racism is insidious; it eats at both the perpetrator and the victim. It exists everywhere; it is attitude, behavior, feelings that take root within each of us from experiences, family, and socialization.  Racism is not innate; people are not born with racist feelings, these are learned!

When you hear someone say I am not racist or I have no racist feelings, unfortunately, they seem to have forgotten we live in a world where we are taught hatred or we feel threaten and we blame others for that fear and others become the target or recipient of these feelings.  The financial crisis, the loss of jobs, becomes the excuse for allowing these dormant feelings of racism to be exposed.  The world is diverse and the majority of the world’s populations are people of color. We live in a world of globalization where people are moving and immigrating from country to country. Yet racism is alive and well around the world.  It is subtle and overt such as calling people derogatory names, refusing to rent or sell to immigrants or foreigners, telling people to go back where they came from, that they are all dirty or that they are filled with disease or criminals.  And another confirmation of harboring racist feelings is when a person say that they don’t have racist feelings because “my best friend is African” or worse yet, to be told I don’t see color and you are different not like the others! We blame the victim for causing the oppression or being responsible for the racist behavior of others.

People move to another country, live and work in that country, have children yet cannot get residency let alone citizenship despite their contribution to their new homeland.

Each of us is responsible individually for the continued perpetuation of racism unless we decide to do something about it.  Ending racism begins and ends with each of us.  We all must become aware of and acknowledge these toxic attitudes and behaviors and stop denying their existence.  Because until we all make this acknowledgement, we cannot and will not do anything to change or confront this plague on our society and culture.

Racism is not new for it has existed for centuries around the world.  Unfortunately, today in the year 2013 in the 21st century because of racism we are still experiencing a world where men, women and children continue to be excluded from living fully as human beings, actualizing their dreams, achieving their goals and contributing to improving this world.

The doctrine of racism is not on the wane, it is getting new recruits and gaining increased popularity and acceptance. We can’t allow racism to continue to grow and take root in our society. There is no excuse or justification for racism of any kind anywhere.

We must all work to end its existence, and everywhere we find it, we must condemn and defeat it.

What is clear here is that racism and I repeat is universal and is in the minds and hearts of “good people”.  Those who continuously state and insist they are not racists or have racist feelings. Good people, who do nothing, good people who remain silent in the face of racist behavior.

Let’s confront racists; let’s do our part to change not only our attitudes but also those of others to the damaging effects of racism in our world.  We must all take responsibility for its continuation we have a duty to do our part to end the nightmare of racial discrimination and to change history.

“Silence in the face of racists assaults are acts of complicity” and finally a quote by Maya Angelou “we all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.”

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