Thursday, June 11, 2020

We Are Culturally Conditioned To Have Racial Bias

I've faced discrimination from all races that I've encountered all over the world - including my own.

Shocking? Hardly. The cold hard reality about life is that the majority of people worldwide - whether we care to admit or not - are racially-biased to a certain degree, consciously or subconsciously.

Racism is not a binary switch. Something that you can turn on or off by the press of a button. You can't be mouthing off racist comments at home, and immediately transform into the Angel of Equality as soon as you step out of the door. Racism is a scourge that infects every drop of our blood, every pore of our skin. We all discriminate against others, day in day out.

Childhood friends - how many of them are from your same race? Did you naturally deviate towards them? Or did Mommy and Daddy tell you to stay away from certain 'types' of kids?

Teachers can be racist. Lawyers can be racists. Politicians can be racists. Some more than others. Ultimately, it all goes down to upbringing. We're infected by racism ever since we were born. Racism begins at 'home'.

Yes, we may have all grown up now. Our social circle is diverse. But still, ask yourself - do you prefer to mingle with people who are more like you? 'Like' as in sharing common views in politics, economy, religion, or entertainment. A liberal activist won't get along with a businessman. A party animal ain't gonna chill out much with a devout Muslim.

This technically isn't about racism anymore. But this goes even deeper into human nature - that humans are tribal. Racial purity just happens to be one of the more prevalent form of tribalism. Just like sports, racism can breed a fanatical following - one that exhorts love among your fellow kinsmen, as well as hate against other tribes of different stripes.

The point is simply this: Racism isn't really a disease, but merely a symptom of a more intrinsic disease - 'cultural bias'. More importantly, this means that combating racism is rather futile because racism itself isn't the root cause.

Soul sisters

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

* * *

So what's the solution to 'cultural' bias? By deconstructing cultural barriers. By not being overly proud and protective about our 'culture'. By de-culturalism, that's how.

When I was in university, I was cajoled into joining the 'Chinese Community' (CC). They had a noble mission - protect Chinese culture. But ultimately, they operate more like an special interest group, union, and lobbyists. Can't get a place in residential college? They can fight for your cause. Not enough Chinese representation in a particular project? They'll talk to the heads of the 'other' groups to ensure equal representation.

After a few weeks, I distanced myself. I can understand the important role they play in 'student politics' and their appeal to minorities far from home looking for social acceptance. But for me, the choice was very clear. I wanted to stand on my own feet - to be judged by my merit alone, and not because my exclusive membership to some 'special club. They eventually left me alone and stopped dragging me to their meetings. I wasn't treated as an outcast, but remained as an outsider.

That's the choice I made for myself. Whenever juniors inquire on whether they should be active in CC, I give them a fairly balanced answer - pros and cons, benefits and sacrifices, and so on. In the end, I'll just shrug and say "Well, I have told you everything that I know about them, totally up to you to join them or not, which all depends on where your priorities are at". I don't go forcing my life choices on others.

Personally? I'm against the proliferation of 'cultural' groups. I don't mean museums, or societies that promote Chinese folklore and tradition, of course. I'm referring to groups that have morphed into political bodies. I don't think they're healthy. I think they breed more division in society, rather than diversity. Fanaticism, rather than tolerance. Hate, rather than love.

Even more annoying is how culturally-biased groups take on the cause of anti-racism. Look, it's fine to be culturally-biased and be honest about it. It's not fine being culturally-biased yet accuse the whole wide world of being culturally-biased except yourself and your own tribe.

* * *

To put it bluntly, the people calling out against 'racism' are often racists themselves. They won't admit it. They're blind to their own bias. They'll come up with 101 reasons why their words and actions are not 'racist' but others are. Worst of all, they'll use these 101 reasons to justify their hypocritical double standards - why Tribe A deserves all our support (but not Tribe B and C). They become the judge of what's racism and what's not, and who's a victim of racism and who's not. But ultimately, just because you can justify your bias based on some philosophical mumbo-jumbo doesn't make you less of a racist.

I'm well aware that I'm equally vulnerable to cultural-profiling as much as anyone. That said, I like to think of myself as being less racist than the average person.

How do I self-condition myself to be non-racist? Here's my trick - I stop trying to spot 'racism' in others. That doesn't mean I can't notice when someone is being 'culturally biased' against me or a friend. What it means is that I don't immediately call the cops or stir drama on social media.

Instead, I examine myself. Am I giving people a reasonable basis to stereotype and discriminate me? Something I said or did? Like sticking to my own Chinese cliques? Or conversing in Chinese dialect in a group consisting of Malays and Indians? Or being 'kiasu' (selfish and competitive) at school or work?

In short, we must start examining ourselves first before judging others. People may treat us differently because of the way we act, not because of the way we look. Is there something in our behaviour that screams "I'M PROUD OF BEING [insert race here]"? Do we want to be identified by our own race? If yes, then we can't complain much whenever people see you as a representative of your race first, as an individual second. You can't walk into Anfield wearing a Manchester United jersey and not expect to be stared at. Or wearing a Kanye West mask at a Taylor Swift concert.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we should adjust our behaviour because people's perception and expectations. Rather, the reality is that racism is a two-way street. Yes, other people can be racist. But we can be equally reinforcing their bias by our own actions. To cut out racism, we can't merely expect people to stop being racist; we have stop doing things that exudes 'racism' too. We need to check our own privilege first.

Band of Brothers

Photo by Nicholas Swatz

* * *

Back in university, at the residential college, I befriended a Malay guy (and also a devout Muslim). He was my closest friend for 3 years - even more impressive considering we're not even studying the same course at the same faculty. Our friendship has endured until today.

For more than a decade, we still catch up regularly. We talk about everything - politics, religion, work, and our personal encounters with racism in the course of work and our daily lives. We're well aware of each other's privileges, and disadvantages. We're quick to condemn the racial bias practised by our own tribes. Whenever one of us muses about race-swapping, the other would roll his eyes and go like: "Look, let me list down the cons of being [insert race here]...". And then we'll realise how every tribe has their own set of problems, and it's pointless comparing who has bigger problems.

We see the light and dark side of racism. We often crack jokes about racism. When discrimination gets serious, we deal with hardships as they come, advise each other accordingly, and get on with our different lives as best we can.

What makes our relationship work? What keeps us from hating and fighting each other?

It's simple, really. We don't let our cultural differences get in the way of our lives. Culture may affect how people behave around us, but we never allow culture to define who we are.

No comments :

Post a Comment