Friday, 22 March 2013


I doctored this "meme" because it had the word "Karma" at the top, and it's nothing to do with Karma. I've never heard of the Law of Mirrors either, but whatever. The point here is pretty valid though. There's a sort of chain reaction. People with poor self-esteem lash out with insults and jibes, intended to harm others. It (apparently) makes them feel better about themselves. Not quite sure how, but there has to be some sort of motivation.

Something I've been looking at a lot lately, due to a couple of the courses I'm taking, is the topic of deep racism. Now, racism is a tricky thing to define. It has been suggested that it is prejudice with power, in other words when the negative feelings of a person towards another person actually manifest as an ability to harm them. But it's difficult to define harm sometimes.

If a person's prejudice leads them to harm a person by physically attacking them, or preventing them from having the basic necessities of life, the harm is obvious. If we decided to imprison everyone from Finland, and give them only gruel to eat, it could be construed as a) racism, because of the selectiveness of it, and b) harmful by just about any standard.

However, having the power to harm others is often far more subtle than that. Refusing to hire a person based solely on ethnicity, or perhaps refusing to rent a home to them would also qualify as racism.

But when it gets down to insults, where does the power lie? There has long been the idea of sticks and stones, and the more modern version is that we all have the power to choose how we react to insults and slurs.

Do we? Do we really?

I think it's sometimes much easier than others. Repetition is a big factor. No matter how much you honestly, deep inside you, believe you are worthy (in any way), if you are told that you are not, often enough, it will have an impact. It doesn't necessarily mean you will believe it, but it will HURT. At the very least it just gets annoying.

So, the question really is how much harm can words do? Well, they can do a lot. It's a question not so much of the immediate impact they have on the person who they are aimed at, but by others listening, particularly the young and impressionable. Nobody is born a racist. It has to be taught.

That was ahead of its time. Sadly, it fell on deaf ears for the most part.

I was raised by a very open-minded mother, and racism was unknown in my home. So I thought. However, I've had to think again about that fact recently, as I've considered just how insidious it is. My mother was, I realise now, anti-Catholic. Not in a ranting sort of way. She had friends who were Catholic, but just as you can't prove that you are not racist by having had friends of different ethnicities, she simply made allowances for them. This is very common, of course. It's an exception clause for social convenience.

Why was she anti-Catholic? Because her father was. There was no other reason as far as I'm aware. She was just taught that Catholics were lesser. Why was my grandfather anti-Catholic? Because his father was. I can probably go on. I'm not imagining it either. I recall stories told. How far back it went, I have no idea. But it was entrenched. It had been going on so long, they didn't know why they were anti-Catholic. And that dear reader, is what happens.

It also explains how the exception clauses are possible. Faced with a person of the "wrong" group, there appears to be no actual problem. They meet them, they like them. They have lots of things in common. They become friends. Something in the back of their mind says "But we don't like this group" and common sense says "But I like this one". It would be a perfect opportunity to understand there is a problem here, but it gets missed.

Fortunately, every so often it doesn't get missed. Somehow despite being raised in a family of extreme bigots, a child can spontaneously and unilaterally decide he doesn't agree with the prevailing culture around him. This amazes and thrills me, and it also comforts me. I see it as a sign of hope. This is free thinking, refusing to run with the pack, and it is actually very brave.

But I have a theory as to at least one example of why the prejudice and insults continue. Bigots are bigots all round. It's a mindset. The father who teaches racist ideas will not stop there. If he has the ability to be cruel with his words over others, he is also capable of doing it to his own. And sooner or later he will. It may only happen under duress, but it will happen. He will show his true colours. And when he does he will insult, criticize, and belittle his children. And they may react to that by doing it to theirs. Giving them just enough of a ding in their self-esteem to use insults as a projection onto others. Until they become aware of the cycle, it will continue.

As for me, how come I didn't turn out anti-Catholic? Well, because somehow I could differentiate between leaders and followers. Between an institution and an individual. Because I never fell into the trap of tarring a whole group of people with a broad brush. But that doesn't mean I am innocent. I have had plenty of my own prejudices, and despite years of effort, I am still aware of a few. I'm also aware now that some of it is racial. Racial prejudice is not limited to black and white or anything quite so obvious. I opened my mouth this morning and the word "redneck" fell out, when correcting my son's grammar. What he said was incorrect, I have a duty to correct him, but that was the wrong way to do it.

We all have to be on our guard against this, because it's so easy to do, and there are no damn excuses.


  1. My (Catholic) father would flip out if he knew who his grandson was dating (she's half Asian).

    I grew up with a very racist father. Thankfully, he was only around until I was 9. My mother was the opposite. She tried too hard to make up for my father after he left. I have never had a problem/issue being friends with anyone, no matter who they are. It's all personality, not culture. My best friend in kindergarten was Asian. My best friend in grade 7 was native. But in the 4th grade she tried far too hard to make me be friends with an Indian girl. At the time I didn't even know what an East Indian was! I Just Didn't Like Her. Took my mother a while to believe me before she would leave me alone.

    The city I live in is sometimes dubbed Little India. I work a lot in Vancouver/Richmond, which is dubbed Little China. I have spent my life immersed in multiculturalism. I'm gladI didn't follow my father's footsteps.

    1. When Rhiannon was in Grade 7 and 8 she went to a school in the city which was multi-cultural and where white kids were a minority. In her Grade 8 class she was one of just 4 white students. It had a very profound and positive effect on her.

  2. I prefer a narrowish definition of racism. It is natural for people to think in terms of those more like them and less like them, and to think more highly of the home team. As for my childhood home, as my brother said, we were raised without any prejudice, au contraire, our father was PC avant la lettre. With one exception: Germans. Even so, he did say there were some good ones. As a Jew, he was entitled.

  3. Law of Mirrors is one of the 12 Principles of Karma; I think its a Western interpretation of Buddhism.

    As the world becomes smaller, it is my hope that through exposure to other cultures that bigots become the outcasts, the social pariahs of all societies.

    1. I do hope you're right. It is what is preventing us from reaching our potential.

  4. I suppose my mother would qualify as racist. Mind you, it wasn't limited to ethnicity...religion, social status, the size of the persons family, whether or not the person was name it, Mom has an opinion.

    Then there's elementary school, I made friends with the misfits..the kid who had 15 brothers and sisters...the black family that moved in up the road for a get the idea. High school, for the time I was there, was similar.

    I judge people by their actions and their words. I've made mistakes there, I'll admit. But overall, it's worked for me.

    1. That's why I like to throw in the word bigot. People don't like it. They see it as strong word, but it says what it means. Bigotry is common. It stems from ancient survival attitudes, fear of rival tribes. We can move past that.